If Your Bra Doesn't Fit, Go Shopping

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If you are a woman, and you are wearing a bra, you are probably wearing the wrong size one. That's what they say. According to "experts," "industry studies" and "surveys," anywhere between 70% 85% of women are treating their breasts badly, either shoving them into too-small cups or allowing them to float freely in a draping sling. The statistic's origins are murky — some cite a Victoria's Secret poll, others something from the Wacoal brand. But it has been quoted back to me by friends, colleagues, interns. It sounds true. "Eighty percent of American woman are wearing the wrong bra" is the "more likely to be killed by a terrorist than get married" statistic of the new millennium.

After two Oprah episodes featuring dramatic "bra interventions" and even a Dateline investigation into the problem, American women are embracing bra fittings Haven't you read the style section stories? Oprah made the procedure sound like something halfway between winning the lottery and discovering your fairy godmother: "Every woman watching, this is going to change your life…Everyone's talking about it. And I'm revealing a beauty secret that literally performs miracles. It can reverse aging. It can make you look 10, even 20 pounds lighter." The literal miracles seem slight compared to this. Says Oprah, according to the show's transcript, "I'm so excited. Whoo, whoo. Whoo, whoo. Whoo!" Well, breasts are an erogenous zone, after all.

Twelve years after the WonderBra caused small-breasted women to stampede, the boob pendulum is apparently swinging back. The average size of the American breast has grown from 34B to 36C , according to manufacturers. Anecdotally, the growth might be even more breathtaking: Those style-section stories are full of women who can't face the fact that they are, they really and truly are, a D. "Some women have gotten angry when I tell them they're a D-cup. They think that's huge," said a bra fitter in one of those upteenth style stories.

Women's unwillingness to take their bosom by the reins could stem from an unwillingness to celebrate one's sexuality, at least as it is defined by the D cup stereotype — does anyone over 30 want to be the Hooters girl, as it were? It could be that we're slightly afraid of our boobs— after all, over time they do seem to develop a mind of their own — or it could be we don't like what larger-than-average (though not that much larger than average) breasts invite: attention, whistles, shade.

The newest spin on lingerie is attractive in part because it de-sexes the breast. Bra fitting is not sexy, it is scientific. A cold eye, colder measuring tape — one expects calipers. And the bras themselves are only slightly less rigorous. Their names these days recall computers or cars: The iBra, the Tornado, the Tamarine. A good bra, especially for the D cups among us, is more akin to a suspension bridge than gossamer. The molded cups of a Tisha "Dream" bra in size 32DD Tisha "Dream" could serve as attractive fruit bowls, or not-very-protective helmets for a set of twins.

What makes breasts beautiful is malleable — which is to say, today's molded soft cup might not seem as attractive as a tissue-thin barely-there webbing in ten years. Like all other aspects of femininity, breasts are subject to the pressures of marketing and fashion and culture in addition to underwires and lace. Styles change but insecurity remains constant… we are willing to believe we're wearing the wrong bra size because, surely, something must be wrong.