Boobs. Breasts. Bras. We have them, but we never talk about it. What we know about them comes from our moms or grandmothers, and what they know comes from their own moms and so on. Then we get sized in a department store, we get a bra that seems to fit alright and that’s it.
But that passed-down lingerie lore isn't all there is when it comes to bra knowledge.
“None of this stuff was ever really taught to us. It took me working for a luxury brand and reading a 36-page document to even get an understanding of how a bra should fit, how to know if they don’t fit and all the intricacies that go into it,” Madison Anne Hill said.
Hill is TikTok’s "bra lady" with 469,000 followers and 11.5 million likes. She has hundreds of videos on the topic, sharing her extensive knowledge and reviewing inclusive brands. Her 15-page resource guide is even more thorough and easy to understand. It’s regularly updated with even more information and inclusive brands she recommends.
“It is very surreal to me, that in some way, shape or form, I'm not just screaming into the void, that there is a real impact to what I’m doing and that is both scary and thrilling,” Hill said.
It was even more surreal for me when I was talking to her in our Zoom meeting after constantly seeing her videos on my For You page. Those few-second videos were what inspired me to buy a tape measure and finally figure out my size.
I went into her resource guide, bought a few bras from one of the brands she recommended with the size I really was! All due to her videos!
It might be difficult to understand this joy if you haven’t lived the uniquely painful experience of having big boobs. So, I’ll try to explain: It’s not very fun.
I don’t remember specifically when I was first aware of my own, but I do remember feeling the shame that comes with them. Always being told to hide under too-big shirts. Always forced to wear a bra at home when men, or anyone really, would visit. I was a C cup in middle school.
I would get sized several times throughout my life in department stores, Victoria’s Secret and Aerie and buy a D, DD or DDD bra.
They were fine. They were what I thought bras should be: uncomfortable and supportive enough. They would cut right through my breasts. They never looked good under a T-shirt. The wire would always hurt me. They would just break and stretch out in less than a year.
I never thought I could wear a bralette, and I knew I could never go outside without a bra. The shame would eat me alive. I wished I could, like all those girls on Instagram with trendy tops and small boobs.
When I bought my first bralette during quarantine, my whole life changed.
“As someone who developed very early, I think I got my first training bra when I was seven or nine, that’s what I’ve grown up with. And I’ve tried going without bras for a while, and I’m like, is this comfortable for me? And it’s just not quite,” Hill said. “They’re different for everybody, which I really like, not wearing them is a symbol of empowerment, wearing them is a symbol of empowerment.“
I know now that this Aerie bralette in XXL doesn’t fit me how it should. My boobs still spill out from the sides. But I finally had something that was comfortable and mostly supportive but not suffocating like a sports bra! They were so good, I could wear them for work! I didn’t think it could get better than that.
I’ve never been happier about being wrong in my life.
A month ago, I finally decided to grab a tape measure and figure out my actual bra size. I watched Hill’s TikTok over and over again to make sure I was doing everything right. I was a 38H. No, that’s wrong. I couldn’t possibly be that big.
Wow, let’s stop that toxic thought before it gets any further. I shouldn’t feel shame over my body’s size, just like I’m no longer ashamed of my size 14 body or my 32 waist. Measurements and sizing are neutral.
“I think there’s a lot of ‘Oh my god, they’re not as perky as I think they should (be), there’s something wrong, I’m sagging, how do I fix this?’ You don’t have to. I think that there’s a lack of information, and misinformation, on what they should look like, on what the shape should be and on what the size should be,” Hill said.
Immediately after discovering my size, I went to Hill’s resource guide. I checked what shape I was – bell/teardrop – and what bra would work best for it – balconettes and demis. I decided to buy from Figleaves, a U.K. website that hosts a bunch of lingerie brands. I’ve never been so excited to try on a bra than when I got that package in the mail.
I almost cried when I tried on Panacho’s Tango Balconette bra. It fits! It actually fits! My girls have never looked better! They were supported and thriving. I was so happy.
I finally felt like I didn’t have to hide. I actually wanted to wear a bra! When was the last time you thought that?
“I think, especially for people who have gone years without really knowing their true size or knowing how they should fit, once you find one that really fits, that is a game changer. It’s like, ‘Oh! I’m not weird or my boobs aren’t weird. This is actually ... for me.’ There is something out there for you,“ Hill said.
As we grew up, we were taught to fit into little boxes. To be small and take less space, to speak but only say what was acceptable. To try everything in order to blend in with the heterosexual, white, capitalist world we live in. While that world is still here, we’re slowly changing it. We’re not afraid to be loud, to be seen and to take up all the space that we need.
“I’m very much not always okay with what I see in the mirror, and I have to remind myself that that’s okay too. That at the end of the day, it’s about what I think, and if I’ve made it through the day in my body and my body carried me through another day or through certain things that are hard, then great. This is mine,” she said.
“That’s a journey I’m still on, I’ve been on for years, because it doesn’t happen overnight – nothing like that happens overnight. But just being able to kind of say thank you to your body every now and again, like thank you for getting me through this and working on getting better. I think that it’s the little things, but I think it can make a difference in the way that you might see yourself when looking in the mirror,” Hill said.
After years in my body, I don’t feel that much shame over it. During my shift, I often talk to customers at Anthropologie about how this piece fits my size 14 body.
I don’t get depressed when a top or dress doesn’t fit me at Zara. I get righteous fury when I want to support Puerto Rican or sustainable brands, but they don’t carry my size – or they should, but the X-Large is a 10 instead of a 14 or 16.
I understand that it’s not my fault, it’s the retailer’s. It’s not my body that needs to change, it’s them.
Of course, I still have moments where I forget that. But that’s okay, we’re all human.
My boobs have been my number one insecurity since middle school. I’ve loved and hated them. They make me feel sexy and ugly. Finding my real size was the first step to empowerment and acceptance. The rest will soon follow.