I found myself Sunday afternoon on the second floor of a department store bypassing a man with a toddler outside the Misses Intimates section. I’m not sure who felt more out of place. After some time of gentle nudging from my husband, it was time to get a new bra.
Through racks crowded together in silken flesh tones, I made a few choices, and was left without one to go ahead and try it on. I didn’t even know my size anymore. Surprisingly the dressing room was bustling with a bright and chittery female presence. I overheard a mother’s quiet envy of her daughter’s figure, the curiosity of a grandmother in the dark, and an equally boastful and self-conscious teen. Another group, three girls prepping for tropical vacation; 5 pounds to lose, friday dates with a tanning booth, and one’s mother with a heart of gold assuring each girl along the way that they were perfect. Precious. Different. And to be proud of it.
My first bra came from the basement of our house; from a box packed away of my sister’s old holdings, thrown in thoughtlessly by chore. A nylon baby blue sports bra. My budding chest could no longer be ignored or neglected due to my mother’s aversion to parent, or my sister’s college enrollment. I was drawing unwanted attention at school, and remember the day I began to notice the soft drooping from my chest each time I bent at the water fountain.
Much, much later, when my sister discovered the pitiful remains of the resurrected blue bra at my bedside one night, she stole me away to my first real look at myself. Inside a dressing room by a bench stacked with brassieres, I looked down. “Ew, I have a hair on my nipple!” She was quick to hush me from behind formica doors at the gasp of an attendant making busywork- set to make sure the young girls were not stealing, I’m certain. “At some point, we all do,” she assured. After choosing whatever fit and my sister could afford, I sat in the passenger’s seat with the new bras in a bag on my lap.
We drove away with the windows down, her foot made of lead against the night, against her guilt, against the harsh realities of growing up with a mother without the stomach, or gut for these things. “I want you to take that bra off,” she said to me. I was resistant. It had been comforting, the haphazard way I managed to take care of myself- a head’s up solution to my problems that I could not see was only a penny. “Go on,” she nudged. “Throw it out the window!” I fumbled with it awkwardly beneath my shirt, freed it from myself, and held my arm out the window. Hand clasped tightly around the blue ball of child’s play, I finally let go to watch it bounce on wind and pavement in the side view mirror, settling consciously into the driver’s seat of my own femininity.
Twenty years later, I’m staring at the tattered remnants of a nursing bra I never took the time to replace, that I never considered worth the attention or care. An oversight biting with the pointed feelings I had but two decades before from the savage mouth of neglect. A four year phase into motherhood I barreled my body through with blinders on. Boot by boot a path I navigate with limited resources as a daughter of a mother who ultimately abandoned her family.
I would never have insight into Bras. Periods. Childbirth. Postpartum. Menopause. Instead I would have scars; evidence that the passage to womanhood is through a rosebush, as piercing as it is beautiful. And the only way to deal with procuring the same revelation twice, is to pay it forward, and prune a softer space for my daughter to grow into.
The grace is that she was born to a different time and circumstance; to a father destined for girls, sure to bring home two sets of Twizzlers, gossip magazines, and hygiene care for the moon that sets on his house. He’s a man that will buy as many bras as it takes to put a smile on my face. And though we will be behind her, she’s a daughter I hope will never need a nudge, but can learn to nurture herself through each phase from the beginning… a daughter with people to look to in order to handle such intimate things. See Reverse For Care. Gentle Cycle Only.