If you asked 14-year-old me what my worst nightmare was, bra shopping was at the top of the list.
As I fumbled with various straps and clasps in a seemingly endless tangle through adolescence, my discomfort with the under-shirt, over-skin layer grew.
And when I moved out of training bra territory and into more “grown up” styles and designs, I was faced with not only discomfort, but a degree of alienation from the sexually-charged marketing of bras and lingerie that greeted me at the entrance of any boutique or store at the mall.
When I was a teenager, it was easy to convince myself that I just wasn’t “ready” yet, “ready” in the euphemistic way my Grade 7 health teacher talked about anything done behind closed doors.
I was okay with that, partially because I found myself in the unfair reality where my body grew up before I did.
But as I finished high school and began my undergraduate degree, I noticed that my aversion to anything that wasn’t a sports bra and plain cotton underwear had only gotten stronger. And by then it was harder to convince myself that what I was feeling was normal. Why was the idea of wearing lingerie so uncomfortable to me?
This inability to even try to challenge myself and explore the seemingly endless world of lace, prints and straps was disappointing to say the least. People around me saw lingerie as an empowering piece of clothing. They were beautiful, they were sexy, they knew it and they were going to make sure you did too. I admired them, but felt that I could never be like them.
“At the time, I came to the conclusion that the parts of my body most lacy, architectural lingerie is meant to accentuate were not parts of me I ever thought of as being especially interesting or attractive.”
At that point I wished I could just grow up a little bit.
And so, equipped with a more defined sense of self, I began to puzzle over this discomfort on a more frequent basis. At the time, I came to the conclusion that the parts of my body most lacy, architectural lingerie is meant to accentuate were not parts of me I ever thought of as being especially interesting or attractive. I liked my shoulders, arms and back, areas these garments existed on or around, but that were typically not the focal point.
Through a recent conversation with Hamilton-based lingerie designer Rosalie Loney, I finally found some solace in that I was not alone in my sentiments.
“I have so many memories of shopping for bras,” Loney said. “Even like, as a teenager, shopping for bras with my mom and thinking ‘this is terrible’. Like going to La Senza and feeling like [I] must have been the weirdest shape because nothing ever, ever fit.”
Loney’s line, Rosalie Wynne, offers a fully customizable sizing experience, meaning that she is able to offer a much broader range than what is available in most big-box retailers. Poor sizing was an issue for Loney in the past, and she created Rosalie Wynne out of a desire to ensure that anyone, no matter their size or proportions, can find a beautiful bralette or pair of underwear they can wear with confidence.
“I really want women to feel empowered, to be comfortable and confident in their own bodies and to know that you can be super comfortable in your unique shape, whatever it is,” she explained. “I don’t want to choose between being comfortable and feeling pretty.”
Loney’s commitment to working towards universally comfortable lingerie anyone can feel confident in is admirable and her pieces are undoubtedly beautiful. Her work is focused on empowerment, not necessarily sex appeal, and it allows customers to appreciate their bodies as they are and not as objects of desire.
After our conversation, I reflected on the associations we tend to have between femininity, beauty and what is meant to be sexy about women and women’s lingerie. These one-dimensional views of sex appeal are not emblematic of a universal experience of womanhood.
This is not new information, but it took me a long time to realize that this visual definition of womanhood did not mesh comfortably with my own feelings about femininity and sexuality. While I still don’t have an alternative term for my expression of myself as a woman, that internal realization allowed for so much of my discomfort around traditionally feminine, overtly sexual lingerie to make sense.
“And slowly I’m becoming more comfortable with the idea that I can feel pretty in a plain bralette or confident in something lacey or sexy in a sports bra.”
It was such a relief to finally discover for myself that I didn’t need to find the raciest or laciest undergarments to feel sexy. But I was still left wondering what, if anything, made me feel that way.
I recalled something else Loney had said to me: “A lot of feeling beautiful is feeling comfortable.”
At that point during our conversation, it dawned on me that there actually were undergarments in my drawer that made me feel beautiful and confident and maybe even a bit sexy. And one was a little lacy, one was a fun colour and one was literally a grey Spanx bralette. But they all made me feel beautiful because they made me feel more than comfortable; they made me feel like myself.
“If you’re not feeling comfortable, it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing,” she added. “You could look great, but if you don’t feel like you can just be yourself, then what’s the point?”
Loney is right.
And slowly I’m becoming more comfortable with the idea that I can feel pretty in a plain bralette or confident in something lacy or sexy in a sports bra. My body will change, and so will my style and ideas of womanhood and queerness. And slowly I’m learning that all of these elements are inherently beautiful and I can feel confident and even a little sexy because of — not in spite of — all of these different parts of me.