When I was thirteen, my mother asked me to join her in being part of a market research study conducted by a man testing the quality of his company’s brassieres. We had to wear the bra samples for a month, and keep a record of what we liked and disliked about them.
I wondered what a male could know about bras. Shouldn’t a female have this position? I wondered why my parents (who never talked to me about sex) would want me to talk to a strange man about articles of clothing designed to hold breasts in place. My mother told me this guy was my father’s friend and he’d pay us twenty-five dollars each to complete the survey. That was a lot of money in 1967.
I wasn’t allowed to go braless (a popular trend during this period) and I was jealous of my friends who could. “You look like Grandma Moses,” my mother would comment on my 36C breasts sans bra. To make matters worse, my mother disliked all of the bras I owned. Her classic line was, “Your bra is not supporting you.”
For twenty-eight days, I jotted down notes in a journal about my sample bras. They made my breasts look pointy—like two inverted snow cones. When I tried on an underwire model, with a band of metal sewn underneath each cup, my mother exclaimed, “Just what you need to hold you up.”
It occurred to me life was so much easier for boys.
When the market research man arrived, I lined up all the bras on our Formica table. He asked my mother and me questions about the bras and recorded his answers on a form attached to a clipboard. I answered him with whatever I figured he wanted to hear.
Later, I learned this survey work helped support this man’s family. He’d lost his engineering job at the company where my father still worked.
I spent weeks breaking-in the new hip-hugger blue jeans I bought with my twenty-five dollars, laundering them over and over again until they were soft and faded. I wore them with a midriff-top to an eighth-grade graduation party.
Before I left the house, my mother glanced at my chest and said, “Those samples bras aren’t holding up very well.”
I didn’t tell her I wasn’t wearing one.
*Read a longer version of this memoir in "My Life So Far" http://www.smithmag.net/mylifesofar/