The internets were blowing up this week when a prominent US retailer appeared on the news program Good Morning America to discuss bras and claimed that bra sizes are a scam and “ten years ago all the manufacturers changed the sizes without telling anyone.” She says bras use “vanity sizing” to make women think they have smaller backs and bigger breasts. I (and many others) took serious issue with this claim.

Now, Darlene thinks ABC may have done some creative editing to make the statement more shocking. It’s possible a larger point was trying to be made that women should basically disregard the numbers and letters and just wear what feels and fits the best. But I still can’t get behind that vanity sizing idea, much less that it happened ten years ago.

As Butterfly Collection’s excellent response points out, most brands that offer D+ sizes did not exist until the 1990s. The Eveden group, for example, only started focusing on larger cups after a buyout in 1992. And the brands that existed prior to the ’90s that are still around (Playtex, Maidenform, our old pal Victoria’s Secret [founded in 1977], etc.) still don’t sell anything below a 32 band or above a D cup (maybe DD if you’re lucky). So who are the manufacturers that used to stick with 32+ and A-D but now offer 28+ and D+? I don’t know of a single one.

Additionally, wouldn’t vanity sizing also mean that companies would no longer be offering small cups like A and B and 40+ bands? If vanity sizing was really happening, sizes like 42C wouldn’t exist, because a 42C woman would be fit into, say, a 36DDD/E. But those larger bands and smaller cups do exist.

Next, it’s widely understood at this point that the plus-four method of measuring comes from the pre-1960’s, when bras were made of non-stretchy materials and boning. With the invention of elastane in 1959, bra construction completely changed, yet apparently the letters and numbers system used for bra sizing did not. Why retailers and manufacturers still insist upon using the same plus-four method these days is a mystery. That would be like using the fitting instructions of a 19th century swim costume for a modern Olympic competition swimsuit. Though the purpose may be the same, there’s no denying that it’s two entirely different garments. So using sizing that differs from pre-1960s is not vanity sizing; it’s compensating for a new style while still being shoehorned into the same sizing scheme.

Furthermore, the non plus-four method means you simply use your actual body measurement as your size. The letters are then based on the difference between your underbust and your bust measurements. If I measure 29 inches underbust, then I wear a 28 or 30 band. If I then have a 37.5-inch bust, I wear a G or FF cup (in UK brands). How is that vanity sizing? Men’s pant sizes are based on actual measurements, but we don’t call that vanity sizing. It makes far less sense to use arbitrary numbers than your real measurement. In reality, all those companies that advocate the plus-four method are using the opposite of vanity sizing (humility sizing?) whereas the rest of us are just using…well…sizing!

Lastly, I must disagree that the average woman even wants a smaller back and bigger breasts. There is a huge stigma attached to large breasts the world over. In the west, anything above a D cup is thought of as fake or “porn star boobs.” Women and even young girls get accused of being a “slut” or “skank” just for having large breasts. A busty woman was even thrown off a Southwest Airlines flight earlier this year for “inappropriate” cleavage.

People sometimes literally do not believe me when I say I’m a G-cup. Some women are in disbelief that they could “be that big” or even cry when they’re fitted into a D+ cup. Additionally, finding bras with smaller back sizes (much less ones that don’t cost an arm and a leg) is a major challenge. Just finding clothing for a frame with comparatively large breasts is difficult. Obviously there are women out there who would prefer to have bigger breasts and there are women who would prefer to be thinner, but I don’t think the very specific combination of a small back and big breasts is something most women consider. It’s two different ideas: (1) I want to be skinny; and (2) I want big boobs.

As someone with a journalism degree, I really have to wonder what source proves this vanity sizing exists and that it started ten years ago. Where is the evidence, the proof? It seems like ABC dropped the ball on fact-checking this story. I didn’t have enough time this week before publishing this post, but I’m going to try reaching out to some of the big bust bra manufacturers to see what they think of the idea that they’re using vanity sizes. I’ll write a follow-up post when I hear from them.