By Michelle Hiskey

Now is the bosom of advertising season, after the new Super Bowl commercials reveal what we “need” to feel really good about ourselves, and right before the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue arrives.

We women – and the men who love us — should attend to a basic way to uplift our bodies and spirits.

A properly fitted bra.

In an ABC-cup world, where do the rest of us – with body sizes and shapes like the rest of the alphabet – fit?

As froufy as this may sound, the right bra can be transformative to a woman’s psyche – especially for those of us trained to value what others expect.

The mental boost was the most powerful message from a gathering of female shoppers at Phipps Plaza after work one evening last week.

Tiffane Bell with her turquoise bra
Tiffane Bell, a senior at Clark Atlanta, found her proper fit — in turquoise, no less.

Mind you, the appeal of shopping for a bra is down there with the search for a bathing suit. Yet Tiffane Bell, 21, was smiling – having found a turquoise bra size 38J.

“I just feel comfortable and normal,” she said, standing between the racks at Intimacy, a custom lingerie and swimwear store where bra fittings are required before purchase. Each store offers 15,000 bra styles.

Sized from 32A to 46KK, these bras are from Europe, stitched in a culture of vive la difference. “Centered and lifted” is their aim, on more than one level.

“I used to cry because I couldn’t find anything that would make me feel comfortable,” said Bell, a senior about to graduate from Clark Atlanta University with a degree in psychology.

College taught her the importance of mental health, which she values even more now that she is in remission from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Seemingly insignificant, a good bra helped her stay positive, less stressed and healthier. A tenth of the evening’s sales went to Make a Wish, but she would have shown up regardless.

“A good bra gives you confidence,” Bell said. “I feel proportioned and curvy, and it makes me feel sexier.”

Those results require vulnerability – a risk that keeps many women out of the dressing room. Bra fitting can’t be outsourced or offshored. A bra fitter will look at your boobs – just like a good mechanic looks under the hood.

That collective modesty contrasts with society’s treatment of breasts as objects of power.

Ladies, we're not all in an ABC world. Bra sizes and styles range to K cup. The proper fit can be an empowering experience. (Credit: Intimacy)

Cleavage can sell cars (and everything else), but women don’t leverage our shopping dollars and time to secure well-engineered lingerie. We’ll easily spend $60 on up for a pair of shoes to wear maybe once a week, but not that much for a really good bra that arguably does so much more.

Once a woman does get topless with a professional bra fitter, the rack at Target will never look the same. My fellow writer Patty Rasmussen recalled her light bulb moment of roughly a decade ago.

“Purchasing good quality bras, and paying dearly for them, not only changed my silhouette, it changed my mind,” she wrote.

“I fed my children with my breasts. I monitor my breast health with monthly exams and annual mammograms. Finding the right bra is the least I can do to care for them. My breasts aren’t an afterthought and I don’t treat them as such.”

Besides helping her stand straighter and giving her back and shoulder more support, she said an “expertly-fitted bra is something women of every size owe themselves if only to recognize that they aren’t just playthings for our significant others or ways to feed our children.

Our breasts are part of our body–the whole beautiful body –and it’s time we took control of what we think of them, rather than allowing Madison Avenue to dictate our view of them.”

Susan Nethero, founder of Intimacy, shows off range of bra sizes.
Susan Nethero, founder of the custom-bra boutique Intimacy, shows bras ranging from 32A to 46KK.

Other specialty stores and department stores in Atlanta offer bra fitting services; Intimacy founder Susan Nethero, aka “The Bra Whisperer,” is notable for having appeared on Oprah to champion the service.

The “O” exposure quadrupled her business, expanded her chain from two stores to 16, and today – in its 20th year — Intimacy sells more than 70,000 bras each year that are G-cup and bigger.

“A bra fitting tells a woman that there is nothing wrong with her,” Nethero said. “It’s a positive, uplifting experience.”

A bra isn’t going to make a woman feel great about her self, but it is an unseen, overlooked, everyday object of power. If yours has never fit well, take it from this 34G: you can’t appreciate what you haven’t felt.

Michelle Hiskey is a freelance writer and writing coach based in Decatur, and her day job is senior editor on Emory University's development communications team. Michelle worked at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution...

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