Greetings my dear ones!
Spring has been a bit of Fake News here. (Well, we certainly aren’t having a heat wave!) Flowers are defiantly squeezing themselves up between cold clots of mud only to be pelted and slain. All night, Mother Nature chucked pearls at the windows which fell and crusted on my slumping Daffodils who, between the rain and the yellow dog scribbles, are probably wondering why they’ve bothered. I turned the central heating off weeks ago as a matter of Principle; because the Calendar says I ought to, not because my skin or bones agree. Even fur-bearing residents are still seeking the heat of the wood stove at day’s end and in the hours before dawn, when we rise but the thermometer doesn’t.
Mr. & Mrs. Wood Swallow, whose summer holiday home is beneath the overhang by my kitchen door, have returned to inspect their nest and to mutter and tut about what a mess it is. The female glares at me like this is all my fault. The male perches on a nearby plant hanger, whistling tunelessly, eyeing me with sidelong glances until his partner snaps at him to get back to work. I too am like a bird tearing her nest apart—cleaning, clearing, rearranging my home. We nod civilly, like good neighbors who don’t get too involved in each other’s business, as we pass by in this shared corridor to the garage, each on our way to our version of a dumpster to discard everything that no longer brings us Joy.
Mr. Shorts comes into the shop with everything bare from his ankles to mid thighs. We remark that it is a bit early for shorts. Shorts retorts “Anything above 38 degrees is shorts weather in New England.” It’s true that, by this stage of the year, 40 feels balmy—like T-shirt weather—but not in a driving rain and howling wind. Prudence wrinkles her nose at the sight of a man’s leg before July. At least he is wearing shoes and not socks with sandals.
Prom season has made us all a wee bit tense and crabby in the shop. And by “a wee bit,” you understand I really mean “oh, Hell Yeah!” So I have had to get a hold of this Crabbiness—born of panic and fatigue—and give it a good wrestle, knock it to the ground, and insist to myself and it that I will be CHEARFUL [sic] (I love 18th Century spelling). This is a Great Opportunity to develop some Character around things that bug me. Happiness is a Choice. Even if you have to Fake it. Speaking of Faking it…On to the topic on everyone’s mind (after the Bruin’s chances in the play-offs, of course): Undergarments. Specifically, padded bras. What good is a blog about the Secrets of a seamstress if we don’t mention the Unmentionables once in a while? We have another 68 gowns to alter before May 18th (we’ve already finished more than 70) and more are coming in every day. At least 44% will require the addition of Bust pads. This time of year, we order them by the bale.
“What are bust pads?” ask the Uninitiated. It turns out that Bust Pads are little (or large) things that look like dented jam donuts with all the jam mooshed out of them that get sewn into a dress so that you don’t have to wear a bra stuffed with toilet paper to make the dress fit. Who knew? You would think I, of all people, would have known about this sooner—after spending anguished years as a teen, trying to fill out AA cups that wouldn’t contain so much as a poached egg. (Though, in this weather, a bra full of cotton-balls does benefit the wearer a little extra warmth!)
Whether you scorn ladies undergarments as symbols of Patriarchal Oppression or, as in recent decades (think Victoria’s Secret), hail them as a source of female sexual empowerment, it’s undeniable that they have been an endless source of fascination, contention, and debate since women began wearing underwear. In the Victorian era, dress reformers declared that restrictive garments prevented women living healthy lives, and dared to argue that underwear should not “exceed seven pounds in weight.” (Try telling that to some of our customers! You should see what they lug in here!) Underwear gives us a glimpse into a larger story: the expectations, limitations and status afforded to women throughout history. Corsets, crinolines and crotch-less pants: for centuries, women have been expected to wear a variety of weird and wonderful contraptions under their clothes to achieve a desirable silhouette. The return of the belly-squishing corset, in the form of the flattering Spanx, shows we’re not over our historical (hysterical?) obsession with flat tummies and small waists.
In the dressing room, we see everything from ribs with nipples to women who would suffer severe head trauma if they jogged. Not only are no two women exactly alike—on the same woman, not even two breasts are alike. How this figures into bra sizing makes the mind boggle. Thanks to modern technology, we now have available to us a dizzying array of synthetic prosthetics for surgery survivors, cross dressers, and those, like me, who got two generous helpings of rump and forgot to add breasts when they went through Heaven’s Body Buffet. Now, toilet paper is once again free to be used for what it does best—and making nun’s costumes for Barbies. (You might have to reread past blog entries to get that last reference…)
For the most part, this is a female issue. Guys, for all their insecurities about “size issues,” don’t seem to worry enough to fill their jock straps with Kleenex on a regular basis. Nor do their “fashionable silhouettes” require this of them, cod-pieces having gone out of style in the 17th century. But girls… wow! Day after day, I witness them in all their anxious vulnerability, wearing big, clunky sports bras underneath their prom gowns. They stand there, their dignity and crinolines so tightly furled about them, as they clutch at their meager bosoms and wonder what can be done about these gaudy bodices that dent inward. I feel their pain. I hope it does not take them another thirty years to understand that Femininity and Allure have nothing to do with how much adipose tissue you have or where it is located. No woman can be considered truly “sexy” who does not love herself. It’s not what you put on yourself, but what you summon from within that makes people sit up and notice. Well…most of the time. (I’ll admit that it IS possible to roam the streets of Boston taking selfies in leather bondage gear with Smurf-Blue hair to your hips and get more than a few people at a traditional music session in an Irish pub to go to the window to Look at you!)(Don’t ask how, but I do know this for a fact…)
Underwear, by its very definition, (hint: the clue is in the name—UNDER) is not meant to be seen. But Underwear doesn’t just shape our bodies, it shapes out lives. And our History. It seems to take the pendulum an average of 20 years to complete its swing from the absurd back over to the ridiculous. A hundred years ago, in the 1920’s, an androgynous style—flat chest and slim hips was popular. By the 1940’s, hip pads and the “bullet bra” (making breasts resemble twin torpedoes) made for a highly stylized “womanly” figure. By the 1960’s, we were favoring the “barely there” bras. Ten years later, in the 1970’s we got smart and burned them altogether, deciding to use exercise not underwear to reconfigure the body.
Now we have bust pads and Cutlets. Cutlets are little silicone things, the shape of a push up pad (or a chicken cutlet, hence the name) that you put in your bra to add cleavage.
Prudence thinks there is no sense in adding in what God has left out but I disagree. I once invested in a set of “cutlets,” which you can get from any CVS or pharmacy. That was when I lived in an extremely COLD house. It was winter and I wanted to wear said cutlets to a formal event. When I pulled them out of my lingerie drawer, they were frozen rock hard. Who wants to put that on the tenderest of bare skin? I put them on the radiator to thaw, got distracted, and forgot about them. When my then husband found them (locating them by means of an unusual smell) they had scorch-lines across them like genuine grilled chicken breasts. “I think these are fully cooked” he said. “Thank you,” I said, tucking them into my bra with as much aplomb as I could muster.
It’s hard to make small-talk at a social gathering with Vanity in the form of charred silicone sticking to one’s chest but I managed. It took me a few more years to realize that Beauty is more in how we radiate the Light of loving who we are, loving what we do, and loving and connecting to the people we are Listening to and serving, rather than anything we can stuff, tape, or tie to our bodies.
“Fake it til you make it” is one of those obnoxiously chipper little memes that pops up continually in “pop” psychology and encourages us to be “ourselves, only better…” through the use of blatant, cheery deceit. I’m all for bettering myself, sure—but the idea of “faking” it is a fraught one on many levels and starts with the premise that we are “Not Enough.” But sometimes Faking it, if only for a while, offers us a useful crutch --a way to begin. If a hunk of foam rubber makes your dress fit better and that gives you more Confidence, then go for it. It’s the Confidence that is sexy…NOT the foam rubber.
Don't pretend to be anything or anyone -- simply take action to Enable Joy. It’s not warm just because one chooses to wear shorts; we don’t have any less work to do when we choose to smile and be kind—but it helps. It helps a lot. Authenticity takes a variety of forms: Do one small brave thing, and then next one will be easier, and soon Joy will flow and morale will improve. Sometimes we smile, not because we are Happy, but because we are Strong and that’s as good a reason to smile as any. With regard to Spring Weather, Good Cheer, and Bust-sizes we need all the help we can get!
Be well, my darlings! Be Warm and Brave and do Good Work!