26 March 2011

Under where?

Have you every cried in a store’s dressing room? Pathetic. I did for the first time last weekend during hour 5 of The Great Little Bra Search. Hungry, frustrated, and generally pissed, I cleaned myself up and left, passing an ironically place advertisement for breast enhancement surgery on my way to the bus stop.

Crying over clothes is the ultimate Lifetime Original Movie moment. It’s self-absorbed and childish, but I was so fed up. Bra shopping is an exercise in submitting yourself to unsolicited advice from every salesperson you ask for help. The woman at Victoria’s Secret laughed when I asked if they carried my size. Someone at Macy’s recommended I go to the children’s department. When I asked a man at the Gap where bras were, he said “Why?”

Fact: I’m looking at this issue from a position of privilege.

You know what? I’m really skinny. Sometimes I like ny body and sometimes I don’t, but I realize that the one or two offhanded “eat a sandwich” comments that I get are nothing compared to what people who are fat face. In fact, the comments I usually get about my body are overwhelmingly complimentary. The images I see of beauty and health all look pretty much like me. I can’t remember anyone ever drawing attention to what I eat, people don’t dance around words to try to find some elusive value-free word when trying to describe what my body looks like, and I don’t have anyone justifying some sense of disgust by invoking suspect medical data. I don’t want to have a pity party to bring attention to the plight of the skinny girl, I want to talk about the intersection of gender, body types, and commercialism.

Fact: Clothes don’t fit me.

Clothes have never fit me. When all the other 6th grade girls were growing into their hips, I was left in their hormonal dust. The only memory I have of New Year’s Eve 2000 is trying to decide if more people would laugh behind my back for having the audacity to wear a bra when I didn’t need one or for not wearing a bra when everyone else was. A particularly nasty fellow girl scout troop member asked me if I would wear shoes if I didn’t have feet. When I said “no” she asked why I wore a bra. If anyone asked me now, I’d punch her in the boobs and say “good luck trying to find mine” but I was a docile teenage lamb.

One of these things is not like the other

Luckily, being a flat-chested weirdo meant that I had a good amount of alone time which I spent learning how to sew. Sewing your own clothes is empowering in that you no longer rely on companies to produce things to suit you and constructive in that you start to look for potential in very ugly things. The downside of knowing how to sew is that you are totally and completely to blame for all your poor fashion choices when you look back on pictures.

Why yes, those are wooden mud shoes that 12-year-old me
modeled after Japanese geta shoes
. And you know I made that poncho.

Fact: Shopping is how we create ourselves

We’re taught to buy things to show what kind of a person we are. I’m not sure what “we” I’m talking about because saying things like “society” or “America” makes me feel like I'm pulling words out of nowhere. But we are. Everything from love to philanthropy to cancer awareness is buyable. It might be that we’re all lonely peacocks who can’t find a better way to wear our hearts on our sleeves, but we buy to show we care.

Since so much of our culture revolves around the buying and selling of things, every time we merchandize something, we welcome it into our society. Do you want paper? Excellent! Not only are thousands of stores solely devoted to selling different types of paper, you can buy it almost anywhere. There’s nothing objectionable about paper. Do you want a sex toy? Er, you're not going to be able to pick that up in a department store.

I don't understand this ad

Similarly, clothing stores' inventories reflect a combination good business and social acceptability. Their stock of sizes is usually a normal curve, with medium sizes being overstocked and small and large sizes being understocked or not carried at all. Smaller sizes are understocked due to a smaller demand while larger sizes aren’t carried (except sometimes online) because of undesirability.
"Flesh also suggests the threateningly female, moistness and blood, the hothouse clutches of a heavy-breasted mother—off putting images for male fashion designers."
Daphne Merkin, “The F Word,” The New York Times Style Magazine, Fall 2010
Fact: America is obsessed with breasts

Wardrobe malfunctions, toplessness, and public breastfeed are only some of the more egregious examples of breast outrage. We’re simultaneously terrified and obsessed with them.

I don’t quite fill out a 32A but even if I did, America’s biggest mall only carries 2 bras in that size (neither of them cheaper than $45) and to be honest, it made me feel unfeminine. As much I try to be aware of what’s going on, that doesn’t mean that I’m not affected by it.

We equate breasts with femininity and associate femininity with with bows and lace and that just doesn’t always work for me. When I realized that queer culture existed and started seeing that there were a thousand ways a woman could look, it was eye-opening. I took all my sewing skills and the knowledge that there were hot androgynous girls and went for every corner of the gender spectrum. I don’t want to look the same every day.

But here’s my secret: underwear is my weakness. It’s called “intimates” at stupid department stores for a reason. It’s what sits closest to my skin all day and and so when I can’t find any that fits me, I feel weird. I can make any pair of underwear--men’s or women’s--fit me and look good, but it’s not very comfortable, physically or otherwise. I’m not a child and telling me to go to the girl’s department is demeaning. On the other hand, when I feel this way, I’m just another victim of the consumerist culture. But again, awareness is't the same as transcendence. Buying clothes is agonizing when you don’t quite fit into the size or gender that most other people do. We like everyone to be the same so that we don’t get too confused and so that we can keep making money.

Fact: I am graduating in 46 days

And I need a job. I tried to go to a job fair last month and was turned away because I wasn’t dressed appropriately. I was wearing my nicest boots and dress pants, a button down shirt, and a vest. My friend who was wearing heels and a flowy flowy shirt was allowed in and got two interviews. I’m all for taking the money and absconding, but I’m not sure how to make it in the real world when the rules from junior high make a comeback and I’m not allowed to sit at a cool table at lunch because I’m not dressed like everyone else.

Maybe I what I need to do is find people--someone femme-y, someone more masculine, someone fat, etc.--and open a store where we cater to people like us. If there’s anything that 4 years of sociology has taught me it’s that I’m never the only one with a problem. It might not make sense since commodification is not something I want more of, but sometimes you’ve got to fight fire with fire. We could teach people how to sew or offer tailoring so that they’re ultimately the ones in charge of what they’re wearing.

Fact: The only person who can decide what looks good on you is you


Chloe C said...

I have exactly the same problem- miniature and not quite a 32 A. I love lingerie but have pretty much stopped wearing bras because I think the gap in between boob and bra is less attractive than just not wearing any. Also, when people joking ask me if I could shop in the kids section I want to smack them.

Anonymous said...

Having someone be honest about the advantages of being skinny is really refreshing.

I'll trade you my tits for your skinny hips ok?