F Stands for Full Bust . . . Even if It Doesn’t Feel Like It

When I used to shop for bras at Macy’s, I’d make a beeline for the full figure sign because that was the section with the D+ bras. It seemed like overkill to label every woman with a big bust as full-figured, but I guessed I must be full-figured.

Then in 2008, a designer connected me with her patternmaker, who turned out to be the 84-year-old Roslyn Harte, a highly regarded lingerie designer who agreed to talk to me by phone. I described how I wanted to create a shirt for full-figured women–you know, a shirt for women with large chests who aren’t plus-sized. Roslyn immediately interrupted me: “You mean full-breasted, not full-figured.”

I was thrilled by the revelation. How wonderful that there was actually an industry label for me and the women I wanted to design for. To be defined made me feel acknowledged and recognized. I no longer had to be an exception within a category that only partially fit.

Today there are many more people who understand the phrase “full-bust”–it’s not just for industry insiders anymore. I’ve even seen department stores with “full bust” signs, and any online lingerie store worth its salt has a separate category just for us.

Recently, the bloggers over at An Enhanced Experience discussed each writer’s definition of “full-busted” and whether she thought it described her. As each writer shared her bra size, I thought, “Of course you’re full-busted! Case closed.” I felt a little chagrined by the dialogue. “Full-busted” may be more widely recognized now than in the past, but it certainly isn’t universally understood. There are still too many people who believe that a bust size past a D means a woman has a large body to match. If women who clearly fall within the textbook definition of full-busted disclaim the title, there are less of us to embrace it and educate others.

As you read that last sentence, you probably wondered what textbook definition I was talking about. I’m not even sure there is one! The Full Figured Chest has suggested that anyone with a 34 band and lower and a DD cup and higher qualifies, while a Wikipedia contributor has written that full bust is “commonly used to refer to a breast with a cup size of at least C.” However, I tend to agree with Ali Cudby’s definition from her Fit My Bras course: 28-38 bands and D cups and higher.

Now that I’ve set out my criteria, it’s time to confess that even I haven’t “felt” full-busted lately. As a 32F in French brands and a 32FF in British brands, I have it easy; and like many of the Enhanced Experience bloggers, I tend to associate “difficult” with being full-busted. In fact, I focus so much on the challenges facing full-busted women who wear H+ cups that I completely discount my own experience. When I visited the Empreinte store in Paris last month, I almost missed out on their amazing very plunge seamless padded bras that stop at an F cup (review to come) because I only ever look for styles that go to an H cup.

A couple of weeks ago, Eveden invited me for a fitting at their press event and put me in the Fantasie Allegra* vertical seam bra. I was confounded when it fit me in 32FF and 30G. I NEVER would have tried this bra on my own because I had it confused with the Freya Starlet** vertical seam that only goes to an F cup. Because of the F cup ceiling in the Starlet, I had in mind that all vertical seam balconettes were off limits to “real” full-busted women. 

freya starlet fantasie allegra

Freya Starlet on the left, Fantasie Allegra on the right.

It’s not just F cups that challenge my perception of full-bustedness. I also carry a subjective ruler around in my head. Someone who is mildly projected, I immediately discount because she probably “only” wears a D or DD and has it soooo easy. Someone who is moderately to very projected, I give my full busted seal of approval. For instance, I was super interested to read A Big Boob Styling How-To on Man Repeller recently, but when I saw the writer’s photos, my internal ruler said, “Her experience doesn’t count because her boobs don’t look big enough.” Even though she wears a 32G, maybe it’s an American G, which is only a British F, and life just isn’t that hard for F cups. Or FF cups like me.

Since I have been minimizing my own full bust status lately, the following pictures of me with my graduating niece last weekend astounded me. How did my chest get so prominent??? (I have to admit, I was kind of relieved to see it again!)

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I’m wearing my Freya Hero in 32FF in this photo, compliments of Bras-Galore. I’ll be reviewing it soon!

Darlene and niece cropped

I’m not sure which bra I’m wearing in this photo.

Maybe you don’t think my chest is taking over the photos like I do. And hopefully you’re not tempted to disregard my experience in the same way that I was tempted to disregard the Man Repeller writer. But if you are tempted, I completely understand.

However, rather than giving in to the temptation to discount our smaller sisters, I wonder if we can find ways to appreciate the full spectrum of full-bustedness. For instance, the Man Repeller post gave me some great ideas for accessorizing. Any article that goes beyond the busty basics has something to offer all of us regardless of where the writer falls on the spectrum. And being full-busted isn’t only about difficulties. We have a lot of celebrating and sharing to do.

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*There are reviews of the Allegra by A Tale of Two Boobs and Faustineli.

**You can find a great review of the Starlet by Science and Silicone.

Helping with Fit and Learning a Lesson About Value

A law school friend asked me to reach out to Ester, her Tanzanian translator who was in New York “with 5 albino children who will be fitted for prosthetics”. Like me, you may be wondering what the significance is of the children having albinism?

Global Relief Fund

In Africa, and especially Tanzania, people with albinism are regarded as bad luck and outcasts . . . unless a witch doctor instructs his client to return with the limb of a person with albinism so that he can mix it with a potion to bring good luck. Ester, who you see on the left in the photo above, works with the 320 children with albinism that are sponsored by Under the Same Sun. One of her jobs is to make sure they are placed in private boarding schools with strong security.

Six months ago, a group of men barged into six-year-old Baraka’s home and hacked off his hand. His story caught the attention of the founder of Global Medical Relief Fund, who tried to contact his parents to bring him to the United States for a prosthetic. Instead, she reached Under the Same Sun and ended up bringing Baraka and four more children with him. That’s how Ester came to be in New York City with the five children you see in this picture. (Baraka is the smallest child on the left next to Ester.)

Although these children return to Tanzania on September 30, a Tanzanian teenager with albinism will take their place, so Ester will remain. Having packed for only two months, she is now at the end of her third month and running out of clothes!

Last night, Hourglassy’s clothing swap came to the rescue. Thanks to some great pieces that no one took home last year, Ester now owns several dresses, blouses and bras that fit her perfectly. What an honor it was to be able to help this amazing woman.

pepperberry tweed dress on ester

Pepperberry

pepperberry white blouse on ester

Pepperberry

bolero black dress

Bolero

With our first swap in 2012, I promised to donate any unclaimed clothes to charity, but last year I had an idea I like better: keep the clothes in my basement for the following year’s swap, and make them available to busty women who stop by before then. Doesn’t this make you want to visit New York City? Of course, if you already live in or near the city, then you should come to our 4th Annual Big Bust Clothing Swap this Saturday!

When I drove home from visiting Ester last night, I felt thankful that my goal of helping busty women find clothes to fit had been reached in such an unexpected way. My encounter with her charges, however, gave me a new perspective on the theme of self-acceptance that we often discuss here. Under the Same Sun sponsors many children with albinism who have run away because their own families are the ones who want to harm them. How can a small child have the strength to refuse to believe the lie that she is worthless and to fight for her very survival? The battles that these children are winning gives me courage to overcome my much smaller struggles. I hope they do the same for you.

The Goal is Not Perfection: 3 Thoughts

When I began musing about this subject a couple of months ago, I thought I’d have a perfectly drafted thesis ready for my turn to write. Instead, I have a collection of observations that are only loosely connected by the theme and a deadline that won’t let me procrastinate any further.

A. Every Little Detail

When I saw this woman in front of me the other day, I had to photograph her. Everything about her looked coordinated in a polished way that wasn’t at all matchy-matchy. You can’t tell in this picture, but those are metallic heels . . . that went with the metallic tag on her bag . . . that went with the metallic clasp at her waist (she told me that everyone asks where she found that clasp, but she’s had it for years).

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Hourglassy used to have a series called “Back Interest”, but we dropped it for lack of reader interest. This gives me some consolation that I’m not the only one who focuses on my front, but this woman really raises the bar for the back!

A friend recently had her own story to share on this subject. A senior executive at her company was wearing a pair of black pants with white panels down each side. Not my friend’s taste, but she didn’t really care. It was only when the executive turned around that my friend saw what made the pants so great: the woman’s butt looked amazing. From that point on my friend vowed to care about her back as much as her front.

I’m afraid I can’t make that vow. I love the idea of a perfect appearance, and even though “the goal is not perfection,” I have this unjustified belief that I will eventually get there. Just not today . . . because I really want to wear gym shoes with my jeans. And no makeup. When it comes to a perfect appearance, whether in front or in back, I seem to have a very long view.

B. Age

More magazine has a feature called “This is What 40/50/60 Looks Like” each month where they showcase an amazing-looking middle-aged woman. I hate it. When we reach 40/50/60, aren’t we at least too old to be pressured to look like someone else? It reminds me of 5-year-old me yearning to be a Breck girl, or 12-year-old me yearning to be a Seventeen model. I love most ideas behind More magazine, but not this one.

breck girl 1

I was furious that my mother couldn’t guarantee I would have hair like this when I grew up.

We all age differently, but there’s pressure to have really cool white hair or bright eyes. Or not to age at all if we can help it. Just the other day my 75-year-old mother-in-law came away from dinner with friends feeling insecure about how old she looked compared to the 63-year-old woman at our table. But my mother-in-law takes really good care of herself and looks amazing! (Fortunately, she had fully recovered by the time we visited her 98-year-old aunt yesterday. This aunt had flaming red hair and was wearing a stylish blouse. She asked MIL when she was going to get that mole removed from her nose. My MIL only shrugged and said that she’s had it all her life–who would recognize her without it?)

Old people get condemned for looking old, and they’re praised if they can meet the standards of the younger generations. But age is permission not to strive for perfection anymore. I’m pleased with my body today, but if I’d had the same body in my 20’s, I wouldn’t have been caught dead showing you the bikinis I reviewed in June. But I’m 49, and no one expects me to look the way I expected myself to look when I was 29. It’s very freeing.

C. Sewing

In May I finished sewing my first ever dress shirt for my husband. Every completed step was a victory. I couldn’t believe it when the yoke materialized, and then the collar, and then the cuffs. I had very high standards: if I thought Mr. Campbell would be ashamed to wear the shirt with a slightly crooked seam, I ripped it out and started over.

Then I took the shirt to my mentor Steve and discovered my standards weren’t high enough. He didn’t care if Mr. Campbell would wear it. The edge of the cuff absolutely could not extend past the placket like this.

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And I had to remove the collar stand and reattach it to the shirt until it lined up perfectly.

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It’s too complicated for me to try to explain everything he noticed and made me fix, but I fixed it.

This past Saturday, I finished sewing my fourth shirt . . . a size 8M Campbell & Kate shirt that I’m really proud of. It’s getting easier, but I’m still ripping out seams and starting over again until I get them right. But that’s what makes the difference in my motivation–I know it’s possible to do things right!

Not perfect. Just right. And sometimes it’s hard to know the difference between the two, isn’t it?

Introducing Hourglassy’s July Theme: The Goal is Not Perfection

Do you have a word you use all the time? My Jamaican-American mother-in-law’s word is “crazy”. If she can’t get her laptop to work, “This computer crazy.” When she doesn’t hear her cell phone and misses a call, “My phone crazy, man.” If she disagrees with someone’s life choices, of course, “He crazy!”

It was my husband who pointed her special word out to me, and whenever anything goes wrong or seems strange, we’ll laugh and imitate his mom, with extra emphasis on the first syllable, just like her: “That’s CRAzy.” (His mother is now living with us indefinitely, so pretty soon everyone is going to call me crazy.)

I didn’t think I had a trademark word until my husband pointed it out to me as well. It’s “perfect”. When we finish planning to meet somewhere, I’ll conclude with “Perfect.” A waiter seats us by the window, and I’ll exclaim, “This is perfect!” A parking place in front of our house is “Perfect!” I like someone’s shoes, and “They’re the perfect shoes with that outfit.”

I use this word so much that you might think the idea of perfection has lost all meaning for me. In reality, I’m so saturated with the idea of perfection that it’s overflowing into my everyday wording for commonplace situations.  “Perfect” is like saying “great” with a boost. Why settle for less?

As I prepared for my “D+ Dressing without Stressing” workshop in May, I began to question my presumption that we’re all going for perfection all the time. Was I trying to tell my D+ audience how to dress perfectly? If so, I needed to call and cancel the workshop because there was no way I could perform under that sort of pressure. In the end, I decided that my goal was to show my audience how certain details make a difference in our appearance . . . details that I’ve learned about while blogging and that I wish someone had told me about long ago. It was up to my audience to play with the details for themselves.

Because I automatically assume that the goal is perfection in every undertaking, the realization that perfection isn’t always the goal is raising a lot of questions for me. And it’s made me curious as to what others think on the subject. So this month, we’re going to delve into this topic. We won’t write about it every day, but at least one Hourglassy writer will cover it each week, and we’ll link to other bloggers who have decided to write about this theme. Plus, we have some great guest writers lined up as well.

It’s going to be perfect! 🙂