In 1968 a group of feminists known as the New York Radical Women gathered outside of the Atlantic City convention center to protest the Miss America contest. They felt that the contest demeaned women and held them to an unreasonable and oppressive standard for beauty that was damaging to all women.
In those days, the Miss America contest attracted millions of TV viewers, and was a perfect platform for making a political statement and being heard.
With fervor, these women flung their bras onto a bonfire.
Or so the story goes.
Guess what? That never happened.
Bra burning is an urban legend.
Although draft card burning took place for realz, bras were only symbolically tossed into the flames that day in 1968. Since the Boardwalk was made of wood, police would not allow any fires to be set.
Instead, bras, girdles, cosmetics, high-heeled shoes, Playboy magazines – all derided as instruments of female torture — were thrown into a “freedom trash can” making a perfect photo opp for the swarming paparazzi on the Boardwalk.
But someone coined the phrase bra burners, referring to women perceived as militant in the struggle for women’s rights, and it stuck.
My personal act of women’s liberation comes not from a tirade against male oppression, but a thunderbolt of news that, at my advanced age, I’ve been wearing the wrong bra size all my life.
I was fitted for a bra when I was 12 and I still remember the humiliation of being naked in front of my mother plus a total stranger at Pomeroy’s Department Store who tried to show me how to position the girls into a Maidenform 30A.
I would not subject myself to that ever again, I vowed.
As I got older my body changed, of course, and my bra size along with it. Shopping for bras was such agony that I did it as infrequently as I could get away with. Quickly gathering a few different brands from the rack, I would scuttle into the dressing room and get it over with stat.
This week I happened to be in a department store, along with my best friend Elise, trying on a dress that was form fitting. The saleswoman stood behind me, evaluating me in the three-way mirror. She cocked her head. She observed me from all angles, fiddled with the ruching on the bodice, and sighed. “I don’t think your bra is doing you any favors,” she said. “Is it OK if I bring our foundations person in?”
I was trapped. What could I say?
Well. The foundations lady almost fainted when I confided my bra size.
Without giving out too much information, I will share that I was four sizes off in the band size and two in the cup size.
She disappeared for a few minutes and came back with several bras in my size. When I slipped them on (and yes, she also showed me how to position the now much bigger girls) I instantly realized what a well-fitting bra can do for a figure. And your self-confidence.
Pricey? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.
Women should be measured every couple of years, the foundations lady told me. Most women do not know their true size if they haven’t been fitted. Also, if you are wearing your bra on the tightest setting, it is not the right size for you.
While we were there, Elise figured she may as well get measured. And guess what? She had been wearing the wrong size, too.
So that smoke that’s coming from my backyard? It’s just the two of us tossing our old stretched-out, ill-fitting bras on the bonfire. And roasting marshmallows at the same time.
Care to join us?