My relationship to Victoria’s Secret is basically: why are they so expensive? Why do their things fall apart so quickly? Why do they never fit properly? On their side, there's my old satin robe, which wasn’t expensive, doesn’t fall apart no matter what I do to it (like burn it on the stove when I'm boiling water for coffee) and has been reclaimed from the Good Will pile about a dozen times: I can’t let it go; I love it too much. It keeps false hope alive that one day, I will walk into a Victoria's Secret and find something that fits, that is quality, and that lasts. Also, it's kinda sexy.
Much of my life, I’ve had DDs or sometimes, even more. I’ve worn 36 and 38. I’ve discovered the ridiculous way the number size affects cup size – these assumptions that if you are skinnier around the ribs, your breasts are also smaller. I will never understand bra sizes.
Finding bras is a challenge for every one who wears them. My last good purchase was at Intimissimi and before that I got some from Felina. Both brands have great styling, fit well, last long, and are a good value. Not cheap, but priced comparably to Victoria’s Secret, and they last about 5 times as long. But those brands can be hard to find, and bras need to be tried on. As I walked by a Victoria’s Secret, feeling that strange combination of desperate and hopeful, wearing my 34C Intimissimi demi cup that I love and that really needs replacing, I went inside.
First off – everything in there is padded. I’ve never needed or wanted extra padding.. I also have no idea what those pads are made of, if they let my skin breathe, and what toxins they are leaking. I asked the overly friendly sales associate (I hate the way they stalk you the minute you walk in. Do they think that's helpful? I think they are always just letting me know that they think I might shoplift.) for “unlined” and she showed me lightly padded. I asked again. She said she’d confused unlined with no underwire. I thought she should probably be fired, but none of my business.
They had two styles without pads in the whole store. Two. A t-shirt bra and another. The other is modeled completely on the Intimissimi bra I already had on - a total knock off with cheaper fabrics and construction, but the same price. (VS actually used to distribute Intimissimi in the US; presumably it's more profitable to just steal their designs.) There was a very sparkly bra that looked like something a six year old would really like, but no.
In the dressing room, I tried on the 34Cs I’d asked for. The t-shirt bra was too small in the cup - like way too small. The band had no extra fabric (which helps to hold on to when you are doing it up) and appeared to not have extra settings. Women have cycles, our bodies change within a month (I used to change so much I actually had to have different bras for different weeks of the month), it’s good to have a few hook and eye options. I tried the other bra; I was coming out of the cup. I know I'm not a D anymore. I mean, not even close. And good luck getting a D cup below a 36. I came in there wearing a bra that fits, and is a 34C.
In the changing room, I had a momentary blast of…’Oh, I must’ve gained weight!’ And a tiny little red flush of shame. As soon as it surfaced, I laughed inside and called bullshit. Just like dress sizes go down over time, in the boob culture of Victoria’s Secret, cup sizes need to go up! Pad them, demi cup them, push them – make the girls look bigger. While simultaneously, making them feel like it’s too tight around the ribs and they might be getting fat.
And then it hit me:
Corporate body shaming.
Honestly, what a perfect strategy for hooking consumers. Make them feel sexy, but imperfect, and you have them hooked. With their sizing strategy, a woman who always felt she was "small" could feel bigger. A woman who felt she was fat would feel shamed. Both of them will come back for more. That's how body shaming works.
Marilyn was a size 12 in her day, which would make her about a 4 in today's sizes. Yes, fashion has been making women feel better by making the numbers smaller for decades. I recently found a cocktail dress I got for an event about twenty years ago. It’s a stunning black velvet one and a size 10. It used to be tight, but I wanted it and was unable to find it in a bigger size, so I bought it, starved myself the week before the event, wore control top pantyhose and sucked everything in. That’s how I used to do it. Now I buy everything too big, because I like to breathe. I put on this dress, thinking, well, it’s a size 10. I’m about a size 2. It couldn’t possibly fit me anymore.
It fit perfectly.
Even with evidence of what the fashion industry does with sizing - statistics, anecdotal, observational - we still seem to let ourselves in for these games. We pour money into companies that use our bodies as psychological war zones.
I don't want to be the one who calls out Victoria's Secret, the one who can't buy anything without thinking about the political implications of the purchase. I just want a new bra. But in an environment where one competitor has almost shut down the competition, it's hard to make that happen. I mean, when was the last time you were anywhere a department store to get to the "Intimates" department?
Expressing ourselves with clothes has been one of the few areas of creativity consistently allowed to women who could afford to do so. It has become part of who we are, how we identify ourselves, and how we fit ourselves into the world around us. We dress our mood, we dress our role, we dress for the event, we dress for effect. It would suck to have to trade the fun of dressing up for our balance and dignity. It sucks that the huge amounts of money women spend on clothing and accessories isn't enough to get companies to stop trying to get more of it and to respect us in all our shapes and sizes.
“…unapologetic feminist, dulcet-toned poet, activist, film-maker, editor of Zestyverse” (LossLit) E. Amato is a published poet, award-winning screenwriter, and established performer. She has three poetry collections by Zesty Pubs: Swimming Through Amber, 5, & Will Travel, and is a content writer for The Body Is Not an Apology. She also has a special relationship with Marmite.