For the last month I’ve tried to write a simple review of Third Love Bras, but I guess I should have known that for me, bras and simple would not go together.
When I pitched this article, I delighted at the possibility of getting new underwear, and writing about bras. I also thought, well this’ll be funny. I’m a terrible bra wearer. Meaning I don’t like to do it, and I don’t do it comfortably or with ease. But I do it because I like how it makes me look in clothes, I think. Or at least that it makes me look how I’m supposed to look, because for my forty-five years on this planet, I’ve rarely felt that I look like I’m supposed to look.
When I pitched this article, I also carried some small hope that these bras would be the bras that would finally feel comfortable and work for me.
Now, I’m amazed at what a stinking metaphor that turned out to be for how I feel about cultural expectations of women and beauty. I used to crack jokes about not meeting those expectations or fitting in, to hide what’s a deeper pain and struggle with belonging. On the surface I say fuck it, I don’t need that to belong. Even in a deep true place in the caverns of my heart, I know I don’t need that to belong. But then there’s always a little part of me still hopeful that if I do or buy the right thing, I will finally be part of the club.
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To be perfectly honest, opening my underwear drawer can sometimes feel like a horror movie, because it’s one of the scariest places for me to go—a place stuffed with shame and disappointment.
As a caveat, I do find a few bright spots in there. A soft black tank top I use as a bra-replacing undershirt, one I cut out of a T-shirt that says Wicca Woman mimicking the Wonder Woman logo. Black underwear imprinted with the word “Unchaste” from a fundraiser for a wonderful reader’s series I participated in in Portland. It fits just right. An old silky black bra with white magnolias on it, from which I ripped out the underwire.
But the majority of things do not delight me. Things that kind of work, but which I’ve learned are too big to be sexy. Things I’ve bought that are too small or ill-fitting to actually feel comfortable on my body. Much of it a constant reminder that there’s something wrong with me and how I line up with what a beautiful woman’s body should be.
Up until last month, the one “decent” bra I had and wore regularly, I bought at a women’s networking event outside of Calgary about five years ago–a big investment for me at the time. If I wore it as tight as it needed to be for the straps to stay up on my shoulders, it dug into my skin. Although even when I wore it as tight as it needed to be, it still slipped down.
My bra straps have slipped off of my shoulders for as long as I can remember. For me, wearing a bra means regularly reaching in to yank the straps back up. Something that convinces me I must have terrible posture. Or a lack of endurance. Or hypersensitivity. Pick your poison. Wearing a bra has also meant needing to periodically pluck at the sides of it through my sweater or shirt, to get relief from where the underwire digs into my side boob.
My favorite clothing items are ones that don’t require bras to be fashion-appropriate. Sundresses with reinforced bodices, for instance. Unfortunately, sundresses have a limited season where I live.
Since the bra to me has always seemed a necessary evil, I’ve also been the person who’s thought it would be a great idea to have a bra tree, kind of like a coat rack, stationed at my front door, so anyone who comes into my private space could be at ease ASAP. I’ve also been known to take my bra off when I’m out and shove it in my purse or backpack before I get home. I just don’t find them comfortable.
But when I wear the cotton camisoles I do find more bearable, or the nothing at all in which I find maximum comfort, I know that my breasts become a smooshy slight protrusion from my torso instead of the perky, well-rounded and upright citizens they’re supposed to be for me to look put together and beautiful. Then I feel simultaneously self-conscious and resentful. When I wear a bra, it’s uncomfortable and resentful. Either way, resentful is in the milieu.
All of which is to say I brought just a wee bit of baggage to this article, stuff I didn’t even know I’d packed until I sat down to write it.
Before the writing, when I was feeling flouncy and experimental, and decidedly not wearing a bra, I took Third Love’s Fit Finder Quiz to find my perfect fit, which involved me needing to answer questions like how do the cups and straps fit, and how old is your bra. When I chose over two years, the quiz assured me they wouldn’t tell, but I’m telling you now.
Now I also realize that oh, that feels familiar. It sounds funny, but it actually hides shame. Also, why should I have shame about having a bra older than two years? Should I be ashamed of everything I’ve had longer than two years, which would in fact include my breasts?
The quiz then required getting naked and trying to figure out what shape my breasts were—teardrop, assymetrical, bell, and relaxed were some options. This part I actually liked. Mostly free of judgment, and more about looking at what is and finding what worked for it.
Finally, I finished the quiz, entered my email and clicked “view my results.” They recommended a different cup and band size than I’d been wearing, so that part felt good—some kind of acknowledgment that I hadn’t been making up the discomfort, that something else probably would feel better.
I spent at least thirty minutes perusing their site—who knew there could be so many options?—and finally ordered three bras to try. Given that I’ve bought most of my underwear on discounts at Marshalls or the like for much of my adult life, it felt like a luxury.
The word-lover in me enjoyed the color names—twilight, mocha, fig, sienna, sea salt, peacock, storm—and I puffed up with the power of selecting whether I wanted twilight or a storm on my chest. Or figs and sea salt, you know, if I was hosting a posh dinner party.
Within a week, I found a box on my doorstep, next to the dormant hydrangea and bleeding heart.
The packaging I’d describe as fancy and sweet, and I opened the box to smoothly folded tissue paper containing what I’d ordered. Inside the tissue paper, three bras, layered one on top of the other. On the very top, the peacock Lace Contour Plunge, then the twilight 24/7 Classic T-Shirt, and finally the sea salt Cotton T-Shirt bra. With each an attached tag with directions.
I’m ninety-nine percent sure I’ve never had a bra come with directions before. I didn’t know I needed them.
- Start by wearing your bra on the loosest hook.
Okay, that seemed easy and self-explanatory. I fastened, and couldn’t resist saying, “I’ll give you a loosest hook.”
- Gather each breast into the cups.
I admit that at this, I had a strangely juxtaposed rush back to my Catholic school days and heard the hymn “Gather Us In” pounding in the background as I gathered each breast into the cup.
I hadn’t realized before that my breasts needed to be gathered, but doing so actually did help the bra to fit better. Who knew?
- Tighten the straps every other month.
Excellent. I wondered if I should keep my instructions handy.
Right away, my favorite visual was the peacock lace. Of all of the necklines, I seem to look best in a plunge, and this bra confirmed as much.
My next favorite was the cotton sea salt. Although sea salt did sound to me like a pretentious way to say white, it really wasn’t just stark white. It looked creamier and much more mermaidesque, as if it could have been woven from dried ocean tears, and I liked how it looked against my skin.
My least favorite at first glance and try on was actually their first recommendation for me—the 24/7 Classic T-Shirt bra. Twilight when confined to fabric seemed to lose its luster and light, and it just didn’t feel great.
When wearing it out, ready to finally see what it would be like to live without the strap, I found that the patented no-slip straps had clearly not been patented for me. And when I bent forward, the underwire dug into my side-boob zone.
As for the other two, I enjoyed the aesthetics of the peacock plunge enough that wearing it for the occasional outing has felt fun, and the texture of the cotton on the ocean tears bra has been the easiest against my skin. Strangely enough, the straps slipped less on these two than they did on the one with the patent.
To be fair to Third Love, I need to be upfront: since I’ve gotten these bras, I’ve felt even more confined by the imposed structures of womanhood and beauty than I ever have. Although I could do without the barrage of emails (one every day since I placed my order), I don’t think their bras are terrible. Obviously, I found beauty and even fun in the process of selecting and sometimes wearing them. I actually appreciate their efforts to offer numerous styles with numerous bodies in mind. To make the best of having to wear a bra. I also know that a line like “we promise we won’t tell” as part of the quiz is most likely intended to be playful and not shame-inducing.
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It’s just that now I’m questioning the very “need” to make the best of it. And that despite good intentions, language that’s rooted in deep cultural body-shaming programming can’t actually be playful. It’s not a game, and it all perpetuates a system that wants to keep female bodies in check. Even if they are fastened by the loosest hook, it’s still a hook.
Things I’ve joked about or brushed off or just put up with because “that’s how it is” don’t seem funny or possible to ignore or endure anymore. I’m less inclined than ever to want to belong. I don’t want to joke about wishing I could lose twenty pounds to be able to wear a swimsuit, or to agree that bras are required professional garb for women to be taken seriously, or to ignore my own physical discomfort so someone else will think I look beautiful.
Are bras a metaphor for the structures women have been forced to survive in? For me, yes.
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And if so, while so many of these structures are still operating—crumbling maybe, but still operating—can we work the system so that the bras can support us and that we might find some measure of joy in them?
For me, I don’t know. It might be like my relationship with the Catholic Church. Ultimately, I stepped away because I wasn’t interested in fighting to change the system from within so it would have room for me as both a woman and a leader. I realized I already was a leader, one who ministers whether any institution ordained it so or not. And, I don’t know that I’m interested in continuing the search for a perfect bra as much as I’m interested in simply being perfectly who I am, which is someone who feels much more comfortable without the underpinnings of underwire. Someone who no longer wants to fit in more than she wants to flourish.
A few weeks ago I watched an episode of Wild Nevada, a show on public television. In one segment, a family hikes through Galena Creek Regional Park outside of Reno. In the middle of the trail, they come across a giant split boulder. What had started as a tiny crack in the once whole boulder slowly grew as water trickled in, froze, and expanded, until the boulder broke in two.
While watching the show, I felt a surge of hope at the possibility of something seemingly set in stone, because it was a stone, getting cracked open by the steady, elemental, transformative power of water—trickling in as a liquid, freezing and expanding as a solid, and over time making way for life to pass through.There’s a great shot of a girl in magenta leggings walking right through this split boulder. I haven’t been able to get the image out of my mind, especially while working on this article.
And, to clarify, in this case, boulders don’t represent boobs.
Rather, boulders are the rigid systems that purport to hold women up, but actually hold us in place. And the water is women, is the feminine, is woman forging a new path, through which the next generation can pass, in whatever she’s most comfortable wearing.
Note: This is an honest review. Neither Sweatpants & Coffee nor the author have received compensation or product from Third Love.