Bra Fitting and the Body Positivity Movement
Today's guest article is by Sam Conover, a bra fitter, blogger and instagrammer from Secrets from Your Sister, a bra fitting boutique in Toronto, Canada.
I have worked as a fitter at Secrets for Your Sister for over ten years and consider myself a bra fitting advocate. I strongly believe that a well-fitted bra can be beneficial to comfort, physical health, and even emotional health. I also consider myself an advocate for body positivity. In my opinion, all bodies are good bodies, and it’s important to celebrate and recognize the diversity of bodies that exist in the world.
Holly’s recent post coupled with my own ongoing thoughts has prompted me to write about how the body positivity and bra fitting movements interact. In many ways, the bra fitting movement promotes body positivity. Education and promotion of sizes beyond the standard rubric has allowed many to comfortably wear bras, to explore fashion, and to feel better in their bodies. However, there can be a negative side to bra fit evangelism that I’d like to explore here. The major problem within bra fitting advocacy is one of prescriptivism. By this I mean some fitters act as if there is one right way to wear a bra, one right body which is right for bra fitting and one right shape to have in a bra.
Bra Fitting "Rules"
Ideally, a fitting should be a collaboration between the fitter and the customer. My job is to use my knowledge and expertise to educate and guide the client towards a bra that is best for her needs. Unfortunately, from my reading and the stories I have heard, it seems like many fitters can be very prescriptive, ignoring the client’s specific personal wants and needs.
Anyone with a passing familiarity with bra fitting can probably rattle off the fit points of a good bra. But these points are an idealized guide which don’t account for the huge amount of variation in human bodies and personal preference. Sometimes we need to deviate from these fit points, and that’s okay! I think for most this strict adherence to perfect fit comes from a benign place of enthusiasm (I wrote a bit about the zealousness of the newly converted in the online fitting community, and got some pushback for it), but it also comes from thinking that you know someone’s body better than they do.
I’ve seen this recently in our Instagram comments, when a customer submitted a photo of herself in an beloved Ewa Michalak bra. A commenter kept critiquing the fit of the bra, despite the customer’s insistence that this bra was a comfortable favourite of hers. At the end of the day, isn’t the bra wearer’s personal comfort/aesthetics more important than blindly following Fit Rules?
Bra Fittings Can Help Women of All Sizes
The most prominent media image of those helped by bra fittings is of fuller busted women. We often encounter smaller busted customers who are nervous to ask for a fitting because they assume this service is only for the well-endowed. Sometimes, there is even the perception that smaller busted women don’t need to wear bras, and therefore cannot benefit from bra fitting, or should restrain themselves to shopping at standard stores. The thing is no one needs to wear a bra. Bras are worn for many reasons: to provide comfort, to give a more "professional"** look, or as another way to explore fashion. Small busted women may want to wear a bra for many different reasons, and more importantly, they’re certainly not accountable to me! Bra fitters exist to help all people, no matter their size.
Just as the people who can benefit from bra fittings can be bigger, smaller, or somewhere in the middle, so can bra fitters. In the past, some fuller busted customers have been apprehensive when working with smaller busted fitters. The thing is, while it’s nice to trade in shared experiences, knowing what it’s like to be busty does not make a person more or less able to fit a person with big breasts. What’s necessary is training, product knowledge, and an ability to listen.
Flattering is Subjective!
The last issue I’d like to discuss is the question of aesthetics and how it pertains to what shapes we consider flattering, natural,** or “good”. In fittings I try to keep my own personal aesthetics out of the equation. I’m really into a high, perky shape (usually via a cut and sew bra). Online, I notice many bra bloggers prefer a rounder, smoother shape. While it’s totally fine to have a preference when it comes to how your own body looks, no one should force this preference on others.
One part of bra fit training at SFYS involves trying on a bunch of bras to see how they fit and feel on your body. While training a newer fitter, I was surprised when she kept complaining many of the bras lifted her too high - it turns out she preferred a lower slung, rounder 1970s style breast shape. While I’m usually not keen on that shape for myself, it was important to take myself out of the equation, so when that fitter wanted a bra, I could help her find something that was right for her.
Bra Fitters Can Support the Body Positivity Movement
I think bra fitting is important to the body positivity movement for several reasons. For many, wearing a poorly fitting bra can cause discomfort and pain. Wearing a better bra can help customers feel more at ease in their bodies. Bra fittings can also expand the definition of what is “flattering” to different body types when a fitter brings in shapes and styles a little outside of the customer’s usual comfort zone. Often a client will be happily surprised when introduced to something new. For example, many small busted women who only wore lined or padded bras in the past end up loving the look and feel of unlined bras and bralettes. Lastly, far too many people think their bodies are abnormal or wrong because they are unable to find bras in their size. Bra fitting helps to spread body positivity by representing and normalizing a wide range of sizes.
Fit guidelines should be just that –a guide to help people find the right bra, rather than a rigid prescription. While fuller busted people may be the most recognizable face of bra fitting, all sizes can benefit –there is no correct size for a body to be in order to be welcome. And while everyone will always have their own personal preferences, those preferences shouldn’t colour how we help someone choose a bra. The thread that runs through all of this is how important it is for bra fit supporters to recognize the diversity of bodies that exist, to recognize that no body is better than another, and to trust the lived experience of the people who inhabit those bodies. In doing this, I believe the bra fitting movement can support the body positivity movement.
*A lifted and shaped bust, often with concealed nipples is seen by many as more professional. I think if you feel better braless, go for it, but I understand for many it’s more comfortable to follow convention.
**I hate the term “natural” in general, and especially when talking about breast shape. There is so much variation out there!