For the first time in my life, I notice my boobs are different sizes. Pink lights reflect off the shadowy walls and curtains of the Agent Provocateur fitting room as I model for a mirror and a stranger a padded green three-quarter cup bra called Nikita, with a matching satin suspender belt and thong. I think I’m supposed to feel sexy, but the only thing I’m feeling is naked.
Catholic guilt is real. Growing up, lingerie was either practical or hedonistic without compromise; there was nothing aesthetic, least of all self-indulgent, about it. If you wanted nice underwear not torn from a Hanes economy pack, it was for fucking. And fucking in almost any case, and certainly never with the lights on, was not pope-approved.
But then at nineteen, I moved to Los Angeles. Not only did I land a job in lingerie – qualified only by my limited experience in selling luxury chocolates – I was also living with a French girl, who was enthusiastic to show me the nuanced philosophy of French lingerie. It was something of an awakening for me.
Lingerie was among my first lessons in an inchoate education about my body, an education that my all-girls high school failed me during the critical period of adolescence. At nineteen, I could describe in better detail the theme of repressed sexuality in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist than I could the appearance of my own breasts. As it turns out, no one likes to talk about women’s bodies, least of all their idiosyncrasies.
But when I started working in lingerie, learning and talking about peoples’ bodies became my job. Body image, confidence, size, posture, breast augmentation, breastfeeding, aging: my work bared these issues to me in a way I’d never seen before. Literally. I’ve seen more boobs than anyone I’ve dated. Spoiler alert: no two bodies are the same – even my identical sister and I wear different bra sizes. But if there were a recurring theme among all of the people I talked to (a topic I promise to elaborate on one day), it was that most women don’t know very much about their bodies at all.
And that is by design: to know your body is the first step towards pride in it. This fact was proselytized, guarded and exploited by religious leaders, politicians, writers and artists for centuries. As John Berger so perfectly observed, “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting ‘Vanity,’ thus morally condemning the woman.”
Vanity. A sin worse than murder. Indeed, a deadly sin.
Enter Agent Provocateur, replete with decadent lace and bows, salacious straps and sumptuous satins, inciting me to sin.
“Half of all women have uneven breasts,” says the agent, and I know this is true because I’m a newly-appointed lingerie “expert.” And in this moment, I find it all very funny. Funny because, if 50% of women do or don’t anything, you’re weird no matter what. Funny that nineteen years into my life, and nine-ish years into boob ownership, I apparently had no idea what my own boobs looked like. And funny that standing there, glaring imperfections and all, I felt, in my “enlightenment”… I don’t know, beautiful?
“Real elegance is everywhere… especially in the things that don’t show.”– Christian Dior