At least that’s how 13-year-old T’yanna Lewis describes it. When she and her mother, Sue-Ann Lewis, went to purchase her first bra, she says it was unlike any experience she’d ever had before.
“It was weird because I was new to it,” she said. “It meant I was growing up and becoming a woman.”
Lewis and her mother left La Senza that afternoon with a new purple and white coloured bra with hearts and stars on it.
Regan Macdonald is an expert bra fitter and manager at Secrets from Your Sister, a lingerie boutique near Bathurst and Bloor streets in Toronto. She says the most important thing when dealing with young women is making them feel at ease so they don’t feel shy or awkward about what’s happening with their bodies.
“(It’s important to) act like it’s the most normal thing in the world and assuring the girls what they ask me, I get asked a hundred times a day,” said Macdonald, whose first bra was a sports bra from Walmart. “I assure them whatever is going on with their body is completely normal and whatever size they are is great.”
T’yanna Lewis said going into La Senza with her mother was hard for her at first because she felt awkward asking the women who worked there for the correct size bra. Sue-Ann Lewis, who remembers her daughter being too shy to have her in the fitting room with her, says it was a bitter-sweet time.
“I can’t believe my baby isn’t a baby anymore,” she said. “As a mom I realized she was maturing and going into a new stage in her life.”
Lewis says she tries to be open with her three daughters. However, when T’yanna, her eldest, needed a bra she wasn’t the one who initiated the conversation, T’yanna did.
“(T’yanna) said her friend told her that she needed a bra,” she said.
That’s when Sue-Ann Lewis said she realized she needed to take her daughter to get her first bra.
Macdonald says it’s common that despite girls being shy, they will be the ones who bring the topic up to a parent that they want a bra. Often mothers won’t know what to do, so they bring their daughters to the lingerie shops.
“It’s kind of like taking your daughter to the doctor rather than talking to her about it yourself,” she said. “We get a lot of women bringing in their daughters for the first time.”
Sue-Ann Lewis describes the process as a challenge. She remembers growing up in the Caribbean being a much different experience.
“I was begging for breasts (as a young woman),” she said.
It was her cousin who told her she needed a bra once her breasts were “getting huge.” Now she says her daughter is taking after her.
“My daughter is actually very busty and now she’s telling me she’s shy and timid,” she said.
Sue-Ann Lewis says T’yanna doesn’t want to change in front of her friends in physical education class because her breasts are bigger than her female classmates’.
Macdonald says many girls in T’yanna’s position often want to wear bras for more specific reasons.
“Often they want (a bra) because they don’t want to feel completely exposed,” she said. “They want an extra layer between themselves and the world so that no one can see what’s going on.”
Macdonald says many young women don’t know why they need a bra. They’ve just gotten the impression from somewhere that they have to have one. For example, there are some young women who don’t need a bra that’s for lift or support if they aren’t too developed.
“I think this is usually due to when your breasts are growing as a kid and they become sensitive and look weird to you, so you want to conceal them,” Macdonald said.
Sometimes it can also be a case of underdeveloped girls either wanting what their friends have or not feeling left out for not being as developed yet, according to Macdonald. But there are also the girls who are on the other side of this.
“Sometimes young women have developed so fast that they do need something to hold it all together,” she said.
Though the experience is often difficult, a woman’s first bra-shopping experience is almost like a rite of passage. T’yanna Lewis says the process now is easy and not really a big deal.
“I wear them all the time and I feel more feminine,” she said.