The Bridesmaid’s Dress and Body Shame

My mother zipped up the back of my floor-length forest green bridesmaid dress. My sister was getting married, and the dresses were sleeveless satin and lovely. My dress fit well except for the chest, which was too big.

I’ve been called flat-chested. That’s not technically true. I do have breasts, but I can strap on an A-cup and not fill it up. If I’m doing push-ups in aerobics class and the instructor tells us, “Get your chests to the floor,” I have to work three times harder than everyone else. You know those calculations for finding your bra size? “Measure under your breasts and add five. This is your band size. For your cup size, measure the fullest part of your bust. (Fullest part? I’m too small to have a fullest part.) From this number, subtract your band size. If the difference is one inch, you’re an A cup. Two inches, B cup, and so on.” When I do that calculation, I get a negative number.

It used to be that some bra manufacturers didn’t even make A cup bras. Maybe the research and development department thought, “If you’re an A cup, what’s the point of a bra?” Then some companies started making A cups and called them petite. Thanks, bra company. I think.

Back to the bridesmaid dress, the one that was too big in the bust. My mom, an excellent seamstress in her own right, thought the dress needed to be taken in. I went up to the saleslady and pointed out the problem so she could put pins in the bodice and have it altered. The saleslady covered her mouth with her hand and whispered, “You could wear a padded bra.”

She had a point. A bra with enough padding might have done the trick. It wasn’t the suggestion that was the problem for me. It was how she suggested it. Quietly. Like it should be a secret. As if my small boobs were something to be ashamed of.

Shame. How often have you felt it? Maybe it’s not your breast size. It’s something else. You’re not thin. You don’t have shapely legs. Or perhaps you don’t have high cheekbones, clear skin, straight teeth, great hair, perfect ear lobes, or a great-looking uterus. (I actually got to see the inside of my uterus on a monitor during an infertility treatment. It was pink. I know you’re jealous. Only the sexiest uteruses are pink. But I digress.)

Back to you and the shame thing. There’s been some time or other when someone has made you feel ashamed of your body. I know this about you because it’s true of every female who’s over the age of five and breathing.

Should I ever feel shame?

Yes. If I’m yelling at my kids, I should feel shame. (Even if they deserve to be yelled at.) If I’m not listening to my husband, I should feel shame. (Even if he’s droning on about how much he enjoyed watching the paint dry when we renovated.) If I’m surfing the ‘net at work instead of working, I should feel shame. (But the surfing was work-related. Sort of.) If I’m gossiping about my friend . . . in my defense, it felt like “sharing,” not gossip – for prayer purposes, of course – and it was a particularly juicy, sensational prayer request, and I only told one friend, and . . . and . . . okay, it was gossip, and I should be ashamed. It’s our actions (or inactions) that we should feel shame over. But we should not feel shame over what our bodies look like. Ever.

Now, if we don’t treat our bodies right, shame on us. If we eat junk food all day and half-pound burgers every night, we should feel a measure of shame. (Maybe I shouldn’t buy the five-pound bags of M&Ms. Never mind. If I stop buying them, someone at the M&M factory will be out of a job.) If we veg-out and watch TV all day and never get any exercise, we should feel a twinge of shame. If we pressure our daughters to conform to an unrealistic, unhealthy body image standard, then yes, that’s when we should be ashamed of ourselves.

But let’s suppose your breasts are small and your waist is not. Suppose you don’t have a model’s cheekbones or clear skin. Suppose you look like – you. Where’s the shame in that? Nowhere. There is no shame in that. Why not? Because you are a woman made in God’s image. This means you have eternal value. Period. (M&Ms also have eternal value. They are not made in God’s image, but they are made of chocolate. Enough said.)

So if the saleslady in the bridal shop tells you to wear a padded bra or to have the dress altered so it’s a bit roomier through the hips, that’s okay. There’s no shame in that.

But if the bridesmaid dress your sister picked out is Pepto-Bismol pink with ruffles and sequins and a huge bow on the back, and if you have to carry a parasol and wear seven-inch heels, and if the groom was your boyfriend before he was your sister’s fiancé (of course, you’re glad you dumped him, but now he’ll be in the family – ugh) . . . well. Now that’s a shame.

Wendy Herrmann Smith is a 40-something mom of two. One kid she got the old fashioned way and one by adoption. Wendy writes adult Sunday School curriculum which is not as boring as it sounds. She can barely fill up an A-cup bra, and that’s okay. Really. She blogs at Read Wendy’s posts here.

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