tears in the changing rooms

by Susan Pringle

I’ve bought pink ones, white ones, nursing ones, cheeky purple ones, in fact, almost every kind of bra I’ve ever wanted from the UK’s favourite bra shop. They sell £m’s each year to us all and are working smart and hard to design bras for women who’ve had breast surgery, yet still the experience of trying to buy one six weeks after my surgery reduced me to tears.

Why? I was invited to a ball; “should I stay in or should I go?” I asked myself, it was my first outing. It would mean getting dressed properly and finding a way to look like me again. I tried on most of the dresses in my wardrobe; too tight, too low cut, too anything other than how I was feeling (is that me in the mirror, really?). I was left with, well, erm, nothing to wear, no really, nothing! I couldn’t get anything to fit as I was still swollen all around my chest and I’d eaten cake every day since my operation, (purely medicinal and rude not to when someone has baked for you), so I called a friend.

She appeared with her arms full of fabulousness. Karen Millen it was, red, braver than I was feeling, but it fitted beautifully and it gave me confidence, on the outside at least. Now I needed a bra; the soft sports bra I’d been wearing for the past 6 weeks wouldn’t do. I had no shape whatsoever. It was time to go shopping.

I arrived at the fitting area in aforementioned bra shop and explained my plight. It was a bit like being Cinderella, though I had a dress, just not the right upholstery to go with it. The first lady who approached virtually interviewed me, at least that’s how it felt, and advised that I couldn’t be fitted so soon after my operation. She, like me, prior to my surgery, didn’t know how times and procedures have changed; I was medically glued back together, free of dressings and any risk of infection, but for a brief moment I felt like an untouchable as she said I was a ‘risk’ and I should come back a few weeks later.

The tears began to well. “I need a bra!” Someone heard me, and a hand was placed on my arm and it steered to me towards the changing room. Half an hour later I was sorted. I went to the ball, happy, though tucked up in bed well before midnight. Within weeks though, the bra was uncomfortable and redundant, it hadn’t been designed for the likes of me, and was misshapen, the clever padding which had protected my new contour had all but collapsed. It was the first time I really thought, ‘there has to be a better way to do this’.

A few months later I returned. By now, all signs of swelling were gone and I was looking quite depleted on my left side (that’s another story). I went to the fitting rooms again, but this time after half an hour, an arimidex flush, and generally feeling defeated, I did cry. It was when I’d paid for bras for my two girls who’d shopped with me (they’d been awash with choice, prettiness and colour), and walked away from the till, that the tears came. I walked out into the street waiting for the air to cool my red face. Again I thought, there must be a better way.

I have since found and become friends with an experienced bra fitter, a woman like me who had a teary moment trying to find a bra and turned her frustration into a business venture. I met her at a Lingerie Evening organised by Breast Cancer Care in Barnsley (more later) and bought four bras from her. What a night that was. Great fun. It really shouldn’t have been so hard though, or taken so long, to find a bra I was happy with. And I’m still not done yet. I want something that fits my needs, my style, and my shape. I’ve not found it yet. I’m still making do.

I’d like to invite you to join me, and together work to find ways of making it easier, more accessible, and just as much fun as it should be, to buy a bra that makes us feel feminine, comfortable and secure. I’ve already found women who see things the way I do; Elisabeth Dale writing in the Huffington Post, I couldn’t agree more!

Every woman deserves beautiful lingerie, me included!

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