An open love letter to my boobs

Hi, I’m the founder of Bra Theory, where we take an empathetic and mathematical approach to building the better bra. One thing I’ve learned through Bra Theory is that every woman has a very special relationship with her breasts. Today, on Valentine’s Day, I write an open love letter to a very special presence in my life — my boobs.

Dear Boobs,

I kind of liked you when you first appeared on the scene of my prepubescent life. You had sprouted from nowhere, tiny little rose buds that were squishy and triangular, unlike anything that had ever appeared on my body. You were new, and fun, and I was excited to meet you.

You were different from all the other breasts I knew — all two pairs of them. I knew my grandmother’s breasts — pendulous, soft ones that would swing close to her tummy when she walked without a bra on. I also knew my mother’s chest which looked, simply put, normal. Those breasts were all I knew, and I didn’t think twice about them.

But you — you were different.

I was proud of you. I remember feeling smug as a bug that we had something that the boys didn’t. I remember the neighbor boy gaping at you as I pulled up my shirt to share.

And then, I remember him looking away.

I learned, quickly, that you were supposed to be a secret.

There were the new looks, always averted with an undercurrent of embarrassment; there were the stares, of disbelief or of something a little seedier, whenever I’d run out barefoot and bare-chested onto the beach with you. Before long, girls in middle school gym class popped up out of nowhere, like spring flowers, all dressed in their white cotton trainer bras with little pink bows.

Without a word, before we had really gotten a chance to know each other, I learned that you were supposed to be hidden.

So I covered you up.

I joined the other girls. I didn’t really need a training bra, but I got one just for you. In some ways, I was happy to be a freshly minted member of this pink-bow society. In other ways, I felt a little let down. It seemed as though you were meant to be a whisper in locker rooms, not something to be proud of.

It was the 8th grade. You had been growing, but not fast enough. The other girls and their boobs were getting more stares from the boys, which meant that they were more popular. The other girls in the locker rooms were graduating from cotton bras to the Victoria’s Secret hot pink bombshell bras.

I wanted us to be like them. I asked you to grow larger. You didn’t listen, and I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. I begged my dad to go to Victoria’s Secret, and he agreed. It was thrilling to finally go into a store like that, like all the other girls.

There we were, finally in on the secret that all the other girls knew, ready to enter the pink and black store that meant you were finally a woman. I looked back at my dad, who was dragging his feet across the threshold, face falling, shoulders tensing, eyes avoiding mine. I looked into the store, and there I saw the ritz and glamour, the rose-scented air drifting across the racks of sparkly pink and sexy black, the black and white photos of models with their lips half open. Around me, I saw all girls of all ages, excited to be a part of it all.

I learned another secret about you that day. Yes, I was supposed to hide you. I was supposed to show you off, too. I wasn’t sure when I was supposed to do one thing or another. I never knew with you.

So I did it halfway. I entered the store, running across the threshold, holding myself apart from the salespeople, head down, as awkward as a teenager with her dad trailing five feet behind her in a lingerie store can look. Then I got the prettiest bras I could find, because I still wanted to treat you nice, even if I had to hide you. I wanted us to fit in, inside the locker rooms and out.

But you never really did fill out anything I got for you. I pulled my weight, and you weren’t pulling yours. I knew that anyone with a pair of eyeballs could see the lines across my shirt, the lumpy, half-filled mushroom underneath.

You looked happy, free-floating, bouncing around off padded walls. But I wasn’t happy with you. You swung out, nipples flopping, whenever I bent over to pick up a pencil. You pulled my attention off the blackboard whenever I felt you riding up my back; you embarrassed me in front of that boy I had a crush on because my straps were slipping and he saw it all.

None of those bras worked. You were always too high maintenance for that. We tried and gave up on a lot of bras, stuffing them into the back of that drawer that we designated the Bra Graveyard. In the end, we settled for one nude bra that didn’t hurt too badly. We stuck with it, ratty-tatty and sweat-soaked as it was, and never revisited it for years.

Looking back, I guess we were happy together, like that. We made it work.

Then, college happened, work happened, and we were in a new city — New York — with a new job. I had some disposable income.

New city, a new job, a new me — I thought I might give you a new home. I stepped into Victoria’s Secret once more for you. It was louder, more glittery, more perfumed than I had even remembered. I went with a friend — male — because I was certain that I was beyond caring about what others think of you.

But to be honest, I wasn’t over it. I was still embarrassed for you. I didn’t know your size, and I didn’t really want to know. You were probably a B cup, not like the DD girls, but I never had you measured.

So, as per my modus operandi, I skipped the salesperson. I went straight for the drawers, rummaging, and I found a hot pink B-cup bra with “+2 cup sizes!”. Maybe it would look better on me, I thought, with the same old hope of the girl who wanted a pretty pink bra.

My male friend took a peek at the cups. “B, as I suspected,” he said with a smug grin.

It was then that I felt like you and I both were naked. I blamed you and myself. I didn’t say anything because boys would be boys, and it was true, anyway, so why deny it? It was what it was. And I was stuck with you.

I bought the bras. The “+2 cup sizes!” bra made me look like I had a bulletproof vest on, and all those other bras that I had purchased with such bravado, male friend in tow? They didn’t fit.

It turned out that you had grown up, just like I asked. But you never did ripen into the perfect grapefruits I had been imagining. Instead, you grew, sideways and up, of all directions. You were bigger in ways that I didn’t want — wider, taller, spread out in a way that looked messy — and you had this doe-eyed look, one nipple pointed east, one nipple pointed west. All the bras I bought were somehow too small and too large. It was devastating.

I saw the other girls; I saw you. I knew you looked like the odd one out. So I kept you covered in foam, molded to someone else’s shape — but there was always that quadboobing, that gapping, that sliding of the straps, that itching, that digging, that pinching.

Then came the slippery slope of lost hope and learned helplessness. I learned to set the bar lower and lower. It didn’t matter if our bra was pretty or not. It didn’t even matter if it fit or not.

Finally, just like that, I gave up. I went for the sports bra.

All that mattered now, now that the bar was as low as it could go, was that the nipples — those rose buds of yours that started it all, the thing that made us different from everyone else — didn’t show.

A few years passed, weddings came and went, and I looked at you — small, listless, hibernating in that 4-year old sports bra. You were always slumped over, as if in defeat — that is, except when it was that time of the month and we were trying to catch a 6 train and running down the stairs — then you’d be grumpy and sensitive to everything, bouncing with anger and pain.

I looked at you — smaller and sadder than ever, unsupported — and for once, my heart broke for you.

I was stuck with you. You were stuck with me. There had to be a solution.

I decided to do my due diligence.

First, I Googled, “why do bras suck”. It led me on a merry go round of people who explained why you and I were doomed to begin with. At least we weren’t not alone. Seventy thousand women were all huddled around their computer screens, inputting precise measurements of their bras that no one had bothered to explain to me — cup width, depth, height. What was all this nonsense they spoke about — FOB (full on bottom), IMF (inframammary fold), TOS (tail of spence)? How was I a 30E? How was that equivalent to a 38B? I was realizing, with wonder, that you were more complicated than I had ever thought to consider.

I had never thought to ask these questions about you. You were just…there, unwelcome. Sometimes you were too small and unwomanly; other times you were too visible and slovenly.

But now you were different. Wide-rooted, tall-rooted. Shallow like a plate instead of a bowl. You began to intrigue me. I kind of like this new side of you, I wanted to say to you. If you could speak, I bet you would’ve replied, I was here all along. Get off your high horse. Get to know me.

You were wider and shallower, like a plate

I got to know you. I looked into the expert bra fitters, the many bra size calculators, the quizzes and apps. We got some bras that looked better than I’d ever hoped for before. They looked good on you. Then, after a couple of hours, you didn’t really like them. The straps chafed; the underwires stabbed. I tried really hard, this time around. I really did. We were betrayed. It was supposed to be a good fit. Hard work was supposed to pay off. It was supposed to work out this time.

Goodbye, sports bra; hello, almost-fitting-but-still hurting bra. Progress, right? This time, we despaired, together.

I took you out again, clothed in these better-than-nothing bras, and I complained once more to our regulars — the boyfriend and the male friend. “Bras still suck,” I said, feeling bad and sad for the both of us.

“Why don’t you do something about it?” they asked.

I wasn’t someone who could do that, I thought. I was too small, too mousy, too unconfident for that. Just like you. I wanted to wait for the girl with the bigger confidence, just like I waited for you to grow up.

But this time, I was angry for you. I was angry that there wasn’t a bra that fit. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that we were relegated to Sports Bra hell — that we were settling for the underwear equivalent of a fig leaf while others had invented needle, thread, and boxers. It wasn’t fair that we had to wear the equivalent of a slipper instead of a nice loafer, because someone couldn’t get our size right.

That was the day that I realized that I wasn’t angry with you anymore. I was angry at Them. The Powers that Be, that made this so hard for us.

So I went ahead anyway and slowly and surely, looked at the problem. For the first time in years, I got really excited for you. I thought that maybe there was a way to make you happier than all the other stuff out there. I learned about the things that matter — density, fullness, place of fullness. I learned that you’re tricky and complicated and fickle and bloat in some cases; I learned that shoulders are involved with you when it comes to you. I learned that everything’s involved when it comes to you.

You were always kind of like that, weren’t you? I never saw you, really. I never knew you. I asked you to disappear without ever really looking at you. And that’s because no one wanted to look; everyone averted their eyes, hinting that it was shameful to have you around with me.

I began to map you out in colors and dimensions. I looked at you, compared to someone else’s breasts — and for the first time, I thought, what’s bigger and what’s smaller? What’s better, or more beautiful? It was like seeing you for the first time, again, unattached to my body and unattached to anyone else’s eyes. You were just, there. You just were. I wasn’t stuck with you. I was with you, and you were with me.

I worked harder than ever for you. I made you a bra. It fit. Finally, something made just for you, no gapping, quadding, slipping, sliding. This was a nice look for you, rounded and uplifted; this was a comfortable feeling for you. Why not show it off?

For once in my life, I forgot about the uncomfortable looks, and I showed you off on Instagram; I nerded out about you to anyone who would listen. I began to believe that there were more important things than not showing you off in the wrong places. What was wrong about it, anyway?

Boobs, I’m writing this letter because I think I can finally say it now: I love you. I see you. I see that you’re a part of me, that you look good no matter what you wear. You’re particular, because you know what you want. Sometimes you like looking classy for a ladies’ night out. Sometimes you like being frumpy and comfortable, Netflixing at home. Sometimes you want to be a wild-child, hitting the streets of SoHo like those girls from ManRepeller, nipples out.

I’m writing because I finally realize that I want you to be able to do that — to be all of the yous that you can be.

I love you, that you can be wild. I love you, that you can make me look dangerous in a gown. I love you, that you can look soft, perky, and sleek in a ribbed turtleneck sweater. I love that you taught me all your different forms — the relaxed, the free, the bouncing, the upright, the poised.

I love that you’re mine, that you taught me what it was like to feel desired and shunned, all at the same time. That you’re still with me even though I wished you would disappear. That you’re still cute even though I wished you would grow up.

Above all, I love that I hated you, so that you could teach me love for my breasts, so that you could teach me how to help others love their breasts, too.

Looking back, I wonder, how could I ever have asked you to disappear? How could I ever have asked you to be bigger?

I guess other people asked them of us, and I passed it on to you.

Looking back, I wonder, how could I ever have asked you to disappear? How could I ever have asked you to be bigger?
I guess other people asked them of us, and I passed it on to you.

Dear Boobs. Dear Breasts. I’m writing to say that I love you. I love that you taught me all these things — how to love something that I’ve taken for granted all my life, how to love something I’ve been taught to hate, how to take all that hate and shame and anger and guilt and turn it into love to serve the world.

It’s taken me twenty-eight years to write this letter. I’m sorry. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.

Working for you taught me that. It’s a lesson I hope never to forget.

Mona Zhang is the founder of Bra Theory, and thanks her shallow, wide-rooted 30E breasts for bringing her purpose in life. She encourages you to write to to share your #brastory. You can also join the waitlist for a better-fitting bra. We promise it’s worth the wait.

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