Call me old-fashioned, but I've always believed a certain degree of discretion — or, really, confidentiality — should prevail in professions like gynecology, drugstore clerking and bikini waxing. And now I'm thinking this should extend to bra-fitting.
I say this after reading a confessional-style piece on this exact matter in Salon. It's not that it isn't a good story; it is, and I'm sure the author's upcoming memoir, on the same subject, will be just as good. But as someone who's had her boobs prodded and measured and evaluated by one of those department-store miracle workers, I can't help clutching my hands to said chest in horror at the thought of any of it going beyond the curtain of a changing stall. It's not a coincidence that the things that come to mind are explicitly female things — in a world that demands both aesthetic perfection and a certain level of maidenly shame simultaneously, we need safe spaces.
And so the very existence of Boob Job: Unexpected Adventures of a Department Store Bra Fitter, whatever the reality of its text, strips away one more constructed layer of willful obliviousness. I'll think of it every time I go to the bra fitter, or talk to a lingerie clerk. It's not that I didn't think these are people with thoughts and feelings of their own, but rather that they operated on some kind of higher, more professional plane — perhaps even took some kind of discretion oath — when engaged in these intimate fields. Certainly, not that I'd be at risk of having someone describe my breasts and body, as the author does one customer's in this piece, as "like large bags of sand, heavy and huge and real, bulging out of her black-laced pushup. They hung a bit low, testing her posture, but managed to stay round. Faded stretch marks ran down either side like fault lines." Steve Carrell associations aside, it's not exactly reassuring.
Other memoirs that have destroyed female equilibrium include Confessions of a Brazilian Bikini Waxer and the horrifyingly-titled Confessions of a Gynecologist (which in fact, lest you, like me, panic, doesn't actually violate any confidentiality.) Basically, "confession" + "anything personal and feminine" makes me anxious. While I love exposes like Kitchen Confidential or that book in which a waiter dished on horrible customers, the feminine, personal ones are different: while we can all control where we eat, how we tip and how we treat people, when it comes to the personal we surrender control. You are supremely vulnerable on a waxing table or in a bra-fitting room, because you're not just exposing your physicality but the parameters of what defines femininity in our world, and quite literally putting your trust in someone's hand. You pay for these services, and in return, these professionals treat you gently in every sense. It's a secret world of women, but not because it's shameful: because it's all about trust.
Am I overthinking this? Maybe. But I can tell you I felt a shiver of alarm when I read the article's title, and one that wasn't allayed by its undoubted quality. I can also tell you that from now on, I'll be visiting exclusively the disinterested, middle-aged Orthodox man who can size you up by eye and almost certainly has no interest in sharing his confessions. But when there's a "Confessions of a Pharmacist" or "Confessions of a Corner Bodega Owner" in the pipe, I'm officially giving up and severing human contact.
My Life As A Bra Fitter [Salon]