My first bra was lying on the bed when I came in after school that day in the spring of my seventh-grade year. Seventh-grade may seem late for a girl’s first bra, but it was right on schedule for the stick-girl that was me.
The bra was small and white and stiff, and later that evening, I found out it was also scratchy. I should have laundered it before wearing, to remove the industrial-strength sizing that was integrated into the fibers of the bra, but my family didn’t own an automatic washer or dryer, and there was no time to wash by hand and line dry this deceitful scrap of cotton and elastic.
There was no time because I was scheduled to help serve a special dinner being held for the teachers at the school cafeteria that evening. I and the rest of my seventh-grade class would be hunched over steam tables, operating commercial high-temperature automatic dishwashers, dodging bits of uneaten food, and trying not to touch all the things we would have to handle that evening. All in a room with no air-conditioning.
In my ignorance, I assumed that it was time to begin wearing a bra full-time. Right then. If I had known then what I know now about the comfort-factor of any bra, I would have entered into this new phase of my life much more cautiously. I would have started out more slowly. I would have put it in my dresser drawer and looked at it briefly two to three times a week for–say, a month or two. Then I would have begun wearing it for short spans of time–like a break-in period. Perhaps five or ten minutes here and there. Once I was familiar with the hooking and the strapping and the chafing and the binding and the riding up that the bra presented, I would have visualized myself wearing the bra someplace besides my bedroom. Like an athlete that imagines the race over and over before she faces the real thing, I would have readied myself for wearing the bra in real life.
But I didn’t know, and so I did none of this preparation. I strapped on this unknown, unexplored undergarment around my uninitiated body and set off for the dinner.
My breasts, at this age, were not readily noticeable to anyone but me, so the wrinkles in my shirt caused by the unfilled cups of the bra stood out like huge blots on my chest. Furthermore, since we had been instructed to wear white button-up shirts for this affair, every strap and band of the bra not only showed through the shirt, but seemed to be magnified. I was sure the first thing everyone would think when they looked at me was, “Good grief, Stick Girl is wearing a bra.”
However, my embarrassment fell quickly to second place in my consciousness because anytime your body is intruded upon by something from the outside that is new and uncomfortable, like contact lenses, thong underwear, or your first bra, it’s all you can feel. It’s all you can think about–most probably the way a convict feels with his first set of shackles. There could have been an earthquake, and as I was extricating myself from the rubble, I would have been pulling at that bra to ease its binding effect.
Added to that, was the heat and humidity that a commercial kitchen generates. The bra was getting closer and closer to my skin, and I was beginning to feel all the discomfort that the combination of stiff fabric, binding elastic, heat, high humidity, and awkwardness can deliver.
Every time I asked- “Would you like gravy on your mashed potatoes?”, every time I scraped or rinsed a dirty tray, every time I felt perspiration trickle down my chest, my thoughts cried out, “Take this thing off!” I was miserable. I needed relief. I was desperate to escape the torture that had assailed my body and was tormenting my mind.
There have been times since then when I haven’t equated relief with taking off my bra, although those times are foggy in my memory-perhaps due to a circulatory problem caused by the bra itself. But recently, well, my body has once again recognized its enemy and persuades me, whenever possible, to take it off and toss it.