Quick top-of-the-post-note: while this post talks about body snark in the context of bra fitting, I believe it is applicable to many more situations in which peoples choices about their clothing and bodies are discussed, and I’d love it if you’d read through it whether or not you care about bra fitting, even if you have to TLDR the background stuff. This is really important to me, and is at the heart of the Brog’s philosophy. Thanks! And now onwards to the actual post.
Even quicker top-of-the-post-note: keep an eye out for the appearance of Bras and Body Image, who contributed some stunning pictures to help out with this theme! Deets at the end of the post.
My dear Gentle Readers, it’s time to Get Personal With Miss Shapen. As you know, I believe in body positivity for people of all shapes and sizes, and while the focus here on the brog is on clothing for people who are shaped like me, I appreciate every body type for its loveliness and hope all readers embrace their shapes with love and enthusiasm. I don’t believe that body positivity means you can’t want to change things about your own body, and in my case, right now I think that gaining some strength and muscle tone would be really good for me, especially in my core. I struggle with intermittent back pain of varying severity; while this has been vastly improved by finding well-fitting bras last year, there is probably some residual grumbliness on the part of my long-suffering back, and it’s almost certainly exacerbated by my having to haul a lot of equipment and a large instrument all over the place constantly.
I’m lucky that my current body type is one that is accepted within the narrow range that exempts me from being bullied most of the time, but as I reflect on the changes I am wanting to make and what health and wellness look like for me, it’s brought to mind general issues of body image, weight, and health, and with those, further thoughts about body snark, shaming, and sizeism, all of which I am vehemently against. Please read my post on Fitspo memes for more on this topic, as well as my post about modesty. :)
Meanwhile, I’d like to talk about another corner of the internet where shaming can lurk under the cloak of “being helpful” or “fostering healthy discussion” – this one quite unexpected by me – the bra fitting community.
A while back, a member of an online community of bra fitting bloggers to which I belong discovered that several of us were being discussed on a Polish bra fitting forum under a thread entitled “Internet Monsters.” I want to say right at the start of this – and very, very clearly at that – that the upsetting statements I’m about to bring up are not representative of any community, be it the specific website on which they were found, or the Polish bra fitting community, or Polish people in general (ESPECIALLY not that). I don’t want this post to cause any divisiveness or stereotyping, and if that is what you get from it, please re-read. Okay, so that being said: this was a pretty awful discovery. We here in the US and UK who are doing bra reviews and such are doing so in an attempt to help people (as are bra bloggers everywhere!), and it can be really scary putting ourselves out there. While I was very lucky to have had nothing mean said about me (and in fact would consider the discussion about me to be a great example of how such discourse can be undertaken respectfully), some of my colleagues had really nasty things said about them, and they were quite hurt by it. Here are a few examples of statements made about other bra fitting bloggers , as translated directly and graciously by a Polish friend of mine:
“Easy or not… If a “plus size” girl squeezes herself in 30 (and EM 65) bands, it’s obvious she’ll never get a bra that will “fit her very well”. I don’t know, but I don’t really believe that [incredible, lovely blogger] has such a narrow underbust…”
“O mother of God, she tied herself like a ham… [url redacted for being totally unnecessary] Why do people do such harm to themselves… just to feel slimmer and more busty? Is that so much better? The horror…”
“Jesus Christ!! Give me a gun! [url redacted],” followed by, “[username], it still amazes me how horribly wrong fitted bras she wears, nota bene, being a bra fitter…”
No one’s actually body type was discussed (ie no one was saying “fat people are gross” or anything in that vein of awfulness – it was generally about how people didn’t look good (to the commenter’s eyes) in specific sizes, and luckily, there were some really great commenters there to fight the good fight for body positivity, commenting about the tone and challenging the way the discussion was being held. My favorite was Pierz (or “Wash” if you are reading with Google Translate), who said this (among other things), as copied and pasted directly from the translation I received “Ok, I’ve read all the latest comment in this thread… I’ve always thought that balkonetka was supposed to be a friendly place for women searching for the right size… and I still think so. There’s a difference between showing ads or sellers who try to squeeze the customers into completely wrong sizes, only to sell the product. Even laughing at some really spectacular fitting fails is not that bad, if it’s used to teach basing on bad examples. But laughing at women trying to find a right size, and mainly because the bras don’t look on them as nice as in catalogs – that’s a completely different thing. Maybe they got a wrong size, maybe it’s their shape that causes it being hard to find a compatible bra. And especially the brafitting community should be more understanding for women who, for example, decided to throw away the infamous 34B size and clang tightly to a better fitting bra, even though you see that it’s still not a perfect fit. And if someone does not understand the blog post, then they should definitely just refrain from commenting… One of the posts was about an ill-fitting bra and I don’t see anything funny on the Finnish blog. I don’t know much about that size range, but the wires seem too wide. If you have any suggestions, share them with others, it will at least be productive. You can always try to give some advice on her blog, but I think that the newer posts show better fitting bras. Furthermore, even without understanding the language, you can see that the blog is educative and gives a lot of valuable information, so it does some good job. I don’t know if you’re aware that the bloggers can easily track this thread using the link from which someone got to their blogs. And now imagine how they would feel finding themselves in a thread called “Internet freaks/monstrosities” with comments like “give me a gun” or suggesting that they are stupid. Would you say that to their faces?”
While the comments like that helped and are truly appreciated, it didn’t take the sting from the original statements for those about whom they were written. I meant to make this post then, but there was some discussion to be had in the community about approach, and I wanted to wait till I had some perspective before chiming in. I asked some Polish friends to translate the statements for me so that I could be sure that the nastiness wasn’t an invention of Google Translate. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of corresponding with people in Polish without knowing the language, Google Translate + Polish = hilarity of Game-of-Telephone-On-Steroids proportions (example: a sentence I wrote about finding someone from whom I could buy a pair of Comexim’s [sold-out] Juliet knickers came out of Google Translate as “And the good news : I found someone who was willing to sell my panties to Julietta ! “). I also wanted to be as sure as possible that there weren’t any cultural differences to be taken into account or idiomatic phrases being misunderstood(one can never be completely sure coming from somewhere else, but it’s worth the effort to try to find out as much you can). After speaking to a number of my lovely Polish friends, what seems to me to be the case is that while Polish discourse in general can be more blunt than the same would be in the US – one commenter posted: “The problem is that girls from the UK and US don’t criticize each other in general. Just look at the comments – only compliments. That’s a cultural thing. For them it’s impolite to criticize in a direct way, do if you have to criticize, do it gently, sweetening the criticism with compliments (so instead of “the bra is ill-fitting” say “your blog and photos are great, but I’m afraid that the bra looks, like it doesn’t fit well”).”) – the really unpleasant statements are just as rude there as they would be here.
Bra fitting is a difficult topic; to those of us for whom it has been transformative, it is close to our hearts, and we can often find ourselves holding very closely to our beliefs about how it should be done. From what I understand, in general US and UK bra fitters wear tighter bands and straps than our Polish and German compatriots, and neither side understands how the other does so without great discomfort. In the last six months, I have become much less dogmatic with my beliefs on fitting, and while I remain 100% convinced that I know how I should be fit, and that this method works well for many other women in the sub-30-band over-J-cup range (and I do mean that range specifically), I am perfectly willing to believe that other women are more comfortable when fitted differently. The only thing that I absolutely insist on is civil discourse that talks EXCLUSIVELY about the fitting methods and not the bodies being fitted. It is hard enough as it is having boobs in a society that is obsessively judgemental about them in all directions; the last thing we need is for the very places we go for help to be judging us, too. So when I saw these things being said about my colleagues – about my friends – I became angry. Really angry.
And that’s when they came out.
I’ma let them tell you what they think about this kind of talk (please read in the voices/characters above each paragraph).
BRULK NO LIKE BODY SNARK. BODY SNARK MAKE BRULK MAD. YOU NO LIKE BRULK WHEN BRULK MAD. PUNY HUMANS.
Not so enlightening, but truthful enough. For a more analytical perspective, we turn to…
Briron Man: Okay, so assuming that the end goal of this website is to enable more people to wear bras comfortably and “correctly,” and assuming a rudimentary knowledge of how people communicate effectively, can we agree that the American idiom “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” applies here? Can we agree that no one is going to be more receptive to your ideas when you are equating them to a pork product? And how about some consideration of method. How meaningful can analysis of images be without the corresponding text , given that the analysis being made is of the opinions and motivations of the author of said text? Wouldn’t it be better to invite the people in question to the table for discussion? Everything about this seems flawed. Or, if you didn’t understand that… Boobs. Boobs are great. Let’s not fight about boobs, okay?
He’s a little combative, but hey, I didn’t invent the character. Sorry about that. Let’s talk to Black Bridow instead.
Brack Bridow: Here’s the thing, ladies. I’m trying to do good in the world. I have red in my ledger, and I’m trying to wipe it out. I think bra fitting is good. Really good. But when I see stuff like this, it makes me sad. This isn’t doing good in the world. Women [and men, and people of all gender identities] all over the world are dieting and exercising themselves to exhaustion and misery, getting eating disorders, hiding themselves from the world, crying themselves to sleep, and then, as the cycle goes on, lashing out at other women in their pain. The negative attitudes about our bodies push us to do these things. We should be holding eachother up, saving our snark for reighteous anger directed at sexism, homophobia, transphobia, sizeism, ageism, ableism, and all the other awful forms of bigotry that we should be banding together to fight. Not eachother. What place does language like this have among us? We’re a team, like the Bravengers are a team. You may prefer arrows and I may prefer badass martial arts and guns, but we’re in this together.
Brawkeye doesn’t know much about this, but would like to acknowledge his privilege as a white cis-gendered man and just express his desire to be an ally to women in general.
Captain Bramerica: We have the freedom to speak out about what we believe in, to offer up new ideas about how to do things. To make ourselves better, and hopefully make things better for everyone else in process. We must uphold these ideals, the freedom for each and every citizen to wear what they find comfortable, and to speak against injustice. But the world must never again mistake body snark for helpful advice. Body snark is a sly enemy, hiding in plain sight, and we gotta fight it. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and I refuse to bow down to those who would seek to change that. Whenever the deadly poison of body snark touches us, the flame of freedom will burn a little dimmer, and likewise, as we are kind to one another, the fire burns brighter.
Humans. You know my love of your people. Our ways on Asgard are different, but there is something that remains a constant between us. Kinship. It is only when we act with empathy and foster unity that we can remain strong against the real threats that loom. When we allow ourselves to lash out at others, everyone suffers. When people feel slighted, their egos bruised, it brings out a darkness in them. Consider the lessons of my brother, Broki (*author’s aside: Tom Hiddleston … If you ever read this somehow, it would be so very much my pleasure to take you out for coffee at some point. Just saying.) – he and I should have ruled side by side, but remained divided to the great detriment of all. I know not of bra fitting, but I do know that if all the bra fitters could band together, it would be a great boon to the breasts of the world. Be at peace with one another. Who among you has not been harmed by the barbs of another’s words? Who has not felt the shame of the laughter of comrades falling upon you? You are better than this, my mortal friends.
P.S. Shoutout to Broki. *thumps chest with fist* Love you, bro.
In short, this incident was sad on many levels: because any time someone’s body is discussed negatively, it is sad; because often pictures of the people in question were being taken out of context (ie it was a picture from a review in which the blogger herself had stated that the bra in question was poorly fitting, but was being presented as the blogger’s version of proper fit); because it was on a website in a language the blogger’s didn’t understand without their knowledge and they were not invited at any point to join the discussion; because bra fitting is supposed to be just the sort of community in which women can come together and support eachother; and because there is a way to discuss and disagree about fitting methods *without* personal attack or discussion of the particular people’s supposed thought processes or motivations.
Let’s find a better way to talk to and about eachother. We don’t have to agree, but we can be supportive and open-minded, and perhaps along the way both sides could come to learn some new things. Either way, we can all be friends. I’d like to start over.
I’m Miss Shapen.
It’s nice to meet you.
How do you do?
Special thanks must be given in this post to the always incredible Bras and Body Image, an amazing woman whom I consider to be a close friend and colleague who was kind enough to contribute the Brawkeye and Briron Man pictures and the Captain Bramerica text when I hit a bit of writer’s block. I advise, nay DEMAND that you check out her excellent blog immediately. One of my favorite posts of hers is “The Problem with Fitspo.”
I also need to thank Izzy of Voluptuous and Beautiful for helping me find the quotations I used in the top portion of this post; a little too much time elapsed between when I began the post and now, and I am too much of a lazy bum to go reading through everything again. Izabela to the rescue! Much love to you, Izzy! Please give her a read and some comment love!
Lastly, I want to thank all the bloggers in my inner blogging circle for their input and general good spirits in this as in all things. We’ve got a community that is pretty special, and I am grateful to be a part of it.
This picture was too good to leave out, so we’re wrapping up with Tony Stark.
“Alright. Hey. Alright. Good job, guys. Let’s just not come in tomorrow. Let’s just take a day. Have you ever tried shawarma? There’s a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don’t know what it is, but I wanna try it.””
Grab some shawarma, kick your feet up, and talk body positivity with me, Gentle Readers? I love you, each and every one.