My six year old daughter wants a bra.
It goes without question that she doesn’t need a bra, but still, she wants one.
I can’t remember how old I was when my mum took me to Fenwick in Newcastle for my first small, largely pointless, soft white cotton bra (no cutesy crop-tops in those days) but I was considerably older than six. I was also disappointed, I remember, that I didn’t warrant one of the mysteriously glamorous garments I’d watched her wear for years: all satin and wiring and lace.
I want to say to my daughter: don’t hurry. The glamour and the mystery soon wear off. The grown up ritual of slipping arms through straps, adjusting cups, pulling hooks and eyes tight across the back and giving the whole thing a practised, unthinking shrug is also the nightly sigh of relief as it comes off. The ghost-bra that stays long afterwards: welts along ribcage, grooves dug into shoulders. The little roughnesses that build up over the years so that you can see where fabric rubs skin, day after day after day.
I want to say: enjoy your freedom to choose your clothes and wear them without thought for how they look or what they require. Time enough to scour shops for the elusive bra that won’t show under a pretty dress without reducing your bosom to the shape of a draught excluder. Time enough to wear something remarkably like two dinner plates wired together so that something which is just a part of you doesn’t manifest itself as someone else’s “inappropriate cleavage”. Time enough to sigh and wince at the need for the postnatal over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder (if boulders were alive with milk and hurt).
Of course, wearing a bra at all is a choice. No-one makes us do it. It’s a choice largely enforced by necessity and convention, though, and one which is restricted to what is affordable and readily accessible.
I have no doubt that there are women who, of a morning, slip into a bra which all at once enhances, supports and relieves, while instantly rendering itself unnoticeable to wearer and beholder alike. That they see no issue in bra-wearing, since for them it involves choosing to wear something which occasions little, if any, discomfort and which has a price-tag that doesn’t place it out of reach.
Most of us, though, run along with we can find in our local M&S. Whether or not it’s really what we want; whether it’s comfortable or suitable or even plain attractive, we shop on cost and the sizes in store. We plump, by default, for one of the various mammarific Spice Girls types on offer: Sporty Breasts; Baby Breasts; even, in the case of those frankly alarming contraptions involving plunge and purple lace, Scary Breasts. We’ll probably end up with something reasonably close to what we want, but we’re still fitting into what’s available rather than the other way round.
And yet, of course, we’re fortunate even in this limited choice. So many women have to do without, or have recourse only to the methods used to defy gravity since time immemorial. Charities collect our old bras (sporty, baby, scary…) and ship them to others who are unlikely to be matched up courtesy of a tape-measure around the ribs and a calculation on the fingers. Is it better than nothing, having someone else’s discarded bra, with the elastic worn and the colour washed out? Possibly, but it’s still a long way from ideal, when it’s such a very bad fit.
Sooner or later, I’ll give in and get my daughter what she wants, though not yet. I’ll resist for as long as I can the allure of the “training” bra. I don’t want to train her into wearing a bra, full stop. She’ll have to work out for herself where the satin and lace stops and the rest of being a woman begins.