01 April 2003


Last night, I bought you your first bra. Correction: I bought you three of them, all different styles and fabrics—because my first bra was just that, one bra, and I always wished I could have had more of a choice.

In my day, Queens girls went to an old-fashioned lingerie store to get the momentous first bra. In the window of the store would be translucent plastic legs modeling pantyhose, headless shoulders with bustlines in nighties (both daring and demure), quilty bathrobes and stretchy girdles. The door would be heavy, all glass, like you were pushing to get into some brightly-lit tomb. The store was invariably staffed by older ladies who wore bifocals on a chain around their necks, called you "dawling" and asked "Isn't this one beauty-ful?" in a raspy smoker's voice.

Before you actually tried a bra on, you had to submit to a mortifying tape-measure around the chest—two times, once right across, and the second underneath your swelling shape. Then the saleslady would retreat behind the glass counter, pulling a big box down from a shelf that was labeled "32AA" in BIG black letters (this felt really embarrassing, as though everyone now knew you'd be wearing the smallest possible size). She'd then fish around inside the box and bring out a bra. The box was too high to see into, so you had no idea if there was some other style in there you might have liked...no, there it was: your assigned bra.

The white trifle felt lightweight and silly in your hands as you headed for the dressing room. Like this is gonna make a difference, you'd think, recalling the ouchy feeling you were now getting whenever you ran down the sidewalk playing tag, or when you took the stairs at a gallop. Regardless, you pulled a little curtain across the dressing room doorway and struggled out of your T-shirt. The bra was alien to the touch, and the straps dug right into your shoulder as you reached behind you--how the hell do they do this?!—trying to hook the closure. It felt like minutes were ticking away as your mom stood patiently at the glass counter, waiting.

Finally...hooked. In the mirror, you turned and contemplated this new shape on your body. The cups of this bra were thickly lined with synthetic batting; alas, the stuffing was too dented-looking to actually improve on your slender shape. In between your breasts (breasts! still an absurd new word), there was a tiny white satin bow with a tinier white fake flower in its center. You'd shrug around then, trying to stop that digging sensation on your shoulders. And then you'd jump in place (just a teeny bit, so that the ladies in the store wouldn't think you'd lost your mind)..and whaddya know? they didn't bounce and ouch! Whew, you'd think,that decides it.

You'd poke your head into the corner of the curtain then, and multiple women (including Mom) would turn to look at you. "This one's good," you'd say. "Can I, um, wear it home?"

"Sure," said the saleslady. Mom nodded. Back in the dressing room, you reached for your T-shirt and tugged it back over your head. And then, the first womanly thing you'd really ever done in your life: you tucked your shirt into your jeans, pulled taut; stood up straight with shoulders back, and checked out your bustline side-to.

Still you.

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