Fitting in – why bras should support more than just our breasts

// 13 March 2017

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Sally Parkin is a writer, poet and new mum who is passionate about creative expression and raising her daughter as a feminist. Sally is our guest blogger for March

It’s August and I’m eight months pregnant. BBC’s Woman’s Hour is on the radio and the topic is ‘Underwear: what do we wear and who is it for?’. Jane Garvey has been sent for a bra fitting with Claire at Selfridges. In the changing rooms, Claire tells Jane: “Everyone we get…from a size 6 to…18 say exactly the same things about their bodies […]. Women need to be a bit kinder to themselves”. My ears prick up.

The discussion continues and another guest, writer and former bra fitter Bridget Minamore, describes how “every single person [she] fitted apologised as they entered the room”. She explains: “All these women hated some part of their body”.

Having always had smaller boobs, bras have never played a big role in my life – other than in the changing rooms at school, where inferior crop-tops and peer pressure made it seem like they should. In fact in my early twenties, I embraced the freedom of not having to wear a bra. It wasn’t until after I gave birth to my daughter in September last year that I suddenly found myself with enormous milk-filled grown-up woman-breasts and so braved it and booked my first fitting.

On the day of the fitting my partner and our brand new baby come along for support. I don’t change in front of them – instead I hide behind the cubicle door in shame. In the mirror is a body I don’t recognise. When I was pregnant, I lost my slim sporty self and embraced the bump, but now I have neither and feel weighed down by new heavy boobs and sore leaky nipples. The unfriendly rush-rush approach of the fitting assistant who seems totally oblivious to my embarrassment makes my experience even more unpleasant.

After the news of my new size sinks in, I feel I am surely at the fun bit: choosing my bra. Disappointment punches me in the chest as I’m directed to a small and uninspiring selection, all in horrible shiny black, white, or a nude exclusive to one type of skin tone. Was this the bland palette of motherhood? Had I lost my identity somewhere in a shopping basket under maternity pads, breast pads and paper knickers?

I settle on the most imaginative design, a white bra with black polka dots. The straps are thick and practical. It costs eighteen pounds, which feels expensive for something so necessary. I buy two. “It’s quite pretty,” I tell myself (if only because the other choices are so hideous).

I question whether my experience of a fitting would have differed if I’d been shopping for a regular bra without my swollen mum breasts. Unfortunately I can say with confidence that I would still have felt saddened by the reflection I saw in the mirror. I imagine the only difference would be that I would have thought that my boobs were ‘too small’ as opposed to ‘too big’.

I do think, however, I would have had a wider choice in bra design. It seems that since having our daughter, my breasts have become purely functional – and so has my underwear. Breastfeeding can sometimes make you feel like you’re a milk-machine. My daughter is five months now and I still find it difficult to admit I’m a stay-at-home mum, brainwashed into thinking I need a job to have my own identity. Often my passions of reading and painting and drawing are forgotten under piles of dirty nappies and a stack of washing up in the sink. For a period of time I was bleeding, milk was leaking out of me and I felt shattered, fragile and emotional. I needed a self-esteem boost. I still wanted my partner to find me attractive and I wanted to feel good about myself.

And feeling good about ourselves after having a baby isn’t easy in a society that wants us to buy products to get rid of our stretch marks, lose our baby weight (quickly) and get back our pre-pregnancy bodies. It is unrealistic and unreasonable.

I strongly reject the label ‘yummy mummy’. The pressure of maintaining the roles of devoted mother and sex goddess simultaneously is wrong and an arguably impossible ask. I have found it very difficult switching between feeding our baby to being intimate with my partner. The feeling of lying in between them, with both wanting me physically, has made me feel torn down the middle and like my body isn’t my own.

So no, I’m not asking for sexy nursing bras with nipple tassels and matching stockings (although maybe some mums are and are equally disappointed by what’s on offer!). As a new mum I definitely want to be comfortable, but I don’t want to be a ‘Mum-bot’. Is it too much to ask for a fun, functional nursing bra that I like and that makes me feel good about myself?

Image courtesy rosefirerising on Flickr. Image depicts racks of colourful bras in a shop

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