The Real Housewives of New Jersey's recent bra buying episode prompted me to ask my grown girl what she remembers about buying her first bra.
In the controversial RHNJ clip, Teresa Guidice mocks her 10-year old daughter’s body. Gia responds with predictable embarrassment. I wondered if my own daughter recalled how I reacted to her blossoming breast assets and how she felt about buying her first bra.
Looking back, she says we were out at the mall on some random errand. It was a spur of the moment decision. Neither of us knew who initiated the conversation. But the defining moment came when she wanted a black or red style. My response? “Ummm…no. You’re too young for that.” This happened years before I wrote my book and became an expert on all things mammary. Since then we’ve gone on numerous mother/daughter lingerie outings, although her enjoyment may have more to do with my willingness to pick up the tab.
Here’s what I shared with my daughter over the years, and what can help parents or caregivers turn buying your daughter's first bra into a body positive learning experience.
The Breast Life Do’s:
1. Do remind her that women come in all shapes and sizes. Many of us wear the wrong size not because we are “boobs,” but due to the changing nature of our chests and the challenge of manufacturing an item that must fit many unique bodies. Bras start at AAA and go to KK and beyond. She may wear 6 to 8 different sizes in her lifetime. You must try on a variety to find your perfect match.
2. Do take her to a professional fitter, is possible. Point out that sizing is an “art” not a science. She should learn about the features of a well-fitting bra. As her shape alters she’ll have trained her brain to recognize what fits best on her body.
3. Do talk about breast ups and down. They are more like moving targets on our chest, and can be two sizes in one month. They are “sisters” not “twins” in that no one has a perfect, matching symmetrical pair. If she isn't pleased with her boobs today, she may be tomorrow.
4. Do admit that there is no medical reason to wear a bra (except when exercising) but that doesn't mean it isn't important or necessary. She may want one for reasons of modesty, or to keep up with her peers. Let her know that it is the foundation for fashion and she will have to adjust what’s underneath when wearing different outfits. Do teach her the importance of wearing a proper sports bra.
5. Do discuss the power of breasts in our society and how cleavage is used to sell movies, video games, and other products. Yep, it’s annoying that boys tease girls about developing. And male body parts aren't on display to the world like a young girl's seem to be. (You can lie about having your period but not about getting boobs.) Encourage her to empathize with and be supportive of friends dealing with the same changes. Remind her that she can model breast respect, even if others around her do not.
The Breast Life Don’t's:
1. Don’t tease your daughter about her desire to wear a bra. It is her body and she shouldn't be made to feel self-conscious about a biological event over which she has no control.
2. Don’t comment on her size, or lack thereof. It can take a few months or many years to complete full breast development. Everyone has a different timeline and there is no wrong or right growth schedule.
3. Don’t invite siblings, partners---or a camera crew---to bra shopping day. It’s not called “intimate” apparel for nothing.
4. Don’t buy her something that you think she will grow into, or a heavily padded or push-up bra. She needs time to adjust to this new layer of her wardrobe. Many young girls prefer a soft pull over camisole, a lightweight cup style, or padding that doesn't add too much bulk.
5. Don’t tell the world, unless you have her permission, about her new purchase. This is about her body. Respect her budding breasts.
If you or your child are uncomfortable talking about bras you can buy books on the subject. Or send her to 007b.com, a site where she can browse ordinary photos that catalog the diversity of breasts, nipples, and areolas. Enjoy this right of passage and make it one where she will be empowered to embrace her new, breast life. My daughter now schools me when I’m about to step out in some ill-fitting garment. “Geez, mom, don’t you think you should change your bra?” And I do!