YOU KNOW YOU’RE A SISTER when you’re trying on a bra, and every bra nightmare you’re ever had comes sling-shotting back at your self-esteem as if loaded and launched from a 44DD, and you start to get just the eensiest bit hostile in the dressing room at the pooches and the pouches, and how you look nothing whatever like a Victoria’s Secret model, and you leave 19 bras in the dressing room, buying none, and go crying to the car and call your sister.
“Shopping for a bra,” may be the single worst phrase in the retail lexicon. Substitute, “purse,” or “shoes,” or even “sex toy,” and few if any of us feel the tiny slivers of icy humiliation that run right up the collective female spine when the word “bra” is tossed into that quote.
It’s not that I haven’t had a good fit or two along the way. There was large, red-haired Orthodox Jewish man at Manhattan’s famous Orchard Corset (where Madonna is said to have gotten her Gaultier pointy-cups), all those years ago, who simply glanced at my fully clothed chest, called out a size I’d never in my life imagined being, and then handed me what turned out to be the single, comfortable, properly-fitting bra of my life. Problem was, it was ugly. Medievally ugly. But comfortable. Such kind comfort sonnets are written about. But fetishically grotesque. So ugly was this bra that no one ever saw me in it, despite the fact that I wore it all the time. Relentlessly kind but hideous, it was the Shrek of bras.
What followed are years of misery, after I refused to go back for more ugly bras (and there was that little tiny issue of calling out my size in the store), and instead again set out on my own into dressing rooms, almost always emerging with exactly the wrong thing and, of course, buying it anyway, and calling my sister to kvetch.
Last week was stacking up to be no different. My arms loaded with bras of all shapes (and the wrong size), I stomped into the Macy’s dressing room, expecting the worst, and got it. But this time, my teenage daughter was in the next dressing room, and despite my previous personal experiences, I knew I had one of those chances to change the course of history. This was confirmed after seeing the slump in my daughter’s mood after her own dressing room try-on. And so we left Macy’s and walked the mall. And while I have no more faith in the Victoria’s Secret Angel than the next woman, something made me stop, think, and calmly stroll into the place, go up to a saleswoman, and say the following thing:
“Please help me.”
My daughter looked stricken. Was her mother really going to talk about breasts with a stranger? Yes, apparently I was.
It took six trips and maybe 25 bras, including a recognition that yes, I was choosing the wrong cup size, wrong band size, as well as the wrong styles, until I hit what could have been the really big snag.
“This fits,” I told her, as I took the bra back to the saleswoman, “but I’m pooching out a little under the arms,” to which the wise woman arched an eyebrow toward the enormous black and white photograph of the near-naked model in a heavenly-hovering mode just above us, and said, “Everybody does a little. Everybody.”
Later, at home, I dialed Margaret and told her the tale: I had new bras for the first time in years; my daughter had learned the lesson that you ask for help even when the subject is your own breasts; and that you do not leave empty-handed, no matter how hard it might seem, to which Margaret said the two loveliest words a sister can say:
You know you’re a sister when that happens.
We’re collecting sisters’ versions of when we know we’re not out there on our own. What’s yours?