Very Specific Interviews™

What It’s Like When an Instagram Bra Doesn’t Change Your Life

Emily Gould was fooled once, but she won’t be fooled again

Woman wearing a vintage bra
Woman wearing a vintage bra

For my third Very Specific Interview™ I talked to Emily Gould, a novelist and a friend, about being sad about a bra she bought on the internet.

So let’s talk about your breasts. I will talk about mine first. They are currently larger than I would wish. People think you’re showing off when you say this, but I’m not. I hit menopause during Covid and each breast got like two pounds bigger and softer. It’s fine, I mean, it’s life. But it’s also a lot of work. I hope you too would like to say some things about your 40-something breasts.

No problemo! I have never really had much ego about my breasts. They were too small when I was a teenager and now they’re big but not in a way I personally find sexy or fun. I had a great time breastfeeding my kids, which isn’t everyone’s experience and I’m very grateful for it. But one of the realities of that situation is that my breasts expanded and contracted over and over again. Eventually they regained some bounce but for a long time they were just completely flaccid and squishy. They require containment or else they flop around in a way that is ungraceful and also painful. Also in summer it’s hard to find a bra doesn’t make you hotter and sweatier than necessary.

(I’m 39 by the way. I’m the oldest millennial.)

I’m sorry I added years onto your life. So, tell me about the circumstances, either short-term or long term, that brought you to the place where you were ordering a bra from an Instagram ad.

I hate all my clothes right now. I also hate the sheets on my bed, my washable rugs, pretty much every washable, durable, practical textile in my life. Everything I’ve been joylessly cycling through for the past year and counting, from my bras to the recipes I make for dinner, I want to burn it all in a pyre. So that’s why I was ordering a bra from Instagram.

Tell me about the bra in particular. How did it GET YOU.

The bra had wide-set straps which could be cute on me because I have broad shoulders. I also liked how it had a minimizing effect but was made of a sheer mesh so it was sort of sexy-adjacent. My bras are usually beige or black Natori sexless “Bliss Perfection” ones that are thick enough to support but not so thick that they add volume. I was interested in the idea that a bra could be supportive but also sheer. Obviously this is an engineering marvel that Elon Musk himself may not be able to achieve.

Walk me through your unboxing moment. The hopes, the fears, the disappointments.

I have zero privacy in my life. Often when I’m getting dressed my 2 year old observes me and makes comments like “You a woman,” which … I don’t know exactly what he means by that! Did he just notice? He also says “You have big booboos,” which he definitely picked up at daycare and bless the person whose booboos he was being inquisitive about.

Anyway, I had to wait for everyone to go to school or work and then I opened the package, put on the bra, adjusted the straps, peered at myself in the mirror for a sec in a T-shirt then left the house. I thought it was okay for the first ten minutes, and then I had to double back and take it off. It was making a creaking noise when I moved. Also I think I might have gotten actual wounds from where the wires cut in under my arms. I don’t think a larger band size would have solved this but I also wasn’t willing to put in the time to investigate.

Did you return it or just throw it out in a huff and if you returned it was that a pain or not that bad?

I returned it. I felt very accomplished for printing out the label, etc.

I get fitted for bras at Jeanette in Los Angeles. Believe me when I say I know this is expensive and that I do not want to spend this money. I have two Prima Donna bras right now, I just got them; I went from a D to an E over the course of the pandemic. I was going back and forth between two Ds all through the pandemic and it was terrible, I felt uncomfortable all the time. (I only ever have two bras at once because the bras I buy are so expensive.) Now that I have these nice bras that actually hold my tits in place life has improved a lot. Anyway I know you went to Orchard Street once to get fitted. Was that experience useful or helpful? Will you go back there?

I’ve gone to Journelle and Orchard Corset. The last time feels like it was so long ago now, I can’t even remember if I’d already had a baby and the related expansion and shrinkage issues. I did make the mistake once of going with a friend who has legendarily great tits and the Orthodox Jewish woman who was fitting us told her how great she looked in a bra and that was a little bit demoralizing. One thing I found about getting fitted is that they always want me to wear a smaller band size than I want to, but once I explain this most people are happy to help me find a bra that both looks okay and doesn’t hurt my ribcage.

Do you feel like this experience cured you of Instagram bra shopping? I used to look at them from time to time and then a friend of mine whose breasts are way bigger than mine bought a bra and was too lazy to return it. I tried this bra — I mean, what a joke. This garment did not seem fit for any use, maybe you could cut it up and use it to spell out LOL NO or maybe it would be a good gerbil nest if the gerbil was really small. It’s just upsetting to me what people call bras sometimes.

Since this happened I seem to have taught the algorithm to show me pants that will look terrible on me instead of bras that will look terrible on me. What I actually need to do is go to a store — possibly several stores — and try on clothes in person, including bras. I will summon the will and the desire to do this soon, maybe after I get vaccinated? Which seems kind of arbitrary at this point but it’s going to feel tense and fraught regardless and I feel like removing that lingering existential threat might change the calculus for me.

Anything to say about bralettes? I think they’re so cute, I would like to come back in my next life as a person who could wear a bralette. What’s your take?

I hope I come back as a person, period. The other day I was at the Prospect Park Zoo, where a group of peacocks roam the grounds freely in order to try to eat Pirate Booty out of the trashcan and be tormented by toddlers. My friend Kate pointed out that they must have done something awful in a past life to deserve this fate, and I found that sobering.

Sarah Miller is a writer living in Northern California.

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