No one would ever describe me as girly–I hung out and played sports (badly) with tomboys in grade school, went androgynous in high school, had a flamboyant Harajuku-ish phase, then went to the all-black wardrobe I currently thrive in. But I think somewhere inside, there is a frilly pink-obsessed debutante wannabe–because that was what I was up until the age of six. Before then, I couldn’t get enough of scratchy lace dresses. I begged my mom to let me buy strawberry nail polish. I looked with awe and envy upon my Asian friends with long sleek hair or black friends with thin braids and barrettes.
But with odds stacked against me, I gave up. Some people make growing up seem easy. They have older sisters who showed them how to wear makeup and mothers who took them out for manis when they got their period. I find these ya ya sisterhood women fascinating and usually scrutinize their every movement so I can learn something. I wish they’d been there when I went through my rites of passage, which instead are all marked by mortifying situations with my mother.
For example, bras. The easy way to learn about bras:
Your mom takes you to get training bras when you’re ten. By watching her, you learn how to measure yourself, and which brands work for your shape. You grow up navigating the jungle of cups, underwire regular, strapless and sports. You become an adjusted adult.
The hard way:
Your mother hates bras. She has one in the back of her closet, from a friend, which you sometimes try on when she’s not home. Start wearing an undershirt when you’re eleven and your boobs start hurting. Tell the mean girls questioning you that you forgot to wear a bra that morning. Be scared of changing in the locker room for years. In seventh grade, get up the nerve to ask your parents to let you buy a sports bra, because that seems the least sexy/feminine.
Make do with those until tenth grade, when your friend asks why you’re not wearing a real bra. Let her and her mother take you shopping at Victoria’s Secret that weekend. Let an exasperated Barbie-bot measure you while your friend and her mom buy their usuals and teach you about bra architecture. Buy the bra (on sale!) with your lunch money. Hide it in your closet for a couple days, because it’s too pretty to use…until your mom finds it while you’re at school. After she flips out about the $25 price tag, she takes you to Victoria’s Secret where she returns it, while you and your dad stand outside avoiding eye contact.
Then let her take you to Ross, where she gets your five bras for the price of the Victoria’s Secret bra. They are less supportive, but you don’t have much to support. You become an adjusted but neurotic adult who, when she wears them, still buys bras from Ross. Who sometimes tries them on in the middle of the store, outside your clothing, because you’ve been through bra hell and don’t give a damn.