For the first time in my life, I notice my boobs are different sizes. Shrouded in the dark floral walls of the Agent Provocateur fitting room, 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 presumably for fucking. And fucking in almost any case, and certainly never with the lights on, was not pope-approved. So nice lingerie? Hell no.
But at nineteen, I moved to Los Angeles, where, qualified somehow by my experience in selling luxury chocolates, I unexpectedly landed a job as a lingerie fitter. My French roommate, upon learning this news, was enthusiastic to supplement my lack of knowledge on the subject. Opening her own bra drawer, she awakened me to a myriad of shapes, fabrics, and silhouettes. She told me that girls in France bought beautiful bras with their mothers – not for boys but for themselves. She imparted upon me a more nuanced philosophy of lingerie: of how my body should look, of how things could fit, of beauty outside the mold of Victoria’s Secret.
But working as a lingerie fitter, learning and talking about people’s 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: beauty, sex, vanity.
“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, I apparently had no idea what my own breasts looked like. And funny that standing there, glaring imperfections and all, I felt, in my enlightenment… I don’t know, beautiful?