FIRST BRA STORIES: IT’S COMPLICATED – OISELLE

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FIRST BRA STORIES: IT’S COMPLICATED

FIRST BRA STORIES: IT’S COMPLICATED

Sally Bergesen / Apr 20, 2022

I recently reached out to my Oiselle Volée teammates to ask them about their ‘first bra stories,’ because I think that moment (or shopping trip or conversation) is often memorable (and sometimes traumatic). But why? What can we learn? And how can we normalize what’s natural?

Breast development, followed by getting a bra of some kind, might seem like a simple sequence. But dang! You’d be amazed at how often that critical transition goes awry. And often, with lifelong consequences.

Thank you to my teammates for sharing real stories! The more we share, the more we know. After reading these comments, it also made me feel even more grateful for Bras for Girls and the work they’re doing to not only give away sports bras, but also educate and inform.

Clearly, this is also a post about what not to do. Again and again, we see that the experience of getting a first bra is often confusing and emotional. And that we, as a culture, don't have a lot of tools in our toolbox when it comes to helping girls understand, accept, and trust their changing bodies, especially around breast development.

But here’s the hope and a positive takeaway: We can create a common language that normalizes bodies, all bodies. And we can do everything we can to keep girls in sports! Because if there’s one thing we know, it’s that sports teaches girls that their bodies are their own, that their bodies are powerful, and that the best way to grow is from the inside out.

Sally: Teammates! I can't stop thinking about breasts. Lol, okay, to be honest, I'm working on all things sports bras, and want to publish a piece that includes FIRST BRA STORIES.

As in, when did you need one? What was the experience like? Did you have someone to talk to? Did you shop for it alone, or with someone? What were your feelings about your changing body - happiness, joy, shame, fear??

And finally, did you get a "real bra" first, and if so, how long after did you get your first sports bra? I'd love to hear your stories. To kick things off: confession. Growing up with a single Dad, I was too embarrassed to tell him I needed/wanted a bra, so I shoplifted my first one!!! 😱 Ugh. May we all create a world where normal development does not equal silence or shame. ❤️

I didn’t NEED a bra probably til well into high school, but I needed a bra. All the girls in middle school gym class and middle school XC/track and basketball had them. Our uniforms were all unisex style with long arm holes. I was so skinny I’d tie the shoulders of the uniforms or put ponytail holders on them to pull them up. And in the locker room I was changing my shirt by putting the shirt I wanted to wear over the one I was wearing, pulling my arms inside, and yanking the inner one out around my neck. I felt so conspicuous, but was too shy to have ever asked. My mom gave me a couple basic white cotton sports bras one day, and I was so relieved! I remember calling her on the pay phone near tears on a few occasions when I forgot I’d need it that day and hadn’t worn it to school. Like I was still embarrassed to wear them because I felt like everyone could tell I had no boobs anyway, but I was less exposed, and for all they knew, maybe it was just really compressive 😆 Also fairly sure I wore those like…maybe until college. –A.D.


I could probably write an entire book about my relationship with my boobs at this point. I remember being horrified when I first noticed them- I was young. Very young. Although truthfully I cannot remember the exact age. I developed early and because of that had several non-consensual experiences with people who had sexualized this aspect of me. I grew to despise my breasts because of this. My mom took me to an outlet for my first bra and I remember her yelling over the racks to me “What size do you think you are? 34DD?” I wanted to climb under a rock and never come out. I quit all athletics (including dancing on stage) because I hated how they bounced. I started wearing baggier clothes. I hid. My boobs got tied up with my gender expression and made me feel like my body was not my own. But in 2018 I finally reclaimed my body with a breast reduction surgery. Honestly, I feel like my life really only started then. ♥️ –J.M.

I was in 4th grade when my teacher sent a sealed note home that I needed to wear a bra. I opened it before showing it to my mom and was horrified. I was a tomboy and hated my changing body. And off we went to the department store where my mom proceeded to hold bras up and ask what about this one, in what felt like the loudest voice ever. It was pretty much the worst experience of my short little life until I started menstruating and that was even worse. –H.H.

I remember that once I got past a training bra, I had no clue about sizing and I don’t think my mother did either. So I wore a lot of really uncomfortable bras until my mid-20s. My husband heard about a specialty lingerie store and booked me an appointment as a gift. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was shocking to learn how off I was on sizing! Getting the right fit made a big difference in comfort, and they introduced me to some great sports bras that were a game changer at that time when I was taking up running. I eventually took my sister to the same store. She rolled her eyes at their introductory questionnaire that ended with (Y/N) “I believe a bra can change your life.” They gave her a properly fitted sports bra, and her reaction jumping up and down in the dressing room was priceless!” –A.F.

Great question! I was 12 or maybe 13 with a mom who seemed to think I wanted a bra because other girls had them and money was tight. (I confess to a certain amount of FOMO.) She did buy me one eventually. But I was never properly fitted until I went to work in the lingerie department of a high end women’s clothing store. And I didn’t understand the need to be measured and fitted routinely until later than that. The first sports bra came when I got serious about running in the mid-90s. This was just as Moving Comfort was coming into the market. There really wasn’t much available and I wore what I could afford (cotton-Lycra blends that got soggy with sweat and lost their stretch over time). For a long time the up-front cost of good bras was my excuse for not doing right by my body. It has taken a while to realize that good, well-made, properly fitted bras whether for sport or not are expensive for a reason. I overcame my own mental barriers, yet I recognize that cost is a barrier for others. It’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about Bras for Girls. –A.R.

Sixth grade for me. I was one of two girls in my class who wore a bra and I felt so awkward about it because the other girl was popular and stylish, with breasts that matched her proportions. She looked like she was an extra who had just stepped off the set of Saved By the Bell and I … was perpetually awkward, 4’9”, *maybe* 75 pounds, and wore a 34C bra. Picture Skeletor with a C-cup. I resisted wearing underwire bras so my mom found some Hanes sports bra-style bras at Mervyn’s (anybody remember Mervyn’s?) and I wore those at least until my freshman year of high school. –K.R.

I can’t remember my experience with my first bra or my first real bra. My upbringing was really traumatic and I can’t really recall, and maybe that’s a good thing I don’t remember. Perhaps who ever helped me, maybe one of my foster parents along the way, might have made it super easy for me, and that’s why I don’t remember. –A.N.

I also grew up with a single dad and I remember getting shamed for NOT wearing a bra on the playground at recess in 8th grade (I honestly didn't need one and I liked not having breasts because that made everything complicated). I was too embarrassed to tell him though so I would wear extra layers so you couldn't tell I didn't have a bra on. And I remember my stepmom finally took me bra shopping and it wasn't a fun experience. So I wore "real" bras for awhile until I realized I could wear sports bras all the time! And then discovering bralettes, heck yahhh. Never went back to wired bras. Honestly, not sure if I would have ever gotten a bra if my stepmom didn't make me. –B.R.

I was in 5th grade when one or more of the moms who helped out in our classroom talked to my teacher about me needing to wear a bra, which led to my teacher speaking to my mom at a school event about it. My mom had my sister be the one to try to gently nudge me into trying on bras, but I fought it very hard, so my mom told me the moms that helped out in the classroom felt uncomfortable that I was not wearing a bra. I think my response to that was "so what?" My first bra was a sports bra (one of those flimsy cotton sports bras), because it was the thing that I fought the least. There were a LOT of tears and a lot of me crying while making statements about "I don't want to be a girl!" when I was told that needing a bra was just part of developing into a woman. At some point in middle school I started wearing "real" bras with underwire. My mom would always take me to Nordstrom for those. Since the closest mall was about 45 minutes away from us, my mom tried to help soften the blow of those bra shopping trips by making a day of it - we would eat lunch on the mall and stock up on my year-round fashion choice of my middle school/early high school days: shorts and t-shirts. –A.P.

Sadly I just can’t remember my first bra and when I started wearing it. I have 3 older sisters, pretty sure they had something to do with it. My mom wasn’t open and didn’t talk about my changing body with me. When I started my period one of my sisters told her and her response was, “Well you know what to tell her”.

But have to share this bra story. I ran my first half marathon in 1999. One of my sisters went to San Francisco with me & the night before as I was getting my gear ready I realized I forgot my sports bra. We searched the stores near the hotel but couldn’t find any sports bras. We did find some jock straps and laughed at how we could make that work. So I decided I was going to have to wear what I had - my black WonderBra. The next morning I cinched up the straps and called it good. Surprisingly it didn’t bother me, no chafing and I ran what is still my half marathon PR. –A.A.

When I was 13 my Mom declared that I must start wearing a bra. I was a serious tomboy with zero boobs at that point. Alas I was coerced into wearing my sister's hand-me-down training bras for a couple years. It took until after high school for my breasts to develop and when they did they were big and I hated them. Always sought out minimizer bras. –A.C.

Omg. I love this question. Growing up, I had to fight my mom to get a bra! At around age 14, I had noticed my breast development and nipples showing beneath my shirt. Asked my mom numerous times for a bra but she always said “no you don’t need one.” Was it shame? Was it reluctance to acknowledge one’s daughter reaching puberty? I’m still not sure. But it wasn’t easy to get one. I ended up using my aunt’s hand-me-downs.. they were so worn, washed out and loose but I was happy to finally have something to hide my nipples! –J.T.

Hi breast-friends 💗 like Sally I was raised by my dad. I had a lanky frame but wanted a bra just in case I ever got boobs. I also stole my first bra which was like a AAAA size 🤣 and wore that thing during school and track practice. I’d wash it every time I showered. I can still see the little pink bow at the sternum that sat between the polyester AAAA cups. Lord help the child that steals her first bra 💗 –G.L.

Didn’t get a “real bra” until well into my 20s. Only ever wore sports bras because, well, sports. I played field hockey and rowed and figured skated all through my elementary and high school years so I just wore those. However, never the right one. No one told me they could wear out, so during field hockey I remember having to double them up - 2 sports bras worn at once - to hold the girls from flying up and bouncing! –E.C.

I exclusively wore sports bras until college. I think because regular bras were always marketed to me as being "sexy", which as a 12 year old, sounded wrong. It felt like something only "popular girls" wore, not a sporty girl like me. –K.S.

I’m impressed with the amount of resonance here! Why are women always telling us we need bras? What a weird world.
In 4th grade I played soccer and my mom told me I had to wear a bra if I wanted to keep playing. Not sure if another parent said something to her or if this was a decision she made?I don’t remember my first sports bra but I do remember sophomore year in high school- my boyfriend’s mom told me I needed to start wearing 2 sports bras and that it was normal and lots of girls had this problem. I was mortified and of course wore 2 sports bras for the next decade- until I got my first adjustable Moving Comfort bra and knew that one could be enough! –E.K.

I was at school, laying on my outstretched arms on my desk as a film played in class when I felt something odd on my chest. Honestly, I felt really scared. (My grandmother had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy.) Immediately I got up and asked the teacher if I could go to the bathroom. This of course turned into a 12 year old me frantically doing what I thought was a breast exam and self-diagnosing myself with what I feared was breast cancer. For some reason my dad picked me up from school that day (this was very rare) and when I got into the car, I started crying while spewing out the words, “I have lumps on my chest— I have breast cancer!” My dad just kinda laughed, and told me not to worry, but to talk to mom when we got home. Of course everyone in my family thought it was the most hilarious thing. So I wax them scared, and overwhelmingly embarrassed and covered in shame. I was a typical tomboy that ran around all summer in just my cutoffs until of course I couldn’t. A training bra was just given to me- and the free spirited kid I used to be running around topless during the hot summers turned into a very insecure, and extremely modest young girl. I remember I changed in a stall for gym class, and even in the locker room later on before competitive games. Twenty-six later, I’m the closest I’ve ever been to embracing my body and the many changes it’s gone through on my journey thus far. (*Note, I didn’t grow up in the greatest of households. And as I wrote this, I can obviously see how far back my having OCD really goes, and unfortunately, how messed up my family [has] always been.) –P.B.

In 4th grade, a boy tried to snap my bra at recess and I was totally confused because I wasn’t wearing one. But then of course was wondering if he/everyone thought I should have been! My first one was an awful lacy, bow-adorned training one that was too small. I so wish sports bras had been a normal thing, I am sure they would have made for a better transition. –J.H.

I got my first bra far before I actually needed one, but at the time when I thought I needed one (does that make sense?). My mom was out of town and my dad gamely took me to JC Penny’s. He and I have always been close and he projected complete ease while I picked out some little white basic bra. I’m sure he doesn’t remember it at all, but the way he handled it all really normalized bras and breasts and all that for me in a way that I’m guessing is kind of outside the norm. –A.P.

Wow! This topic took me by surprise! I thought I was the only one who felt shame and guilt when I got my first training bra. I also felt sad I wasn’t my mom’s little girl anymore. When my friend got her training bra I was envious so when it was my turn to get one I thought I’d be excited but instead I had all these bad unexpected feelings. My mom to this day is my best friend and someone I can talk to about anything so I’m not sure why I didn’t tell her how I was feeling. I remember crying about it in my room. I am so glad you posted this Sally and shared with us. At almost 47 I’ve never shared any of this with anyone. –H.C.

I developed breasts VERY early (I think I was 8?). I honestly never noticed my growing chest and I hadn’t had sex education in school yet so I was totally oblivious to my changing body. One day, my mom had placed 2 bras on my bed: one was a pale pink sports bra and the other was a white training bra. I didn’t even know what they were! My mother just left them on my bed and never once mentioned what they were and what they were for. My older sister was 4 years older than me and flat as a pancake and she didn’t wear a bra so I didn’t understand why my mother gave me these mysterious garments. So I never wore them. As the years passed, many people commented on my chest but I still had no idea what they were talking about. My dad called my breasts “tits” and boys told me I had big boobs. By the time I was 10, I felt an unbelievably deep shame for my developing body. I didn’t understand what my body was going through and I was led to believe that it was too embarrassing of a topic to talk to anyone about. I think I finally started to wear a bra around age 11 but I never knew what size I was because no one taught me how to figure out my bra size. On more than one occasion, my mom would drop me off in front of a department store, say “go pick out a bra”, and then wait for me in the car. I would just grab whatever bra was the prettiest color, not understanding that I needed a specific size. And then since my bras fit so poorly, more and more people would comment on my chest. Needless to say, it took me YEARS to figure out my bra size. Despite being close to age 40, I still feel a deep shame for my breasts and do everything I can to cover them up or flatten them as much as possible. My daughter recently turned 9 and I noticed last summer that she was starting to develop breasts early, just like me. I don’t want her to feel uncomfortable about her breasts so I immediately started educating her about new changes in her body and I bought her some lilac colored bras, which she adores and loves wearing. I can’t erase my past or how I feel about my own breasts but at least I can help my daughter feel confident in her own body and hopefully never experience body shame herself. –H.C.

This is something I’ll never forget… happened the summer I turned 11. I was a tomboy, and played with all the boys. Was so self conscious and knew I needed a bra but didn’t know how to talk about it with my Mom. Our household was one where these topics weren’t discussed, so my cousin (2 yrs older) gave me a couple of her white, satin trainers. My Mom noticed that I had a bra on when I fell skateboarding and broke my elbow! Oops. Somehow that Fall I was the only girl in my grade (5th!) to wear a bra. The boys were in awe, and girls jealous. I just wanted to hide them. Took another 3 years to get a jog bra - finally got one when I was running with the boys track team in junior high school. It was the early 80’s, so it was some thick white thing that smashed the girls down, was far too tight and a sweat collector. I was already a 32C and beyond ashamed of them. My clothes were all too big on purpose, and I wore two t-shirts to hide them!! Took until my junior year in college to embrace and stop trying to hide my girls. –P.J.

An experience seared into my memory. My dad took me to the Nordstrom lingerie department in Bellevue. He told the salesperson that I needed a brassiere (I swear he dragged that word out and added syllables) but no underwire. He proceeded to lecture the poor clerk about the connection between breast cancer and underwires (now debunked) as only a medical professor could. She assured him that 32A would not have an underwire. I told her that the first one I tried on fit, just to get out of there, only to move on to the shoe department for shoes with adequate arch support. Thank you for asking!! –W.G.

I think my first one came from a neighbor. Grew up with 5 brothers and a mom who didn't know what to do with me (I'm now convinced). High school track and cross country were run in my regular bra. Now 55, I think my first actual running bra was purchased in 1997 when I ran my first 1/2 marathon.

As a side note, my best friend in high school (still a good friend) wore an ace wrap over her bra to stop the bounce. –S.W.

I can’t recall all the details about my first bra, but what I do remember clearly is developing much earlier than my peers and being super embarrassed about how that was affecting my ability to run. I was so uncomfortable in my changing body and by 7th grade I had given up the idea that I’d ever be able to run again comfortably - even though I loved it so much. I wish someone had given me a sports bra and some reassurance that it was all very normal. So much shame. The Bras for girls program brings me HUGE joy because of the experience I had 🥰. –L.E.

I was wearing a bra by 6th grade, and maybe 5th. I think it was pretty normal at my school because 5th grade was when we changed uniforms from a jumper to just a button down and skirt, and I think the white button down necessitated it. - A.F

My bra buying experience is super boring. Went with my mom and grandma, got fitted, all that good stuff. I had been in dance, swim team, basketball for years, so I had been wearing some type of bra-like item for a while before I got one that was for "real clothes." I think my first real bra was the brand Joe Boxer, if you remember that brand. The smiley face with the tongue sticking out. Having something that was trendy also made it feel really normal. Then, I remember in middle school when my dad started coaching me in track we went to Academy and I got all the things. My duffle bag, socks, shoes, shorts, tank tops, and of course a sports bra. Looking back I think it was really awesome of my dad to remember that I needed to buy one and it felt totally normal getting one with him in the store with me. I don't think this is the norm, but he presented it as equipment so it made sense. –K.R.

I grew up on military bases and lived overseas. Most of our shopping was done on base at Navy Exchange/PX/BX the selections were usually really limited. The sports bras were always in the lingerie section which really didn’t feel like the right place for a middle school/high school girl. You had to dig through the Valentines Day teddies to find a Champions sports bra. And since the Exchange/BX/PX was usually the only place for everyone to shop, there was always a good chance you would see someone from school, which meant everyone would know that you wore underwear! Once a year my family would go back to the States for a few weeks in the summer where I would get to pick out all clothing needs for the upcoming school year, to include athletic apparel.

My own mother was not particularly athletic and so having kids that played sports was newer territory for her. I honestly don’t think my mother ever owned a sports bra. I don’t remember ever really asking or buying sports bras with my mom because usually when we would go to purchase all the other necessities for sports (shin guards, cleats, running shoes, softball gloves, swim suits, etc…) the total of all of that other equipment was already so much that asking to add another item like a sports bra was a lot.

By high school I was playing sports year-round. I had like 3 sports bras and usually had to wear two at a time and was super self-conscious about that. I would put one bra on and then go to the bathroom to put the other one on because I didn’t want to seem weird that I wore two bras. After practice I would hang-dry both used bras in my locker and hope they would be dry enough to use the next day. At home I only had a laundry day once a week so taking home for a nightly wash wasn’t an option either. At some point I remember increasing my sports bra stash by digging through the lost and found at both my high school gym and the base gym. It was kind of the only place I could sneak and try different sizes and brands. Was this strange behavior? Yes. Was it hygienic? Nope. I think I was too embarrassed to ask for more from my parents. Money wasn’t actually tight, but the additional burden of needing so many of this crucial undergarment seems like a lot to ask for when you are in middle and high school. –J.M.

My first bra was one (or two) of those cotton-y sports bras! I don’t remember if I wanted one or a parent thought it was time, but I was a child of divorced parents, living with a single dad primarily, and visiting my mom occasionally. Anyhow, on a mom visit, she took me to Wal-mart WITH my two younger sisters where we procured some of those nice cotton sports bras. At the checkout, my youngest sister, (who is ~4 years younger) declared to the person at the checkout, “THESE ARE FOR MY BIG SISTER!” with a big pat on the back. I was absolutely MORTIFIED, certainly turned beet red, and maybe even cried out of embarrassment. The horror. –S.D.

I must have been going into 6th grade because we had to change for PE and it might have been required for the girls.

Every summer my maternal grandma would take me back to school shopping and APPARENTLY my dad (not my mom?!) asked my grandma to have the talk with me and buy a bra with me. All of this was done without telling me, so when she told me we were going into the bra store I instantly felt like it should be a secret or something I should be ashamed of. She even came in the dressing room with me. Mortifying for an 11 year old. I ended up with two plain white sports bras that I ended up loving and wearing for 10 years. Still no idea why my mom wasn’t included but years later when I told her she was pretty bothered by the whole thing. –S.E.

Oh! I had almost the *same* experience: I grew up w single dad, was too embarrassed to discuss bras & shoplifted one w a friend 🥺 …. Ugh, such shame …. and also huge relief! Can you imagine the conversations had we been caught?! 😬 –H.J.

Sally: Wow. I’m in awe of these stories, and grateful for the honesty. When I asked, “Okay, how do we do this better?” I really appreciated this reply below from Amanda Price:

We so often phrase breast development and periods as "you're becoming a woman" or phrasing that reinforces that the changes are necessary to become a mother, when some people going through those changes might not want to "become a woman" or be a mother. At that age, I needed someone to tell me that my changing body was becoming a strong, powerful person, while also acknowledging how uncomfortable the experience was. Instead of having the rah rah "you're becoming a woman," I wish I could have had support with being more comfortable by having someone help me find the products that would make me less uncomfortable, whether that be good skin care products or a well-fitting bra made from comfortable materials. As an advocate for mental health, I think it's also important to recognize when a young person makes statements that may need caring support from someone more knowledgeable on that subject than their parent or sibling, such as my "I don't want to be a woman."

 

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