Bye, Bye 36B

“Raaaaab. Was it the 34A or AA that was too big?,” my mom yells from across the small, dimly lit family-owned department store whose bras were a rite of passage for local junior high girls. Bra shopping at 12 is cringe-inducing enough, but when the store owners’ son is a boy you know, it’s excruciating. And there, as if on cue – Todd Yaserian, walking toward me, straight from the free-standing racks of off-brand plaid Toughskins. From the way he lowered his head and smiled slightly, I knew I wasn’t the first girl whose red face he’d seen pop out from behind these heavy, brown curtains. Even though I was fairly confident sweet Todd would never reveal my cup details, it’s a moment of deep, pre-adolescent embarrassment I’ll never forget. I wanted to become a puddle on that cold linoleum spot, leaving nothing behind but my white maidenform AA’s.


Thirty six years later, and I’ve still never been fitted properly for a bra. With my 30th high school reunion in a few days and two hours of alone time before the next kid pick up, I tentatively step into a local bra store. With its rows upon rows of designer bras, panties spanning the gamut from high-waisted to something called Commando, and flowered bikinis that look like works of art, I’d unwittingly entered underwear nirvana.


With no previous experience, I’m dizzied by possibility. A woman behind the cash register talks easily, laughing with a customer seated a few feet away. I assume the customer is a regular and came in knowing not only her size but had a favorite make and model.  I begin flipping through the racks, attempting to appear as though I have a plan. But I’ve only got two hours, and mindless perusal is getting me nowhere fast.


“I’m not sure what I’m doing,” I blurt to the first unoccupied sales woman.


“No problem. We’ll get you fitted.” Yes, a plan in place.


My saleswoman, Esther, spends over an hour with me, giving me her undivided attention. We explore underwire versus no underwire, padded versus hello nipples, and sizes ranging from 34DD to 36FF. As someone who thought of herself as roughly a 36B, this sizing comes as a shock. Then my counsel advises against my running favorite – a lacey black underwire.


“You see that, that’s double boob.” Esther’s more experienced colleague Sydney points toward my left arm pit, to flesh that’d been pushed beyond the outer limits of the 34FF. I’m beginning to feel like a patient being observed by medical students.


When I make my final selection known to Esther, she calls for immediate backup. Still wearing the pretty black underwire, Sydney asks me to shake my boobs back and forth while leaning over. I give it my best shot, but there’s a reason I’ve never danced that way. I’m lacking whatever fluidity is required to shimmy. The two women watch intently, keeping their laughter to a respectful minimum as I jerk to and fro. Everything stays put. A meeting of the minds regarding the severity of my double boob affliction results in a reserved thumbs up from Sydney.


There are still more underwear firsts I’d want to achieve. Spanx? But do I have to try them on? A resounding “Yes” from my counsel.  My shoulders fall to my knees. I want a pair, particularly with the reunion so close, but do I have what it takes for another hour of shimmying, squeezing and staring? Plus, I’m growing tired of looking at my no-pack abs glorified in fluorescent lighting – a stark, visual reminder that my pre-dawn exercise regimen has gotten me no closer to wearing one of those beautiful, lilac print bikinis.


I soldier on, limiting myself to three different styles – unitard with legs, unitard without legs, and briefs. Getting them on and off requires slightly less balance than imagined, and I manage to remain upright while stretching leg number two through its illusive hole. After putting the unitard on backward, we agree the brief is best.


I leave the store boobs and head held high. I’d gotten exactly what I wanted and had never treated myself to. I go home to practice my shimmy for my next underwear first – a black lace nightgown.


Random bra and life facts learned:

1)      Moving up from a size 34 to a 38 does not mean that your breasts have gotten bigger, it means you have grown wider.

2)      The existence of double boob, the Commando thong, and bra gap.

3)      Self-consciousness in group dressing rooms diminishes drastically with age

4)      Half-naked shimmying in front of strangers can fun – with the right strangers.

5)      Bye, bye 36B.






“Like me. Like me. Find your backbone or lose yourself”

Robin Hoffman 70's with glasses 2 (2)Sitting in my friend Megan’s wood-paneled den watching “General Hospital” with my 12 year old pals in the late 70’s, a spontaneous poll broke out. Via anonymous crumpled pieces of notebook paper, Pam was voted the prettiest, Patty the funniest, Kate the best athlete, Stacey the smartest, Megan the toughest, Tina the best hair, and I won “the nicest.”

It felt like a slap across my tin-filled mouth. That was the exact opposite of how and who I wanted to be. I felt weak, invisible, too nice to matter. The jig was up. Others knew my secret – I was a pleaser, not a fighter.

I wanted Megan’s votes – the ability not to feel and notice everything so intensely, not to care what other people thought about every minutia of you, to accept without hesitation when another girl “called you out” for an after-school fight on the hill. That was freedom, and as alien to me as Tina’s soft blonde, perfectly feathered hair.

Around that time I remember my mom saying that I treated my friends better than my family. Immediately, I knew it was true. My family was stuck with me, warts and all, or so I thought back then.

I wish I could say that with those early realizations came change, but that’d be a big, fat one. Fast forward 36 years from middle school to last night. My husband said he feels like he and our kids get the scraps of what’s left over after I’ve given the best of myself to clients, co-workers, friends and strangers. Being thoughtful and kind takes energy, and my tank of nice is typically spent by the end of the day.

Case in point – yesterday I picked up my seven-year-old at a friend’s house across town at 5pm when I knew my husband needed to get him somewhere by 6. I’d agreed to the date and time last week when I knew the timing would be tight. In my effort to please my son’s friend’s mom and my son, I’d set up an arrangement that’d add more stress to our family’s already rushed evening time.

When I arrived to retrieve my son promptly at 5pm, he was in the midst of a critical part of his starburst Rainbow Loom bracelet and in no rush to leave. His friend’s mom was warm and fun. She popped open a bottle of red wine, and guess what? I had a glass. I never fully enjoyed the wine because I knew that my husband would be incredibly ticked off when my son and I arrived home late and unfed. Yet I drank, and he loomed.

What’s at the core of this strong compulsion to be liked? If I truly knew, I’d vow to care less.

This morning, I read a news report about 12 year-old Rebecca Sedwick who threw herself off a tower at a concrete plant in Lakeland, Florida last month after months of extreme cyber bullying. Her mother homeschooled Rebecca rather than send her to school alongside her 12- and 14-year old tormentors, but still allowed her to use her cell phone. “I just didn’t want to have her not like me….,” her mom said.

And that’s likely how the 12-year old bully felt about the older girl leading the charge against Rebecca. So strong was her need to be liked by this 14-year-old alpha dog that she beat up her former best friend simply because this broken but ultra-tough girl told her to.

Adolescence and its seeming unending cycle of pain makes things appear more vividly in my mind. I think back to that time and know that if we’d had cell phones and social media instead of Pac Man and General Hospital, there would have been bullies and the bullied. And it would have been brutal.

I would have been bullied.

But I have the luxury of guessing, which is something today’s eager-to-fit-in pre-teens don’t. If someone with power in their social circle posts something mean about them, they feel as though their world is crashing in. And others can be compelled to go against their nature and hurt former friends or do nothing rather than risk being cast out of what seems like the most important group that will ever be.

Are we so earth shatteringly afraid of others’ judgment and looking at the dark places within that we neglect ourselves and those that care about us?

That desire to fit in may begin in adolescence and continue on for decades, but we can chose to end it whenever we want. I’m starting now.