My bras have turned against me. All at once, as if they’d set a date, they have decided to pop their seams and send sharp spiky wires jabbing into the tenderest parts of my flesh.

My draw is full of bras with escaping wires, ones I keep meaning to mend. The fix, sewing soft felt over holes to hem wires in, never works for long and never looks particularly pretty, but might buy a few more months’ wear.

I hate wearing a bra. I was a DD cup when I was 12, completely lacking the skills to deal with men’s responses to a young girl with breasts. I wore clothes three times the size of me, shame burned my skin, head bowed, my arms permanently crossed in defence. Poor, my bras were cast-offs, too small and already stretched and sagging.

It was not much better as a young woman, a DD  a long-distant memory. Bras were ugly contraptions, no lace or pretty bows, these were matronly affairs that lifted and separated as if by boobs belonged in different time zones.

And still the reaction from men. I’d forget over winter, bundled up in layers but come spring and a change of wardrobe I’d wonder what the bloody hell that bloke was looking at?  And then I’d remember, resisting the knee-jerk response to cross my arms.

I was once told by a female boss that my breasts were not professional, like they had snuck off and got caught having a fag in the loo. For work I wore -well, clothes? – Nothing low cut, nothing revealing, you know, work clothes. A male colleague had complained that my boobs might be distracting to students. I was mortified but bolshy enough to remind my boss that I’d like my union representative present if she wanted to discuss my breasts. She shut up but I started checking what I was wearing, judging if it was too much.

I need to buy new bras.

None of this nipping into M & S for a two-pack for twenty quid, my bras cost half of a weekly shop. When we were poor I’d apologise to my husband that I needed a new bra (he’d bat my apology away as ridiculous.) Before the internet, bra shopping meant specialised stores, a trip out of town and all the accompanying expense.

For a while a new bra was my friend, holding me up, making me look slimmer, feel confident, but soon the biting would begin. Soon the welts would appear on my skin, the tender parts of my ribs, the tops of my shoulders. I have permanent bruises and scars on the side of my breasts where the bras have pushed me into shape.

Why endure that, friends ask, with their B cups all lacy and full of bows? Because it’s uncomfortable, with breasts that are heavy and have breastfed four babies, to not have some support. Dear god, they’d be down to my knees.

In lockdown, I embraced those thin pull-on affairs, at first to sleep in but then all day. No one was there to see me. (the fact that I’d been in lockdown for the previous 16 years and could have been comfy all along did not escape me.) And they were comfy. I still couldn’t get any in my size – or I could but they were £45 a pop – I didn’t mind the bulging and the softer, wider silhouette and my skin began to heal, my ribs no longer chafed. But I can’t wear them to go outside, they don’t look good under a dress.

So, I need a new bra, with wires that will stay in place for the time being. Something pretty but supportive, pushing my soft folds of flesh into shape. I don’t want to look unprofessional. Because what says professional more than a woman, in pain, worrying about her body in the world?

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