I’ve always had a difficult relationship with clothing. It’s partly, perhaps even primarily, tied to my anxiety over money. But it’s also the fact that, well, our world isn’t the best to women who aren’t the “standard” size or shape. Which in the UK is about 3 sizes and nothing either side.
Are you an 8, 10 or 12 and over 5’5 but under 5’9? Congratulations! You can find all the clothes. Anything else? No, sorry. The same goes for bra sizes. If you’re a 30-36 band and A-C cup, you’re fine. Otherwise you’re out of luck.
So clothes shopping is really, really stressful.
…even before you’ve taken into account having an anxiety disorder.
Which might seem an odd intro to ‘so I went for a bra fitting’, but it’s important to have the context. The reasons for my being anxious aren’t wholly born of my anxiety disorder. That’s different to the first scary activity I went on, where it was all about how much I could trust my own perception of the world.
The other thing to note is that I have been for a bra fitting before, several years ago. I went to Bravissimo, who are a higher end lingerie shop here in the UK. At the time I was wearing a 38DD, and they gave me a size so radically different – 32G, I think? – that I ran in terror from their incredibly expensive bras.
It was also an incredibly long and laborious experience. I got measured, tried things on, measured again, tried more on, it took a solid half hour for me to escape. I found the experience at once unexpectedly easy and overwhelmingly awful.
But I’ve lost too much weight now to avoid going and getting fitted again.
I’m over 50lbs lighter than I was when I went for that previous bra fitting, and I’m still wearing the same size. Not the size they told me to wear. And bear in mind that when I went then, it was because my bra was too big. So I was expecting this to be pretty different.
To help me deal with the panic of the size being really different, I measured myself at home before I went, using a guide from r/abrathatfits – with thanks to Ange for the suggestion! This put me at a 34F/FF, but mentioned that I might want to go down to a D or up to a 36 for comfort.
I’ll be honest – I was disappointed. Because a part of me was really hoping that I would have reduced down to a size that you could actually bloody well buy in a damn shop. Ahem. I really can’t emphasise enough how much I hate clothes shopping.
I wanted to be sure, so I booked a fitting at my local M&S.
At this point I had resigned myself to needing to go to a shop other than Primark. They’re better than some at having more sizes available, but I figured if I was going to do this properly I ought to do this properly. Plus, having a measurement from the place you’re going to buy is also good.
Not to mention that I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with the ethics of some high street shops. I’m not saying M&S is necessarily better than Primark in that vein. I have no idea if it is or not. But I’m trying to buy less fast fashion, and that means trying to make the things I have to buy firsthand more enduring.
Remember that supposed moral high ground – we’ll come back to it later.
The booking, like with the opticians, is fine. I’m able to do it online, it’s painless, I get an appointment within a week. In fact I could’ve had one the next day if I’d wanted to. This time I have the added bonus that I actually know where the place is, too.
Of course when I get there, I can’t find in the store where I’m meant to go.
I’m already a bit on edge. I meditated in the morning, and had a very strange experience where I just sat there feeling trapped and longing to escape. I did the whole meditation, but it left me on edge in a way that – well, is the opposite of what I’m looking for with meditating.
So it’s jarring when I get to the shop and there’s no signs at all. I have to go and ask a cashier for help. It turns out that the appointments are just in the generic fitting rooms, in a room tucked into the corner. I wait a couple of minutes for a nice woman to come and ask what I want.
In typically anxious British fashion, I stammer a bunch of self-deprecating statements about my current bra. I realise, to my horror, that I am incredibly sweaty. It’s been so cold lately that I wore a hoodie, coat and scarf. Today is not as cold. As such, I’ve already removed two of those – but the sweat remains.
She is pleasingly matter of fact about the whole situation.
She takes one look at my (old, worn, cost £2 in Primark) bra and nods her head. Then she goes off to get some for me to try. This leads to an incredibly awkward three minutes that I spend standing in a changing room, wearing no top and a bra that fits so badly you can basically see everything anyway.
At no point, now or ever, does she measure me. She only even briefly touches me, to pull my bra straps and band to test their looseness.
When she comes back she hands me a single bra, and has me put it on. I struggle to put it on because a) my hands are shaking and b) a lifetime of using the smallest hooks makes you unable to use the middle ones all of a sudden.
To my astonishment given that she eyeballed the whole thing, it fits perfectly. It’s a 36C, which I am pretty sure was my size when I was 18. She explains that normally when you lose weight your band goes down and your cup goes up, but that I seem to have gone down in both. Possibly I was never, at any point in my life, wearing the right size.
I say thank you, and she leaves.
…giving no indication of whether the appointment is over or not.
I take off the correct bra and mournfully put my terrible one back on. All the time I am thinking – is this what I’m meant to be doing? Is she coming back? What should I do with this bra?
Dressed, I walk out and there is absolutely no one there. Not waiting for me, not at the desk that guards the fitting rooms. I drop the bra that is probably full of my sweat onto the desk and leave. I do not see the woman again – I am honestly not sure that I would recognise her if I did, given that I don’t really ever look people in the face.
So here’s where my anxiety starts to set in.
It’s not that I feel incredibly anxious. My breathing is normal, I’ve only got a minor tension in my chest, my hands are shaking but not more than normal. What happens, instead, is that I start to ignore all of the good intentions I set out with.
Which is how I end up in Primark, holding three 36C bras for £8, buying them even though they didn’t quite fit.
So let’s note that I was good and did try them on, at least. There is that in my favour.
But they don’t fit. There is a tiny bit of flesh bulging out of the back of a cup. Only on one side – apparently like most people I do have one side bigger than the other. Apart from that one thing, these bras fit absolutely perfectly. And there are three of them. For £8.
What’s happened is what my anxiety often does in situations where I’m uncomfortable. It defaults me into let’s just get something so that I have not failed and then get the hell out of here. It happens a lot whilst I’m shopping and something has caused me to be unable to find what I want. Like if I’ve gone to get chocolate and there’s none in the shop that’s vegan. Or I’ve realised partway round the shop that I don’t have the calories in my limit for said chocolate.
It’s essentially an extension of the flight response, but with the added level of desperately not wanting to fail. I do what I have to and then I get out. End of story. For an extra level of panic, I grab a sports bra on the way out without trying it. The sizes aren’t bra ones – they’re normal clothes sizes. Maybe it will fit. Maybe it won’t. I don’t know.
I just want to get out of there.
As I write this I’m now in a cafe nearby, and my hands are still shaking.
I’m becoming focused on and incredibly frustrated by small things. My nails are too long to be typing. It’s making muscles jump in my bicep. That makes no sense but it’s happening anyway. The table I’m using is too tall to work at comfortably, but there are no tables of other height. I’ve got a lot more work to do and I already just want to go to bed.
My intention was to go on to the library and sit there, do the rest of my work, maybe take out some books to research a project I’m working on. I don’t think I can now. Because going to get a bra fitting – a bra fitting that lasted probably less than 5 minutes – sent me into a panic and has left me an anxious mess.
This isn’t a panic attack, either. I’d almost rather have one of those. It would get more of this out – a sudden exhalation rather than this exponential increase in panic.
Instead I will have to walk home now and try to get myself to a place where I’m not focusing on the bones in my hands and whether they are bending the wrong way whilst I’m typing.
I can do it – I know I can. But the fact that I have to is really, really wearying. Being at the point where I can do things is fantastic. I just wish that there weren’t so many caveats attached.