Everyday when I have to get dressed, I try to do it while standing in front of the mirror. It is a way of carefully looking at my body, without finding any faults and saying to the girl in there: I love you. I love every part of you: your flabby arms, your eyebrows that are not perfectly arched, your belly button that stores dust and fluids, your thick thighs and most especially, your breasts.
This has never been easy for me; it is an uphill task and something I do with a lot of difficulty. It has taken a lot of self-awareness articles, podcasts and Twitter threads to help me love every bit of myself.
My breasts and I have had a very stressful relationship; first, they showed up when I was way too young to understand what was going on. Then, they grew fast and big—meaning I had to wear bras earlier than my friends (stirrups and harnesses masquerading as a piece of friendly clothing). At 13, along with all the puberty issues and self-consciousness, I had to struggle with finding the perfect bra. That was the beginning of my desire for perky boobs. Perhaps if gravity didn't take hold of my boobs, I wouldn't need to struggle to find a bra. Perhaps, if they looked like the breasts in magazines (the ones I caught the boys in my class lusting over) just maybe I'd be more attractive.
So, in the absence of the natural upward perk, I've had to live with bras. Finding a bra that is functional and sexy is no easy feat. Bras for girls like me who have G-cup sized breasts are not cheap. The average bras (A-C) are easily available in stores with prices ranging from $10 to $40. The same cannot be said for Ds to Hs. When you find them, it is very possible that they're heavy-duty (wide-strapped and made of hard cotton).
Sometimes I believe the manufacturers don't think big-breasted women deserve any kind of soft, lacy sexiness. The few times you get a hint of fashionable designs, the prices range from $60 to $130. The difficulty of finding a suitable bra remains when you're trying to find a sports bra, or a strapless bra—challenges of fit and price exist.
Living in North America has come with its own special brand of bra-related problems for this G-Cup sized woman. The entire exercise is exhausting; I've had to resort to having bras shipped to me from the UK—not just because they're cheaper over there, but because I know that certain stores try to make their bras a little bit more attractive. When a friend in the UK called excitedly to tell me she found a beautiful bra with underwire for under $30, I screamed in disbelief, asking for proof. There it was on my phone screen—black, lacy, with floral hints. The straps were thin too. It was so sexily unbelievable.
But why am I so determined to find a sexy bra? How was I socialized to believe that if my breasts are not perky or decked in lace, they are not desirable?
As a Nigerian woman of the Yoruba ethnic group, I was raised to know that I was to be a strong, capable woman, not for me, but for that man who was going to choose me. Growing up in that environment, it was hard to see women as equal to men; our sole purpose was to cater to men. Our breasts came with the package gift to men. The situation in modern Nigeria is quite similar to English women of the Victorian Era who had to wear corsets to lift their breasts and cinch their waist tightly—for the appeal and attraction of men. And, while bras came to Nigeria with colonialism, 21st century Nigerian women continue to wear bras due to socialization.
So you could say I was late to embracing feminism and learning to love myself. I had to reject the thought that a woman choosing to walk around without a bra is a scandalous event. The belief was that she chose to divest herself of the harness because she wanted to have her boobs swinging for the attention of men. If her nipples showed through her dress, it was simply because she wanted to ensnare a man. In Nigeria, no thought was given to the fact that she simply wanted to be free.
In 2017, 23-year old Chidera Eggerue started a movement on social media sharing images where she is braless. As a woman in her mid-thirties, I drew strength from knowing that it was OK to not conform to the socialized norm of constantly wearing a bra. What Chidera started on social media has ballooned into a burgeoning movement, which has spanned beyond the streets of the Internet.
But even with this inspiration, a woman should be able to choose letting them hang out freely, and bra shopping is still a nightmare. The more I lost weight, the smaller my frame became; yet, my cup size remained the same. This further pushed me into a smaller bra-size availability bracket. By this time, I had narrowed down two stores that carried my bra size. However, they were neither cheap nor available. My sister and I made a game out of it; finding the elusive bras and spotting them on sale.
Looking for a sexy bra for G-cups is truly a task, but it is not nearly as hard as finding swimwear or strapless bras. It's so bad that invites to the beach or the pool are met with intense anxiety. I don't know how much strain my good and faithful swimsuit can last. The garment is four years and going strong; because where am I going to find something that fits? Asking for prettiness is a stretch.
Another challenge of being big breasted is the shoulder ridge problem. For bigger breasts, the physics of harnesses and stirrups requires wider straps. Over time, these large straps, supporting the weight of your mounds, form ridges in your shoulder. Glasses wearers will relate to this a little; think of that ridge on your temples and the little ditch on both sides of your nose. Constantly wearing a bra to support big breasts means you're hoisting your breasts via your shoulder and your back.
It is for this reason that I cherish every moment I do NOT have to step out of my apartment. The outing has to be super important for me to leave my house and have to wear these beastly things. If you ask me to go anywhere and I make up some silly excuse, please know that it is simply because I don't want to pack up my breasts. For times when I absolutely have to leave the condo, I unconsciously find myself unhooking my bra once I step into the elevator.
This isn’t easy to reconcile with my commitment to love every inch of this body. But I have come to the realization that the woman staring back in the full length mirror is accountable to one person—me. These breasts come with the body; I can choose to wear a bra, or not. What matters is how comfortable I am in my skin.
Atoke is the author of +234 – An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. Follow her on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on VICE CA.