Wedding Dress Shopping As A Stick Figure

Breasts, butt, and hips? I don’t got ’em.

Wedding Dress Shopping as a Stick Figure | APW (1)

I’m a stick figure. There, I said it. In case anyone is making assumptions, I’m not dangerously underweight. I’m not even underweight. I just don’t have any curves.

Let me define what I mean by “curves” for a second. The word gets used to mean different things. I use it to mean the deposits of fat and tissue that usually come about as women reach sexual maturity. Specifically, breasts, butt, and hips. I don’t got ’em.

The butt and hip thing doesn’t bother me too much. But the breasts? I waited for my breasts for years. In fourth grade, I began eyeing breasts. All women’s breasts. They looked so… good. I couldn’t wait to get mine. I dreamed about how big they’d be, how attractive I’d look with them. I looked at my older sister’s set, to try to see if I could gauge how mine would turn out. Hers were shaping up to be a respectable size. I felt encouraged.

As the years went by, my breasts were nowhere to be found. In sixth grade, I wore one red shirt as often as possible, because I fancied it made my chest look somewhat developed (even if only marginally). I was starting to worry, but still felt optimistic.

By eighth grade my period arrived, but it forgot to bring my breasts along. It didn’t seem fair. I was getting the pain and annoyance associated with being a “woman,” but not the fun perks! I was confused, but kept on waiting. I was in denial. It felt okay.

Once in high school, the realization began to glow brighter that this was my lot. It might not happen for me. I found styles of clothing that flattered me. I shunned tops that made me feel bad about my chest, because I already felt badly enough on my own. Darts were my enemy. I learned I would never be able to shop in Victoria’s Secret, because their 32As gaped away from my torso and mocked me for my inferiority as a woman.

In college, I knew this was it, but I held out a tiny, bizarre hope, based on some urban-legend I heard from god-knows-where about a girl who got her breasts at the ripe age of twenty-two. Twenty-two came. Without breasts. Denial was no longer an option, and it left depression in its wake.

I wondered if I had done anything to create the situation. I was the only female in my family who was so. Flat. My mom tried to convince me my aunt was similarly not-well-endowed, but I knew what my aunt looked like and was not convinced I remembered how once my rambunctious little cousin ran straight into my chest when I was eleven. Had that stunted them? Did I not eat right? Should I not have worn a training bra so early? Did it stifle them? I bargained away.

The reality was sinking in. This was truly it. What I had wasn’t going to get any bigger. I’d never have a curvy form. I’d see hurtful comments on the Internet about “real women having curves.” I fumed inside. Why were these women demeaning my body? Don’t they know how much our society values breasts on women? That they have what everyone wants, and they’re putting me down for something totally outside of my control? Don’t they know I’ve been longing for breasts for over ten years? Why does validating their bodies involve invalidating mine? How about trans women? Are they denying those women entrance into the sisterhood as well? Anger.

But of course, you probably know how this story ends: turning outward for acceptance was never going to work. It was going to have to come from inside me. I felt that my body let me down. So instead, I forced myself to think about the ways my body doesn’t let me down, every day. It sleeps to repair itself and cement new information learned the previous day. Then it wakes up and walks me to work. It allows me to enjoy coffee, and bagels, and sex. It tells me when it’s hungry, thirsty, and tired. It knows when I’m getting a virus and sends out signals so I can take extra care of it. It’s going to keep me on this planet for as long as it can. Sure, my tiny boobs will sag less than they would if they were bigger, and I can go without a bra if I want to, but those are minimal positives compared to the realities of what my body does for me every day.

By the time I was ready to pick out a wedding dress, I had already run myself through the wringer of accepting my flat body. I had decided that on our wedding day, I wanted to look as true to myself as I could. Maybe a fancier version of myself, but myself. And this self has no boobs. My partner knows it, my family knows it, my friends know it. Covered by only a few layers of fabric, my breasts are out there (or not, as the case may be) for all the world to see.

As I tried on the sample of the dress that I knew would be mine, I twirled a bit awkwardly while my dearest friend looked on and smiled. In that moment, I had dim memories of the younger versions of myself, who worried about how I would “enhance” my décolletage on my future wedding day. Ruffles, ruching, I know all the tricks to “add volume,” as the magazines so helpfully suggest. But all those iterations of me, the younger ones, the ones longing for something I wasn’t, were quietly muffled. I heard my new voice, ringing clear and reflected in my friend’s crinkling eyes. The designer walked over to me, reassuringly discussing how he’d make my dress exactly to my specifications. We chatted about options: lowering the back line, crossing the straps in the back, no train behind. “And how do we feel about the chest, do you want any pads sewn in, or are you happy with this?”

“Happy,” I said.

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  • This so much. As a card carrying member of the itty bitty titty committee, it took a long, long time to accept that this is what I look like. It was a long, hard road to be able to wake up, look my self in the mirror and say, “this is what you look like and it is enough.”

    Fun fact: my super, secret “buy fake boobs if you don’t get over it” fund turned out to be a great wedding nest egg. I may not be getting boobs but I am getting a pretty awesome wedding.

    • Respect for the fake boobs fund!

    • Julia

      Yes! I’m an A/B, and I always liked my boobs. They’re small but perky. However, I used to have this terrible boyfriend who would constantly encourage me to get a boob job, and he gave me a real inferiority complex. Ick.

      My husband, on the other hand, is massively in love with my breasts just as they are. His favourite phrase is “any more than a handful is a waste.” :)

  • KC

    Hooray for happy! :-)

  • Love this. :) I’m so happy you love your body. I wish that I could sprinkle fairy dust on everyone I know that goes through life hating and criticizing their body. :( Body-hate makes me really sad.

    And seriously, can we just stop with the “real women have curves?” Real women are people that want to be identified as a woman.

    • Lauren from NH

      The unfortunate thing is that the “real women have curves” bit, seems to be a response to pressure that women can never be skinny enough. So while this phrase is trying to reject the model size negative zero ideal, it’s negating other normal healthy body types in the process. Which only furthers the sense that women can never get it right, that someone can always pick away at you because women’s bodies are the property of public gaze. Also I found it very compelling the other day when I heard a line that men presented in the media come in many shapes and sizes and generally women are only presented with on viable version, “pretty thin girl”. Not cool.

      • Meg Keene

        I’ll add a further level of complication, which is, because the male gaze singles out the so called “pretty thin girl”, there can be a level of discomfort inhabiting a body that comes anywhere near that archetype, because that means your body is treated as public property.

        I’ve never, say, looked like a model, so I can only imagine what that is like (I’d imagine actually pretty unpleasant in a lot of ways). But when I was really underweight as a teen (and sensitive about it, because no matter what we’re told, being underweight isn’t fun or healthy) I found myself made into public property. Guys could comment on it, women (older women who I looked up to, even) would ‘other’ me, in a shaming way. “I can’t believe you’re that size, it’s so freakish,” followed by, “Everyone wants to be you,” or “Take pictures of yourself now, because you’ll dream about this when you’re older,” (<– Not true, by the way, I look at those pictures and I look PAINFULLY unhealthy) are really fucked up messages to send a 14 or 15 or 16 year old. Or hell, ANY HUMAN.

        • Ugh, yes, this makes me so uncomfortable. Especially when people (usually older women) exclaim, “You’re so thin! What’s your secret?” Uh, IDK, but that’s sort of a rude question, lady-I-don’t-really-know.

          Commenting on anyone’s body/weight should be a no-fly zone.

          • Meg Keene

            One of the things I find most deeply uncomfortable about that kind of question is it makes you complicit in patriarchal body hating. IE, if you’re thin, you must be trying to be thin because you know it’s the ideal shape. RIGHT? (Not to mention how awful that question is if you’re say, underweight for medical reasons, which has for sure happened to me. “My secret is I’ve been on bed rest for six months, THANKS FOR ASKING.”)

            “My secret is this is the way my body was made, and it’s not any better or worse than other bodies,” is of course the real answer.

          • Absolutely–I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it made me so unbearably uncomfortable, but you’ve nailed it. The patriarchal body-hating aspect of it makes it a special kind of insidious.

            It also just makes me so sad that this is often the first or nearly-first question that these accomplished, intelligent, beautiful older women ask me. Like, you’ve practiced law in two different countries, and THIS is what we’re talking about?!

          • pumpkinpicker

            …or if, like me for most of my teens and twenties your secret was in fact that you are anorexic…

            “What’s my secret? A decade of self hatred, depression, anxiety, and self imposed physical torture! Awesome right? I don’t know why more people aren’t on board.”

          • Grace

            A close friend of mine had anorexia and at her most sick, she attended her mothers wedding and people were actually telling her she looked amazing. Those comments made the process of her gaining weight even tougher. People have no idea what pressures they’re putting on a person when they say these things.

          • THIS! My sister had bulimia, and has been working really hard for the past 2 years to overcome her mental blocks about gaining weight. She is still under her goal weight, but is on an eating plan that is working for her- which involves eating small amounts every 2 hours. This past Thanksgiving our aunt- who is very focused on being thin- asked her why she was getting seconds a couple hours after Thanksgiving dinner with the words “You’re eating again so soon? I don’t know if you should- I’d hate to see you loose your figure.” It was a dark night.

          • Or ”My secret is that my husband unexpectedly left me for another woman, thanks for asking!” Yeah…changes in weight are often for complicated and painful reasons….

          • katiemckinnie

            YES! My mother had pretty severe kidney issues as a child, and was extremely underweight as a result. She still balks at being called “skinny,” because it reminds her of that time. Kids called her Olive Oyl. (Related: kids can be ridiculously cruel.)

            I’ve always struggled with the “real women have curves” phrase, for many of the reasons mentioned above. We’re all real, and we all have value, no matter what body we live in.

          • Lauren from NH

            The “what’s your secret?” bit is the worst. Because we are all employing self improvement tricks because our bodies we were born with aren’t nearly good enough. It’s for that reason I loathe women’s magazines. Their whole premise is telling you that you are all wrong in this little way and that little way…well basically all ways possible! But don’t worry! we have this trick, or exercise or product that can fix you and make you more appealing to men, which let’s be honest is your whole purpose… If you want low self esteem read a women’s magazine.

          • E

            I got the “OMG WHAT’S YOUR SECRET?!?” thing from my now-stepmother-in-law at my rehearsal dinner. I had literally no fucking clue what she was talking about. Eventually, I was able to determine she was referring to what she thought was weight loss. I hadn’t lost any weight in 6 months (and had barely lost any before that) and I definitely hadn’t been trying to lose weight. I think she was just confused because I was wearing a flattering dress. The exchange made me uncomfortable and angry.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            Yes! Also: it’s a question full of landmines. There is no way to answer this question that gets you off the hook.

          • Señorita

            This! I need both my hands to count how many patients have straight up asked me what I weigh in the last *year*.

        • Jess

          Wow, you just put words to my exact sentiments on why it sucked growing up underweight. Just wanted to let you know I shared that experience.

        • Lindsey d.

          One o my closest friends has what would easily be referred to a great body… Size 2 or 4, 5’6″ or so, appropriate curves, bounced back from baby weight like a champ, and even she complains about how she is treated. Apparently, having people tell you that they can’t be friends with you because you are “too perfect” hurts as well.

          • KC

            There are definitely shapes that suck more than others, but I think this definitely proves that there *is* no perfect shape. (augh. why do so many women do this to each other? I mean, yes, yes, I know there’s a sense of competition and all that. but it’s STUPID and self-defeating.)

          • pumpkinpicker

            Some of the most beautiful women I’ve known have also been the most miserable. Leaving aside the female side of it, the way men treat them runs the gamut from chilling to intellectually dismissive with all too rare flashes of proper human interaction. Even if they are being treated appropriately on the surface a huge portion of the time the motives turn out to be questionable.
            Add to that the message (sometimes implicit sometimes explicit) that everything positive in your life only exists because of your looks

          • Meg Keene

            I was friends with a model in college who was… miserable. Women treated her like an alien, men treated her like an object. It was absurdly isolating. She was gorgeous as FUCK, but I didn’t envy her experience for a second.

        • meleyna

          Oh my gosh, thank you so much for this. It’s somehow ridiculous to claim “Oh poor, pretty me,” but it’s for reals. I’m not fishing for compliments or being dramatic. I have valid feelings too. The “You’re so pretty!” comments are not any less difficult for me to handle today as they were in preschool. Why is it okay for you to roll your eyes at my discomfort, just because you may or may not relate?

          • Meg Keene

            Actually, I’m finding it’s another level of weird when that’s people’s primary response to your child. Firstly, thank god I have a boy, because I’d be ALARMED if I had a girl who was constantly being told she was pretty… I’d have way more fears about that becoming her definition of self worth. But as it is, it’s a strange proposition. You realize that they’re complementing the child on something the child has zero control over. That’s not great for self esteem over time, for sure. You don’t want your kids sense of worth wrapped around something they can’t control and may loose, and has nothing to do with their essential goodness as a human being.

            Dealing with it with a kid (who’s a baby and doesn’t understand it, so it’s not emotional yet) makes you realize it’s just the flip side of objectification. Defining someone by being somehow “wrong” looking is damaging. Defining someone by being somehow “right” looking is also damaging.

          • H

            This topic is near and dear to me. My niece is already getting compliments on her appearance in a borderline creepy way. For the record she’s five, and undeniably pretty, but whereas her brother gets told how smart or kind he is on a daily basis, she gets told how long her eyelashes are, what a perfect little doll she is, how those lips are going to “cause trouble” one day. I mean, ew! People don’t even realize it…they see a pretty child and gush over them without considering what they’re complimenting: their random assortment of genes and not the traits they’ve developed for themselves. It has made me verrry aware of what I say to children. When I visit my niece, I make sure to find things to tell her that emphasize her skills. Like “Wow, do you run fast!” or “That’s a lovely bead bracelet, did you pick your favorite colors for that?” I don’t even know if I’m negating the trouble-making lip comments, but I’ll certainly keep trying.
            This article was really great! I love that we can talk about all body types here in a respectful yet honest way.

          • meleyna

            I briefly touched on this above, but this was my childhood. Bizarre indeed. I think the most uncomfortable point was in the fourth grade, my music teacher commenting on how beautiful I was while he waited alone with me when my mother was late to pick me up. As Meg said, it’s something I had ZERO control over. Getting glasses in my preteen years was a blessing–I hid behind them and pulled my hair into a bun for the next five years. My mother calls it my “awkward phase.” I just wanted to be left alone. To this day, it still affects my relationships, and is something I am still working on even with my fiance.

            Now, as a mother of both a boy and girl, and I hyper-aware of it. I make a point to tell them they are beautiful/handsome/pretty etc. (because I also believe NOT hearing you’re beautiful in appropriate situations is just as damaging), but not in relation to anything. We use “fancy” to describe painted toenails, dress up clothes, gel-ed hair, new shoes, etc. It’s gender neutral, still celebratory, but doesn’t imply beauty is caused by sparkles. They’re just extra.

          • “Fancy” is a great word. I am going to try to use that more!

          • I read an article at some point on how to talk to girls, and since then I’ve tried to be careful to say things like you say to your niece. But I overhear all sorts of “pretty princess” comments all the time when I watch adults interact with young girls. So hard. I can only imagine what a challenge it would be to raise kids with healthy views of self with these kind of comments coming at them all the time…

        • Magpie

          I really appreciate how this article, and the comment section, has explored body image issues without comparing and contrasting slender and overweight women.

          As a child, I was underweight, but when I hit puberty I developed “curves”, then I continued to gain weight, and by the time I graduated from college I was overweight. I know how painful body image issues can be, both as a slender and a as an overweight person.

          Too often the impacts of sexism and sizeism are conflated. Having any body image issue as a a woman can be agonizing because of the way sexism operates in our culture. As women our social worth is tied closely to our ability to decorate a room and feeling like you aren’t living up to commonly held standards is mind warping. However, haveing a larger than acceptable body is uniquely challenging because of all the assumptions that go along with it.

          As a plus size woman, I often feel like my very existence is an insult to others. Swimming, dancing, and eating in public are all incredibly fraught experiences for me, not just because I fear looking unattractive, but because I fear reminding people of my size and all it implies about who I am: someone who is too lazy, ignorant, emotionally damaged, or stupid to lose weight. I have worked hard on my body issues and I don’t consider myself inferior for being overweight.

          I can control my body image, I can’t control our sizeist culture. I know that when I go to a grocery store, or a restaurant, or a gym that my choices will be noticed and judged. The widespread stereotypes about overweight people and the attendant poor treatment of us are called sizeism. There is no such thing as bignoseism, or assymetrical-face-ism, because those supposedly unattractive characteristics are not associated with personality types. People do not generally look at someone who is considered ugly and assume that they are also lazy and stupid.

          The intersection of sexism and sizeism is a shitty place to be.

          So I don’t think that being too skinny and being too fat are two sides of the same coin. Women with body image issues and overweight women have a lot in common and a lot to share with each other, and we should not pull each other down, but we are not the same.

          • Meg Keene

            Just to be clear: at no point did I say they were flip sides of the same coin. They’re different issues, as treated by our culture. They both, however, are fucked up.

            Further down the thread I did say that I think objectifying people (in this case children) for looking *wrong* or *right* (culturally pretty or culturally ugly, for example) are flip sides of the coin of objectification, but I wasn’t talking about body size, in that conversation.

  • Kara

    Oh, my, yes. I remember the taunting from middle school and high school. It was hurtful, and a reminder that at that time I was inadequate (according to my peers). “Roses are red, spiders are black, why is your chest as flat as your back?”. It’s odd what sticks with you through the years.

    I really didn’t get a chest until after college, but I remember what it was like for so long to be viewed as unfeminine by so many :(.

    • Body hate and body shaming in all its forms makes me so very sad. And it seems like so few of us are immune to it.

      I sprouted breasts in third grade, and I was teased mercilessly by boys and girls alike. Because so much adolescent teasing comes from a total lack of understanding most of it was nonsensical, but still hurtful. The one I remember the most is when some boy on the basketball court announced loudly one winter recess “We can’t have Sarah on our team because those water balloons she keeps in her bra will freeze and turn into GLACIERS.” Even though that insult makes no sense, everyone pointed at me and laughed.

      I’m from a small rural town, so everyone knows everything about everyone. That stupid elementary school teasing, and the nickname “Glacier,” stuck with me all through high school and until I left for college.

      • KC

        That is horrible and also nonsensical and yikes, grade-schoolers.

      • Kara

        I too grew up in a small rural town, and I can definitely relate to “everyone knows everything about everyone”. I was given the nickname “Flounder”. By the time graduation rolled around, I was more than ready to get far away from my town and nearly all the people in it. Needless to say, I didn’t attend my 10 year reunion, and have no desire to attend any future events either.

        • I went to college 3 hours away and left for New York two days after college graduation. I love my family, but I have no desire to be back in that environment for any extended length of time.

          I am debating attending my reunion next year, because my favorite English and Art teachers would be there, and one of them had us write a letter to our future selves in 2005 which I am DYING to read. However, I feel like I’ll end up contacting those teachers on facebook or sending them a nice card and calling it a day.

        • I am contemplating whether to go to an upcoming (20 year, eek) high school reunion and am leaning towards not going…

      • Sara

        My friends (FRIENDS) called me ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) for years until I cried in front of one of my guy friends and he spoke to most of them about it. I went from flat to C the summer before 8th grade – my girlfriends were quite bitchy about it.

        • Fuuuuuck. There’s no winning with boobs and pre-teen/teenagers.

      • Aubry

        seriously, kids are cruel. I was also teased as a kid for being too skinny, nickname of spaghetti half for my thin body and half for my scraggly hair. I looked unhealthy thin when I was younger, but it was totally just how I was built. Then, once puberty hit me like a ton of bricks (100 lbs in 4 years (all curves+height), completely flat to E cup, very skinny/no waist to 14″ difference b/w waist and hips) I got into the body hating realm.

        I also have a friend who developed early, to having large breasts on a woman at 12. She reports a very creepy amount of older male attention what basically made her shut down and hide her body for years. Another friend in the thin with small bust range was regularly told by her mom what equated to “better eat more/work out/XYZ so you might grow some boobs and attract a man.” No winning allowed in this game.

  • Anon

    My sister, who now has breast implants, once likened my breasts to mole hills. It hadn’t occurred to me until then to be ashamed of my small boobs. I actually liked them.
    I’ve had many body image woes over the years so it’s been a battle, but I try to celebrate the things I like about having a small chest, like that I don’t have to always wear a bra. I hate bras so that’s a big one for me!

  • K

    I love having small boobs! Just think how much better it would be in a zombie apocalypse if society broke down and stopped manufacturing bras! I also feel like mine did get marginally bigger over the years, although still squarely in the “small” category. It is soooo much easier to be perceived by people as thin if you have small boobs. I weigh a lot and have a big butt, and everyone things I’m thin because my upper body is thin.

    • I have always felt not thin because most flat chested women are stick figures and I am not. but i think you’re right about everyone else’s perception – people are always telling me I’m such a “small” person.

    • I like your zombie apocalypse survival take. :)

  • Jess

    [does itty bitty titty committee secret handshake]

    Specifically regarding the alterations/shopping experience, a Practical Question:

    When shopping, did you have to go relatively custom (I notice you mention a designer)? Did you call ahead to see if the store had the ability to modify the bust of a dress? Were you limited in styles they could modify to work?

    • Violet

      [back atcha!]
      I’m sure other flat-chested ladies have gone different routes and can share here (Please!? “The people want options!”), but I did go the relatively-custom route. The designer I worked with had bizarrely reasonable prices for my expensive area, and his costs included all alterations. This was huge for me, because if I bought off the rack and then did alterations, I knew I’d be more limited in styles that can be altered to essentially remove the place where the boobs are meant to go, and it would cost a ton (boning, etc. is complicated y’all!).
      I’m not sure if I was limited in styles when building from the ground-up: it certainly didn’t seem that way. One side effect of having a body type a few standard deviations from the mean is having a fine-tuned sense of what I like on my body. So I knew going in what I was looking for style-wise. I tried on different samples just to be sure though, and not once did he body-shame me or imply he couldn’t make the dress work for my body.

      • Jess

        Awesome! I’m glad you had a really good experience with him. I’m now adding designers my list of things to find.

      • karasuzanna

        I shopped at a typical, but higher-end bridal shop and was just really up front with the salesperson that I did NOT want to enhance or fake my shape. (32AA here.) I lucked out, probably, because the ladies were super nice and helpful about it, and I found a dress that worked. However, I did pay premium for a designer dress and alterations, and I did not have such a great experience at the other two, lower-end shops I tried. Good luck!!

        • Lisa

          One of my more hilarious moments of bridal shopping was when I made some joke about not being able to come close to filling out the tops of the dresses, and the saleslady said, “Well, that’s nothing a few thousand dollars couldn’t fix if you really wanted!”

          It’s kind of an awful thing to say, but she made me laugh because the idea is so ridiculous to me! Glad you had such a good experience. :)

          • Sarah S

            I didn’t even catch the true meaning at first – I thought she meant alterations would cost thousands! That’s how foreign that sort of thinking is to me, I guess!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I went to a relatively inexpensive bridal salon, where I tried on a handful of dresses in an unpadded 32A bra with no issues.

      But I wanted long sleeves that weren’t an obvious add-on, and gave up on the “traditional” route pretty quickly. I spent several months researching vintage/used dresses, and my family talked to an expert seamstress who said they can usually alter a dress down 2 sizes.

      In the end, I got a custom dress. It was tight at the shoulders – a combination of bad tailoring and my ever-growing back muscles.

    • carolynprobably

      I went to a fairly standard midwest bridal salon and was pleasantly surprised by the kind Slovak woman who did my alterations. She pinched all the extra fabric at the boobs and asked, very matter of factly, “We fill up or take out?”

      We “took out” and I was very happy with the end result. Aside from everyone (me, the salespeople, the tailor) being very body positive, I think part of my dress success was in choosing a dress with straps to begin with (for strapless to stay up on me it usually has to be uncomfortably tight). Anyway, happy to report that the boob thing ended up really being a non-issue for me.

  • Lisa

    “I’d see hurtful comments on the Internet about “real women having curves.” I fumed inside.”

    I HATE those memes on Facebook! Why can’t we all just be “women” without having to subscribe to some idea of what our bodies should look like? Can’t we just accept that it’s possible to be beautiful and healthy as a “stick figure” or “plus-sized”?

    Ahem. Fellow-small-boobed girl here, and I completely understand your predicament. I endured years of watching my younger sisters get bigger breasts than me and my mother telling me, “You’ll grow them when you have kids. That’s what happened to me.”

    It’s still difficult for me to accept them sometimes, but my fiancé loves them, and between that and lots of pretty bras, I’m learning to love them, too. :)

    • H

      Ha, I lol’d, my mother tells me the exact same thing! “You’ll pop out after your first kid, just you wait!” As a size 34 barely-B, I still get sisterly boob envy in my twenties! But I’m much more accepting of them now than I was growing up. I can so relate to the OP’s waiting on the boobs that never came…and believing that I was going to be one of those elusive mid-twenties developers.
      It’s hurtful to see examples of your body-type (whatever that may be) spurned as “unhealthy”. I think THAT is the biggest issue with the conversation right now. There’s a lot of body-shaming out there, but don’t bring health into this. Lots of sizes are perfectly healthy, and whether a person is genetically thin or forcing themselves to subsist on cabbage is unknowable. So stop dragging it into the argument. (Lisa, just soap-boxing at this point! I am totally THIS-ing your comment)

      • Lisa

        I gained some weight at one point, and though most of it goes straight to my butt and thighs, a *tiny* *little* bit went to my boobs, and I was over.the.moon. Since losing that weight, my breasts are right back to where they were!

        Totally agree with the comment about health. I had a friend in high school who was the same height (5’10”) as but even skinnier than me, and people would sometimes ask me if she was anorexic. She was always super-skinny, even as a child, and it upset me that people made comments and assumptions about something she couldn’t change.

  • I’m in the flat-chested camp too. Shopping always made me feel inferior as you say, but I found my self-acceptance around college when I realized that guys like my chest anyway and there are advantages to it (no back pain, don’t have to wear bras, etc).

    Violet, is your dress custom made? Unlike you, wedding dress shopping has brought back my frustrations about the difficulty finding something that fits. I’ve been dissatisfied with the alterations that are suggested when I try on dresses – taking it in the sides, shortening the straps, when sometimes it’s the cups or darts themselves that are too big. I decided on a vintage family dress, and I told my tailor I want it to reflect my true figure, which shouldn’t be too hard since it’s only a little big on top, but I may have to remind her that again. If I had to buy a dress I think I would just go custom made.

    • Violet

      Hi Julia! I did go basically custom-made. (The designer has different samples that he can re-create exactly, re-create with tweaks, or can create a whole new dress concept. I went for the second option.) What you’re talking about with the cups and darts was Exactly what I was trying to avoid. Strap shortening and side-cinching is not the real issue, and I wanted to work with someone who “got it.” My idea was I wanted to work with someone who wants to make a dress to fit the gal, not wish he had a gal to fit his dress.

    • sheismle

      Same here! (Flat-chested, cool with it, and vintage family dress.) My dress is also a little big on top, and my seamstress is great– but where I ran into trouble was with undergarments (um, I mean “foundation pieces”….?). Without going into all the nitty-gritty details– I was just happy to find a bra & slip combo that worked with the dress, so when it turned out that the cups of said bra are on the spacious side, I was fine with adding some pads. I’m kind of curious what Grandma wore under this dress but I don’t think she remembers!

  • BD

    Lol. “The grass is always greener”, is the saying that pops into my mind. I’m well endowed (32DDD, 30G in some brands) and ever since they began to develop, very rapidly, I’ve been ashamed of them. It’s only within the last two years (and I’m 32 now) that I’ve begun to accept my big boobs with some level of joy, but I still can’t help envying women who can go without bras, who can wear those backless and/or strapless dresses and tops without worry. Shopping for a wedding dress reminded me of those feelings very strongly, and the envy came back like a wave.

    I’m not trying to say “you should be over the moon to have a flat chest and what’s wrong with you??”. It’s just interesting to me how, no matter how our bodies are shaped, women have such a hard time being okay with ourselves. I know better than to judge my body by comparing it to other women, and yet it still happens, and even though I have something other women might want, I still don’t think it’s good enough.

    • Sara

      As a FF’er, I 100% agree with this: “But I still can’t help envying women who can go without bras, who can wear those backless and/or strapless dresses and tops without worry”
      And I’d also include bathing suits, because shopping for a cute one that fits my chest and my non-butt is my idea of hell on earth.

      • BD

        Oh man, I hate shopping for swimsuits. It sucks doubly because the rest of me is on the thin side, so everyone I know assumes that finding a swimsuit is just so easy for me; and when I explain that it’s actually a pretty awful experience they look at me like I’m fishing for compliments (or crazy). I didn’t wear bikinis for years until I discovered DD+ tops (with underwire even!) a few years ago, but it’s still unpleasant.

        • This is the hell that I’m going into this summer! For some reason (possibly birth control) my breasts have decided to expand two sizes since last year, pushing me from a 34 B-C cup to a 34 D-DD. I am terrified of swimsuit shopping, but am also going on a family vacation to the beach with my new fiance and his family. I’m currently looking for a bikini that will keep my boobs in, will let me actually go swimming and have fun, and won’t make me look pornographic. Please tell me you have some advice?

          • BD

            Just happened to pop in and see your comment! Online lingerie stores that carry larger cup sizes, like herroom, barenecessities and figleaves should also carry bikinis for larger breasted women. Just go to the DD+ section and select swimwear. Most of these bikinis are more modest in the chest area. Body Glove also carries DD bikini tops, in more youthful prints/colors/cuts, but they tend to be pretty expensive. Swimoutlet is another online store. Unfortunately, finding these bikinis in an actual store in the real world has been pretty difficult for me, so the online option is all I can give.

    • Grace

      Hîgh Five lady, I just got measured and am now a 30GG myself. I’m 24, it’s insane how much they’ve grown since I started university. I was a D cup at 18! I have to say I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them. While we’re told big breasts are attractive, we’re also told who woman can be intelligent/professional if she has big breasts. In my personal life I feel ok about them, but as an almost doctor I have days where I wonder if it will make people take me less seriously. It’s not a major concern but it’s definitely there and choosing outfits can be tricky. Oh I’m also very tall (181cm), so shopping is a nightmare!!

    • Chelsea Baker

      Couldn’t agree more. I’ve been a D cup since high school which was hard enough but this was back when “heroin chic” was a media thing. Trying to navigate my new body was painful enough without being told by everyone (including my mother) that my body was now unacceptable. I feel like I’ve finally started to make my peace over the past few years but wedding dress shopping definitely brought up some old and bad feelings.

  • SamIAm

    One of my huge pet peeves is the whole machine around dressing for your body type. Downplay hips and thighs, play up a bust, carve out a waist… It’s all bullshit. If you like it, wear it. If it makes you feel good, wear it.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, my broad shoulders and I are going to go out for a walk in a puff-sleeve jacket.

    • Cleo


      The biggest problem with this machine is that it DOESN’T WORK. My hips will still be 50% larger than my waist and my thighs will be wider than my hips (true story) no matter how I dress. If I want to downplay them, my only option is to wear hugely baggy pants, which make me look like a shapeless blob, or droopy skirts that are cut off below the knee that make me and my legs look shorter than we already are.

      So what I finally learned that if I wear clothing that shows my shape, then my hips and thighs don’t look weird and unnatural (which is how this machine makes me feel about them), and instead, I feel attractive.

    • katiegirl

      @SamIAm, rock that puffy coat! your comment brought a huge smile to my face this morning.

    • pumpkinpicker

      Hells yeah, I’m short and I’m getting damn tired of the fashion world telling me how to fake not being short instead of telling me how to rock out being short.

      I do not think of myself as less, I think of myself as concentrated.

      • KH_Tas

        Can I borrow that line? I still have days of wishing I could reach things on high shelves

        • pumpkinpicker

          Sure thing :)

        • I had to ask a random stranger the other day to get a yogurt down for me at the grocery store.

      • Em

        I love that. I’m going to share that line with my 5-foot-tall girlfriend, if you don’t mind!

        • pumpkinpicker

          Go ahead :)

  • Sara P

    I remember being in high school and hoping that my boobs were going to get bigger… sometime in college, I think it was, I realized that they had been done growing for quite some time. Did anyone else check how they were progressing by seeing how many fingers they could hide underneath? I checked this morning, and it actually hasn’t changed since I last checked, like ten years ago (it is odd, what sticks with you).

    As far as the “real women have curves” bit… I see where it’s coming from, because the super skinny image presented in so much of the media is really destructive, but I feel like we can do better. I like “real women are people that identify as women”, from above.

    • ItsyBit

      During puberty, I checked “progress” by whether or not they still existed when I raised my arms straight up in the air. It sort of makes me laugh now how preoccupied I was… but then again, it’s pretty sad when taken in cultural context.

      And I second your second paragraph.

      • Aubry

        so funny to get other perspectives on things you do from the “other side” of an experience. I have considered getting a pic of my with my arms in the air to remember what my boobs looked like at 22 (I’m now 27), and keeping it for the future when I’m probably going to have them lifted back up post breast-feeding.
        To comment on the finger thing above, I also think it is a funny gauge as the shape and resting point of breasts varies to greatly. I have a friend who had DDs and couldn’t hide one finger because they come straight out from her chest rather then going down.
        It just goes to show that we are far to preoccupied as a gender with our breasts and bodies in general I suppose.

  • Katie Wannen

    Small boobs here, too. Random comment, but back in the day I got some amazing perspective from, of all places, Mademoiselle Magazine (anyone?..anyone?). They did a “boob” issue and had a two page spread entirely of photos of real women’s breasts. I was blown away. I had no idea that mine were just one type in this incredibly broad spectrum of breasts. It brought me some much-needed perspective that, honestly, I still draw on today (really wish I still had the issue). I know the “we never see ‘real’ women in the media” has been talked to death, but in this case I think it’s sadly relevant. Finally getting to see all the real options and types and varieties of breasts made me appreciate what I had and that basically very few people in the world had the breasts I’d been imagining they had. So, thanks Mademoiselle (RIP)!

    • Sarah E

      Seeing the variety of body types available in the world is such a great experience. Changing clothes in the YMCA locker room certainly taught me that. I mean, you can’t go and stare at people, but go when all the seniors are coming/going from water aerobics, then you’ll see what aging really looks like. News flash: you can’t escape it! The more real naked bodies you see, the easier it is to discern the utter falseness of the illusion the media sells as what a woman looks like.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        We didn’t have to shower for gym in school, so I was rather shy in the locker room when I started going to the gym as an adult. Then I realized what you observed – and how not-shy all the adult women were.

    • Kestrel

      I somewhat hate to admit this, but I looked on one of those ‘real women photos’ online of people’s boobs and immediately my self-esteem about my boobs just went through the roof. I have marginally sized boobs – large enough that you can see them under a t-shirt, but I certainly don’t need to wear a bra for anything but nipple coverage or for filling out shirts I can’t tailor. (But seriously, can people please make cute wireless bras? Not asking for much here! Just something not nude, black, or white!)

      I used to be so self conscious with how small they were – despite realistically not being tiny (it’s just that when you compare them to my hips…… they’re shrimp)

      I just saw pictures of other woman’s boobs and immediately prefered mine. I just liked mine better. The other ones looked…weird. Foreign. Something I didn’t want. At all.

      I didn’t want to ‘pass the pencil test’. I didn’t want constant cleavage (although I admit, it’s fun to smush my boobs together as much as possible to actually get some cleavage!). I didn’t want bigger or smaller nipples. The boobs I liked the best were mine.

      I don’t know if other people will have the same reaction, but I honestly just felt so much better about my boobs because they’re really the only boobs I want on my body.

      • Audrey

        Seriously, where are all these women that prefer wired bras? Why so many wired bras? Are we just weird?

  • Sarah E

    And this is why I shut down my (former) boss, a jokester in general, when he made the comment “I think she could use a couple cheeseburgers” as a thin woman walked by out front with a stroller. He apologized later, but I was not about to put up with that shit.

    Kudos to you, Violet, for your body acceptance and sharing your experience with us!

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I’m glad you did. I’m thin and I tire of people constantly telling me to eat. I love food, trust me.

  • ItsyBit

    Similarly, a woman I went to high school with recently wrote a blog post about her body issues that have re-surfaced during pregnancy because she naturally has a very thin body. As awful as this is, I realized that I’d never really considered that perspective (like how damaging the “real women have curves” thing could be). It was an eye opener.

    I’m so glad that APW covers all of these different perspectives. It just reinforces why I love this community. “Weddings, with a healthy dose of REALITY.”

  • pumpkinpicker

    “Why were these women demeaning my body? Don’t they know how much our
    society values breasts on women?”

    Ever so much yes. Extra confusing when you come from a family of particularly voluptuous women. Unfortunately the way my crazy teen brain chose to deal with that was by saying “can’t be curvy? SKINNY IT IS” and boy howdy did I embrace skinny. To the point that I was probably 90% of the reason for my boob troubles once I got older as I was in fact that urban legend girl that “bloomed” in my mid twenties.
    Right after I finally developed a healthy attitude toward my body and let myself get over 105 lbs for the first time. Fancy that.

    Real women are getting pretty damn sick of being defined by what they look like.

    • Sara P

      “Real women are getting pretty damn sick of being defined by what they look like.”

      I’m stealing this (if that’s ok with you) for the next time one of these things comes up in public :). That’s a great way to put it.

      • pumpkinpicker

        *curtseys* Please! Steal away!
        If you’re inclined to credit you can find me around and about as both “the plain text feminist” and “theitsybitsy” – depending on the subject matter

  • Sara

    Funny/embarrassing story – I was a late bloomer and was super sad that I was the last of my friends to get anything (be careful what you wish for), and was told that if you rubbed your boobs and said ‘ooby dooby scoobie, I want bigger boobies” that they would grow. So I tried it in like jr high, and unfortunately, no one ever told me how to make it stop because I’m a 32FF now.
    From the other end of the chest spectrum, I will say it took a long time for me to be ok with the size of my chest. I got/get a lot of (mostly) accidentally grazing and in packed places always feel like I’m asking for trouble. I’m happy for you that you were able to accept your shape! I’m still slowly working on that.

  • Meg

    I didn’t really get my full breast size until I was about 20 and my little sister’s friend looked to me as a beacon of hope…but it was just a quirk of birth control!

    • Sarah E

      My mom kept developing through college, and my grandma was super suspicious when she needed new bras every time she came home.

  • meleyna

    Also, this.

  • Emma Klues

    Although I love these things about me now, fellow girls in middle school basically told me one or both of the following things: 1) OMG your hair so curly, I hate you. 2) OMG you are so skinny, I hate you.

    SO FUN. What do you even say to that? Both of those things were out of my control, and it was borderline impossible for me to be accepting or even proud of them if the outward response was hatred. Thankfully, middle school girls grow up, but seriously let’s stop showcasing jealousy with the word “hate”, shall we?

  • Eden

    Thanks so much for this piece. I too grew up with a stick figure, constantly hoping it would one day go away and constantly confused by the increase in negative comments from girl friends whose bodies were changing shape while mine stayed stick thin. In college I’d go to the student health clinic when I was sick with the flu or had a bad cough and the appointment would always turn to discussions of my weight with physicians asking me if I was “happy with my body” and if I’d been “eating regularly.” The recent trends that have been mentioned below, phrases like “real women have curves,” that are meant to empower all body types exclude those of us who are naturally tiny and implicate us in a cultural construct of “thin is in” that we might not have chosen to participate in.

    It’s reassuring to see that others are experiencing similar challenges as complaining about the challenges of being skinny is often seen as some kind of compliment fishing scheme or else written off entirely as absurd. I’m so glad you came to love your body and wish that we could create a larger culture of inclusive body-love, not one that splinters us off into tribes based on size.

  • anon

    As a recently-engaged, completely flat-chested woman, I cannot thank you enough for writing and sharing this. I’ve been dress shopping for only a month, and my engaged and married friends keep asking me, “Isn’t it so much fun!!!??” No. It’s not fun. It’s been disheartening and brings back a lot of those teenage insecurities that I thought I shed nearly a decade ago. One thing that actually made me feel better the other day was trying to recall the dresses of people whose weddings I’ve attended in my life, and then realizing that I couldn’t! Seriously, I could not picture any of them! What I remember from all those weddings is just dancing up a storm with my friends and having an overall fantastic time. Can’t remember vows, how the cake tasted, what the colors were, etc, which made me realize none of that crap really matters, and it’s really sucky that people don’t get that and that this industry exists that causes distress and humiliation during a time when everyone should be feeling really happy.

  • ENVSgirl

    What annoys me most about body image expectations for women is how CLOTHING follows them. I have broad shoulders, no breasts (okay, not NONE, but by that conventional measuring-tape thing they’re “oh goodie, you’re ready for a training bra 36 AAAs), narrow hips and a large butt. This means that pants (and skirts too, what joy) either don’t pull past my thighs or gap out from my waist by several inches. It means that any shirts with darts leave air pockets in my chest, but men’s shirts bag out at my waist because I actually have one. And if by some miracle I find a structured shirt or dress that fits my chest and waist nicely? I can’t move my arms to save my life, because my shoulders are as broad as a guy’s.

    It’s all too easy to get sucked into the idea that because my body doesn’t easily fit into available clothes, that it is my body that is wrong, not the clothing. But what I am slowly learning is that my small breasts mean I don’t have to wear uncomfortable bras; they increase my hydrodynamic shape when swimming; they don’t get in the way if I want to do archery or running. They won’t sag. They, theoretically, will produce the same amount of milk as larger breasts if and when I have a child I want to breastfeed. And, although seeking approval of the gender I’m attracted to (men) may be problematic, I have never had a sexual encounter where I got a complaint. Fun fact: no matter what your body type, there will be men who think it’s hot (I’ve had guys say that they prefer smaller breasts, for various reasons). I think that for many of us, we actually have a lot of people telling us our bodies are beautiful – you have a cute butt, I LIKE your small breasts, wow you’re hot, I love that you’re comfortable in your own skin, that’s hot – but we struggle to truly HEAR those messages because the negative ones sound much louder.

    Can we all just agree to blame clothes, not our bodies, for poor fits, and to stop judging anybody as anything less than beautiful?