ROBIN Finding Value in Insecurities
From the Washington D.C suburbs in Maryland, Robin moved to Manhattan in 1983 to attend NYU’s dance department.
How did your dancing experience influence you?
Dancing got me involved in the theater and I began writing plays. I wrote a show that lead to a bra designer spotting me. He wrote to me and said he thought I was at least a 34DDD.
Were you hesitant to speak with him?
I could tell by the note he wrote me that he had experience in the intimate apparel industry. He was looking for a body to build upon. Just as he suspected, I was fit to a 34DDD. That was 17 years ago and it’s pretty much what I’ve been doing ever since. Any girl wearing a 34DDD bra is probably wearing one built on me.
Did your new career take you away from the theater?
No way! Any creative person in New York City is doing something else for money. I have continued to write and choreograph. Fit modeling is not a 9–5 type job; it allows me to do everything I love.
Did you know anything about bras before?
It was a huge learning experience. Back then I didn’t know they made bras above a DD. It was a revelation to feel an underwire actually lifting me up as opposed to strapping me painfully to my chest wall. The biggest thing I learned was that my large breasts were actually valuable and worth something. I stopped feeling like that little ninth grader hiding behind books trying to cover her breasts. I didn’t have to be ashamed of them anymore.
You felt ashamed of your breasts?
Absolutely! Look, I was in ballet from the age of six. I went to a very strict school. My teacher was from the royal ballet. He was a tough one. I admired him and looked up to him but he would say hurtful things. It’s a strange world. I loved the discipline and regulation of ballet. There is one way to do it; the rules are set and there is no room for interpretation as far as the placement of one’s body.
There is a point in ballet when you either make it or break it at about the age of 14, when the great blossoming happens. Puberty had done something to me and I felt very ashamed and guilty about having breasts. I don’t think that it affected my dancing but when he would make comments about my body, I felt that all of me was wrong. It gets into your head. I saw it as a character flaw and felt responsible.
Was high school difficult?
Oh my God, yes! High school was horrific. There was this old Roman Polanski movie based on the Thomas Hardy novel called Tess of the d’Urbervilles. There was a line in the movie that says: “she was a victim of her own provocative beauty.” That’s how I felt; that young girls with beautiful bodies were responsible for the actions of pedophile men. It took many years of self-evaluation to get over that shame.
What helped you through that?
I had a strong-willed mother and grandmother, they gave me a lot of support and promised life would be better after high school. It took a long time but when I was finally able to move to New York it began to happen.
New York, for me, was about reinvention. Once I got on my feet and found my way in theater I was able to express and reveal myself through different avenues without actually exposing myself. I suddenly saw the humor in these ridiculous things hanging off my chest wall. I could make fun of myself before anyone else had a chance to.
What do your breasts mean to you now?
At this point they are a huge part of who I am. They are a topic of my writing, my best friends. They are probably the most noteworthy thing about me—visually, that is. My personality is not all about my tits but they have influenced who I am. After all, I am a fit model.
What is the fit process like?
They call me in for an appointment and have me try on a prototype. I make comments about it. We play around with wires and components. If it’s itchy we change the fiber that it’s made from to make it more comfortable. I have input on all of that.
Do you feel pressure to maintain your measurements?
Yes, I feel some pressure. However, I have always been a physical person so activities that help me maintain my figure are something I enjoy doing. It’s not a problem to keep these things in my life.
What challenges do you face maintaining your bust?
Well, right now its middle-age. The things that happen to a middle-aged woman’s body are uncontrollable. My breasts are slightly fuller now. It does not show on the scale but I can tell they are filled out a bit. As far as them becoming soft, I feel freakishly lucky. I hit the jackpot genetically when it comes to my breasts. They are still spectacular, despite the random stretch mark. I rub cocoa butter on them every night and use a lot of sunscreen so the skin on my chest does not break down. I do a lot of pushups as well to help eliminate as much sagging as possible.
If you met your younger self, what would you say to her?
Keep a journal! Write about your body. Or do whatever creative thing you do that can express how you feel about it at the moment and how other people’s reactions influence your self-esteem. In the future, you can look on these works of art and acknowledge how far you’ve come since then. Examining your past—even if it was just last week—can propel you forward in amazing ways.
"I would walk with my shoulders curved inward and wear baggy shirts all the time."
Where are you from?
I was actually born in Hoboken, New Jersey but I was raised in the Bronx, then moved to Greenpoint and spent my teenage years and early adulthood in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. I lived next door to my cousin. I was the oldest of all the grandkids in the family. The first one.
My family is Dominican and Puerto Rican. We’re very loud, fun, loving, and there are a lot of us! We are a big group. I have 13 aunts and uncles and they all have at least two or three children. So when we get together it’s a big ol’ gang.
Were you pretty happy growing up?
Well, yes, I was happy being surrounded by family. However, I developed really early. I was busty, very busty. I have a very small frame and small features and thought they were just too big. I always had back pain and struggled standing straight.
I remember playing volleyball when I was 12 years old and I jumped up to spike the ball but my bra strap broke from my heavy breasts! The coach took me to the nurse’s office and safety pinned my bra together.
What was dating life like?
Now, all the men I know love that Brazilian body. I always heard my brothers say if a woman does not have a derrière then she is not attractive. My sister did not have boobies but she did have the tushie and men liked her. I did not have a bootie. I thought oh, God forgot to give me extra there. I felt unbalanced with my big breasts. My first boyfriend, I dated for four years, and he really brought down my self-esteem. He would comment on my lacking backside and say “oh no, you need to have a bigger bootie!”
How did you deal with that?
I would walk with my shoulders curved inward and wear baggy shirts all the time. Then when I got in to my sophomore year I went to a new school and I decided to join theater. They were doing West Side Story and I was given the role of Maria. The music coach suggested that I start to dress more like Maria would have so that I could develop into her character. So the baggy ill-fitting clothes were taken over by more feminine ones. If my coach would catch me slouching, she would remind me to straighten up because Maria was confident. She even gave me some core strengthening exercises to help with posture and singing.
Did you continue singing?
Well, I was always singing. I’m very operatic. I was given a scholarship to go to college in Massachusetts. But my mother has trouble letting go of the umbilical cord and I was not allowed to accept. Instead I stayed home and graduated college with the typical business administration. I have a degree in finance and investment.
Did you ever leave the nest?
Yes! Finally I got married at 28. My husband is Colombian. We lived near my family for a while and then, in 2009, we moved to Florida. In my whole life, I have never lived on my own.
What’s it like making that move?
It’s happy and sad. I miss my family but I’m so proud of the family my husband and I have created. Although, after having two kids my breasts are back! I’d had a breast reduction after college because I just couldn’t bear the weight any more. I truly felt free after that! Now they’re big as ever and a lot more saggy.
How do you feel about your body now?
My husband is very vocal about what he likes. He loves breasts! When I first married him I was still pretty insecure about not being perfect. But he just embraces me, stretch marks and all. Little by little I became more comfortable and confident in my own skin. He has never made negative comments about me.
Tell me about your kids.
I had a miscarriage the first time I got pregnant. I got pregnant again and that’s when we had Ethan. He was born early though. I had eclampsia and went into labor at 32 weeks. I guess you could say I died. The doctor asked my husband to choose between me and our baby. My husband said “Sorry, but no! They are both going to live.” So I was four hours in the OR getting a C-section as well as blood transfusions. Ethan was born only weighing 3lbs 11oz. Because of my loss of oxygen, he suffers from cognitive delay. I was in a coma for four days.
Then, December of 2009, I found out I was pregnant again! Everyone was panicking and freaking out, but I had a great doctor and I knew the signs to look for, so I wasn’t as worried. This time around I had gestational diabetes. However, I was able to experience a happy, full pregnancy. I went the full forty weeks, my water broke, it all happened like it should. When my baby girl, Amalia, was born we found out she has downs syndrome. I said cut me up, tie me up, do what you need to do, but I should not have more kids. I guess destiny has a different plan.
Can you tell me what experiences you’ve had raising your kids?
Amalia is two and has already been through so much; eye surgery, heart surgery, and seven hours of therapy a week. She does not walk yet but she can crawl and she talks a lot! We all have our strengths. Hers is more verbal while she is weaker in physical abilities. Ethan goes to speech therapy because of his cognitive delay.
What are ways you instill confidence in your children?
Having a job, in a way, requires a person to take care of themselves. Being a stay at home mom was kind of hard for me at first. I’m not saying staying at home is not a job, but it’s easy to forget about yourself when you take care of others. It was important for me to stay out of the comfortable sweat pants and continue to take care of myself like I did before. I want my son to say “I remember my mom used to wear the red lipstick and mascara even around the house.”
Having a daughter with Down syndrome makes me want to give extra. I want her to know that she is beautiful. I am going to take her to the salon and get manicures with her because she needs to know she can embrace her femininity, too, even with her condition. I admit I cried when I found out about her having Down syndrome but, I know eventually those tears will be tears of joy. I am going to be so happy when she finally learns to walk and talk, and maybe she won’t go to college but she will go to school. And I’m going to help her reach as far as she can just like any other kid does.
I want Ethan to see this, too. To see that she is beautiful and we all have different forms. I really believe beauty comes from within and shines out.
"When you’re in high school, everyone is more apt to take part in ridicule and I got made fun of a lot for my breasts."
New York, NY
Where are you from?
I’m from Connecticut. I was raised there—we never moved.
Do you still live there?
No, my mom’s side of the family is all still there, they have a family business there. I went to the same high school as my grandparents. It’s very nice to go home but it’s very, uh…hard to do anything. You get spotted because people recognize me as my mother’s daughter and I’m always like, “who’s that!”
What was your experience like in high school?
Overall it’s wonderful the way I was raised. I got to see my great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all the time. But in high school it was hard to date guys because it took no time for the information to spread around.
I also developed really early and was fuller busted than I would have liked. I was the girl in middle school with big boobs.
How early did you develop?
Well, I got my first training bra when I was 10. It was this white, tiny, little triangle thing.Then when I was 12, I got my first real bra and it was a 32D. It was a soft blue color with an alpaca on the straps. It was beautiful and I thought it was made just for me. I just loved it.
Did you have difficulty playing sports in high school?
I played softball in middle school and I was big into volleyball in high school. I didn’t let my breasts stop me—I would just wear several of them at a time. I wanted to be flat so when I dove into the net they wouldn’t get in the way.
I also wanted to be flat because at 16, when you’re bouncing around and you have boobs, you’re in a very vulnerable position. Now I could care less, but at that age it was an experience.
So what changed?
There are a few things that made a difference. When you’re in high school everyone is more apt to take part in ridicule and I got made fun of a lot for my breasts. Now that I’m an adult, people are more open to actually giving compliments. This one girl that I thought was really pretty and super skinny told me how much she wished she had my breasts. She said “oh Amy, you look gorgeous! I love your boobs in that dress!” That comment really stuck out to me.
When I was younger, there was also not as much available to me in regards to bras. That pretty blue bra was hard to replace. Now that I’m older and actually work in the industry, beautiful lingerie is readily available to me.
Did you always want to be a lingerie designer?
Well, I always expressed myself through clothes. I would experiment with different looks and my style was all over the place when I was young but now it’s definitely bohemian. The decision to go to design school was a natural one and then my curiosity and obsession with lingerie made my decision clear.
Is your personal lingerie style bohemian too?
Well, I like things that are more traditional sexy. I like things with feminine components and beautiful lace. I like balconettes and semi-demi cups. I always wear pretty bottoms too but I don’t worry about them matching. It’s like I can have a party in my pants!
I also don’t ever worry about the size of my bra or bottoms. I try it on and think oh yeah! I enjoy this. It’s pretty. I don’t care if it’s a size larger or smaller than what I am used to, it matters more to me what I feel like in it. Some women I help freak out about labels and I think, well, if you’re comfortable in something that’s too small then go for it.
What does lingerie mean to you?
Oh! I get excited to put new underwear on or colorful ones on. Like if it’s raining outside or I’m going to a function that I have to wear something blah then I can wear crazy polka-dots or strips. It doesn’t have to match the outfit—it can be whatever you want. If there’s a lining to your skirt, you can wear thigh highs and feel super sexy. There are no limits.
What’s your favorite body part?
Oh, I love my collar bones. I love wearing clothes that show them off.
What’s your favorite quality?
I’m driven. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s hard, but it gets me where I’m going.
"It just felt like I should take charge of myself and my habits and change my life."
Elizabeth, New Jersey
What motivated you to lose the weight?
It was a health decision. I had always been overweight, not active and ate terribly. It just felt like I should take charge of myself and my habits and change up my life.
How much did you lose and how did you do it?
I lost a little over 30 pounds. It was a huge lifestyle change. I started counting calories, running, going to the gym, doing yoga, cutting out a lot of breads and cutting down from sugary coffee drinks to black coffee. It was a lot of switching how I thought about food.
What did you tell yourself when you weren’t feeling motivated? How did you stick to a plan when you didn’t want to?
It took a long time to see any results. Like almost a year. I’m actually not sure how I stuck to it so long honestly. I just knew that I didn’t want to continue living the way I was and so I learned to live this new way. I gave myself some cheat days and whatnot - I do love food - but those were special days and not every day.
You mentioned replacing your wardrobe.
It’s really difficult at first because you almost don’t believe it’s true. It was difficult getting rid of clothes that used to fit cause you’re never sure if you’ll keep the weight off, or keep exercising, but underwear was one of the first things I replaced cause maybe I knew only me and my significant other would see it. Even seeing an “S” on the underwear was crazy. I remember actually saying out loud “I am small” and having that statement not make sense to me. There was a point where I was walking around in clothes that were now too big on me but my underwear fit right.
Did the weight loss affect what styles you bought?
It definitely changed the way I shopped for underwear. My stomach was flatter so underwear sat better. It was crazy to start shopping for size small when I had always been large. So many different styles were opening up. I felt way sexier in the underwear too.
What about bras?
I’ve always hated bras! I never felt they fit right, there was always a weird bulge on the sides or they cut into me. Once I lost weight I was able to figure out the sizing better and because I was more toned, there wasn’t much to squeeze into a weird bulge. I actually only started buying sets after I lost the weight. Before it was a lot of bikini underwear and nude bras. Now I started buying lace and colorful sets.
Did that change the way you felt about your body?
I never felt like I had body issues but I did notice my confidence boost in my new body from the under up.
Can you elaborate on “under up”?
So overall I went down from a size 8/10 to a size 2/4 in clothing and that is a big difference. The confidence to wear more flattering clothing started with wearing underwear that was flattering. There’s more of an ease to it. Once I realized that if what I was wearing underneath was small and I looked good in it then what I wear on the outside can also be small and I will look good in it. I became confident in my body starting with underwear.
What would you say to other men and women who want to make the same change? My advice is pretty chock full of cliches I think. You really do have to think of it as a lifestyle change and not just an “I want to lose weight” thing. Just do one small change at a time (cut out sodas, add more veggies) and once you get used to that, change another thing. It’s constantly changing it up, whether food or exercise, that kept it interesting. And subscribe to health things, magazines, email lists, groups, whatever. Seeing a daily reminder helps and you’ll see you’re not the only one doing it. And finally, keep your eye on the prize and pat yourself on the back for even the smallest victories (seeing a tiny definition in your arms or fitting into an old pair of jeans—anything).
What’s it like when you catch yourself in the mirror now?
Be prepared not to recognize yourself for a while! You’re becoming a new person both physically, emotionally, and mentally. But you’ll feel better overall about yourself. At least I have.
"I think it all comes from within. You have to be sexy with who you are."
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?
I work for a global advertising agency in production. I’ve been working in advertising for several years now aside from working in the lingerie industry.
Would you say you have a lingerie obsession?
Yes, definitely [Laughs]. It’s probably beyond an obsession.
Can you tell us about your introduction to bras and lingerie?
My introduction was basically going to a mass retailer in the mall. The company and the brand was different then and I was just drawn to the materials, the colors, all the different types of lingerie that there was. It’s such a broad array of merchandise and it’s not just limited to an everyday bra. I really loved that and that it’s a way to express yourself on the inside. Other people might not see it but you see it. If you have something hot on, like a bright color, something that makes you feel good and sexy inside, it will help you have that confidence as you go about your day.
How old were you when you developed?
I developed later. I stuffed my bra for a while.
You did?! [Both laugh]
Yeah, I did. I didn’t have something for quite some time. It wasn’t until my first year of college, I guess it was the food, but I came back and I had them. The first summer after college, I got a job in a lingerie store and that’s when I started buying it on my own. One of the girl’s measured me with the tape so I went with a certain size for a long time. It wasn’t until I went to a more high-end boutique where they specialized in bra fitting that I actually found my true size which was very different than the bras I was buying.
How many sets would you say you have now?
[Long pause] Oh my gosh, I don’t know. I have so many. I went through my drawers the other day and I was shocked.
More than 100?
Yeah, probably. I have way, way, way more than your average wardrobe. Mine is like a whole closet full.
So when you get ready in the morning, how do you decide what you’re going to wear? Do you match them to your outfit?
I usually match it to my outfit. I wear a lot of lace. I have my bras organized by my lace ones, my contour ones, it depends. If I’m wearing something sheer where I don’t want the lace to be visible, I might pick a contour bra. They’re all kind of fun, though. I don’t really have any basic black or nude colors. I wear pinks and purples and yellows. I just think color is a great way to boost how you feel if you have something fun underneath. Usually I just pick whatever I’m feeling for the day.
Would you say your collection has influenced your love life?
Yeah definitely. I actually had a really good comment the other day. He was like, “You have the best lingerie I’ve ever seen.” I was so pleased with myself. Aside from bras and underwire, I like to look sexy when going to sleep. I wear a lot of chemises and really cute little rompers. I have a lot of fun stuff that I sleep in.
What would your advice be to women who are a little insecure about their bodies?
I think it all comes from within. You have to be sexy with who you are. I always struggle with body image, losing weight and gaining weight, working out more.
But, it’s good to find something that works for you. A bra you can put on and know you’ll look amazing. Your breasts will be lifted and if you put a matching pair of bottoms with it, it just helps everything. You look in the mirror and you’re like “Wow I look awesome” and if you feel like you look awesome, then he’s going to notice that. You’re confident, he’s happy, then the experience is that much better.
What have you found about women shopping for lingerie?
A lot of people aren’t wearing the right size and they aren’t aware of the brands that are out there. It’s good to do some research, go shopping, try different bras. Try a structured bra to enhance your breasts. Take the time to find what works best—we take the time to buy shoes and dresses.
What color are you going to wear today?
I just got a new bra, it’s an emerald green color. I don’t have too much of that color. I might wear that one.
"Well the bedroom is where everything happens."
NYC, New York
Where did you grow up?
That’s a long way from New York. When did you move?
I moved when I was 19. It was a huge move and I was really nervous about it. I moved for the idea of true love.
Wow! How did you meet him?
I was in high school. We actually met online. It was back when it was the cool up and coming thing to do. All my friends were always online in chat rooms. I didn’t plan on meeting anyone. It just happened.
What was the adjustment like when you moved?
I definitely spent a few days crying. I didn’t know anyone so it was hard at first. I went through this period where I didn’t know if I was going to be happy here. I mean its New York City; it either accepts you or eats you alive. It’s intimidating at first.
Was it strange going from long distance to living together?
Absolutely. For the first month or two I wouldn’t change in front of him. I went to the bathroom to change into my pajamas.Then I had to say to myself, “I love him and I want him to think I am as sexy as I think he is.”
How did you get over that insecurity?
I went out to find attractive lingerie and pajamas so I could feel confident in front of him all the time.
What was your first bra fitting like?
The first place I went to was a horrible experience. Nothing fit, nothing was flattering. The second place I was able to work with a bra specialist and it was life changing. I have had a love affair with lingerie ever since.
What size were you wearing before your first fitting and what did they fit you to?
I was wearing a 36DD and they fit me to a 32G. I was way off!
Did your boyfriend notice a difference?
Haha! Well I remember I bought one pretty bra and one basic bra to start with. I wore the basic bra home and didn’t expect him to notice. Well to say he loved it was an understatement! He went on and on about how amazing I looked and how perfect I was. I said, “This is not even the sexy one.” He just fell in love with it. I still have that bra and whenever he sees it he says, “Aww I remember that one!”
What role does lingerie play in your relationship?
Well the bedroom is where everything happens. To me lingerie is the foundation of my wardrobe and my relationship. It gives me the confidence I need to be the woman he deserves.
How does you lingerie differ from daytime to nighttime?
It doesn’t change. I wear sexy stuff out during the day, just the same as I would wear it for him. I feel like who doesn’t want to feel sexy every day? It’s still fully functional and supports me.
What advice would you give to someone struggling with confidence in the bedroom?
Looking back I initially did it for him but should have done it for myself long ago. I underestimated how much it would benefit me and improve my confidence.
"My daughter was adopted from Ethiopia when she was 13½…she was always wearing the same yellow sweatshirt to cover her chest."
Can you tell us a little bit about you?
I’m from Iowa. I have two sisters and one brother and I’m a designer.
How soon did you start to develop?
I developed really early like 3rd grade and by the time I was in fourth grade I needed a bra.
Do you remember what your first bra was like?
I don’t remember my first bra. I do know that I was very embarrassed and uncomfortable to shop for bras. We used to go to Kmart and buy bras for my great-aunt, so that’s probably where we got my first one. I was always overwhelmed by the selection of bras there and how big they looked.
How did that affect you during your adolescent years?
I was always the biggest chested girl in school. I went to a catholic high school and we had to wear white shirts. I was uncomfortable and embarrassed to be wearing a bra in 4th grade so even during the warmest weather I would wear a sweater so you couldn’t tell. My sister and brothers used to make fun of me for my big breasts.
Did you play sports?
Yes, and I had a huge problem with that. My mom wasn’t any help either. I don’t think it’s because she didn’t care. She just didn’t understand so, for her, it wasn’t a big issue like it was for me. I couldn’t find a sports bra over a C cup. When I played sports I would wear at least 3 bras. I didn’t let it stop me from playing but it was always uncomfortable. I think that’s why I have shoulder pain now because I was never supported properly.
Did you have a particular role model that inspired your confidence?
I didn’t really have anyone that I looked up to. I have always been confident despite my breast struggles. My mom did share some wisdom that I have always held on to. She said that if a girl was mean to me it was because she was jealous of me. If a boy was mean to me it was because he liked me. So as a kid I honestly felt bad if someone was mean to me and I would say a prayer for them.
Tell us about your family.
I have an amazing husband that I have been married to for nine years. We adopted two children about four years ago. I have the cutest nine year old boy, and I have a 16 year old daughter.
Do you ever notice your daughter struggling with confidence?
Yes! A lot. My daughter was adopted from Ethiopia when she was 13.5 yrs old. And when I first met her, I felt there was a kindred spirit because she was always wearing the same yellow sweatshirt to cover her chest. It’s odd for girls there to have a full bust because everyone is so malnourished and thin. They usually don’t develop and there definitely aren’t any bras found there. She didn’t come home with us after the first visit. I knew I would be coming back a month later and I wanted to bring her a bra. At that point I struggled finding her a bra because I had never been fit to the right bra. So I didn’t really know where to begin.
Did you end up finding a bra?
I looked high and low for something I thought would fit. I basically guessed on a size from a department store. It wasn’t the right size and didn’t help her much.
What was it like taking your daughter bra shopping?
The first time I took her bra shopping was a terrible experience. I took her to a local department store, nothing fit, and she was upset the whole time. She was so embarrassed and started asking me to get her a breast reduction. She thought she was fat because no one else in her class was developed.
The second time I had her fit totally changed her world. Finding a person that is knowledgeable about bras and sensitive too is priceless. I got fit as well. It was an amazing experience and I’m so glad we did it together.
What changes did you notice in her because of the fitting?
Her confidence has improved 100%. Since then she has not mentioned wanting a reduction. She went to only wearing sweatshirts to wearing t-shirts and tank tops! She even wears swim suits now because you can buy them in the right bra size. I can’t say enough about how it’s changed her confidence. She also thinks it’s cute because we bought matching bras in our own size.
Is there anything you do to help your kids feel confident?
It’s important to me that they are empowered to make up their own minds. I give different choices and allow them to make up their own minds. Then I give them a lot of positive feedback. I also don’t allow my kids to watch mainstream TV or read many magazines. I don’t want them influenced by what the media says is beautiful or perfect. We are all beautiful.
"Having good underwear always makes you feel better about yourself…it doesn’t matter that others can’t see it."
Brooklyn, New York
What do you do?
I’m an occupational therapist. I work with children. Right now I’m working at a school system in Harlem and Bedstuy, and I also work at a clinic in midtown.
What made you decide on occupational therapy?
Oh, Lord. My brother.
Tell us about your brother.
He was born with a genetic disorder. Over the years he started going to occupational therapy. I would go with him occasionally and started to see all of the fun, cool things he got to do. He learned how to take care of himself and do functional activities but in a fun way. And I decided that was what I wanted to do.
Other than the physical aspect, how does what you do affect the children you work with?
It gives them confidence in their abilities, which are sometimes very limited. Even just having one person giving positive reinforcement and help them believe that they’re important and can do things gives them a huge confidence boost and makes them feel like important members of society.
Have you been pretty confident yourself?
No. I had those awkward pre-teen/teen years. I guess I really started to feel confident in high school when I started to realize what I wanted to do with my life, which was occupational therapy. But it took a lot longer than that. I wasn’t just flipping a switch. It was a process.
What obstacles stood out?
I definitely had body image issues and poor self esteem. Really starting to take pride in my appearance and going to the gym helped. Watching what I ate. In college I really tried to stick to my routines and focus on my goals and it helped to keep me driven. Each time I met a smaller goal it would boost my confidence a bit more.
Did your wardrobe change with taking pride in appearance?
Yes, it did. I started paying more attention to the trends in fashion and instead of just rolling out of bed and wearing sweats to class. I started doing my makeup and hair. It was amazing when I looked good on the outside, how I felt better about myself on the inside.
Did your underwear wardrobe change at all?
Yeah, I started buying nicer underwear—more expensive, more color, and I’d match it to my outfits. Having good underwear always makes you feel better about yourself.
I guess just knowing that you look great underneath your clothes; it doesn’t matter that others can’t see it. You know you look great and that’s all that matters. It gives you an extra confidence boost and that translates to feeling beautiful and confident on the outside
What’s it like when you see the girl in the mirror today?
I am happy with what I see today. Of course there are always little things that I would like to change (lose a few pounds here and there), but overall I am happy, content, and confident in myself, which I wasn’t even a few years ago. I see a woman who is passionate about what she does and this brings me happiness and confidence.
A lot of the time I think it’s easier to see our weaknesses than our strengths. So I would advise others to try to realize what their strengths are and focus on those. This is also what I try to do with the kids. When they’re struggling, I try to show them what they do well and then approach a problem area or task from that direction, providing them with the confidence they need to succeed.
“It was like God said, ‘What’s up Lauren? It’s me. Here’s your period…here’s your boobs….go for it!’”
Where are you from?
I grew up in Athens, Alabama. I went to college at Middle Tennessee and have been in Nashville for the past five years.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I love museums, baby animals, honky-tonks, party dip, and Britney Spears. Seriously, that kind of sums it up. I manage Mike Wolfe’s store, Antique Archaeology, in Nashville, TN. You can see him and his fellow cohorts on HISTORY channel, and sometimes me too!
Are you ever nervous before filming?
It gets better each time, but I used to get dreadfully nervous each time we’d film. I’m finally at the point where it’s fun and not as scary. I’d like to think of myself as an entertaining person, but it always changes when a camera’s around. It makes you more conscious of everything. Like last time we filmed, the crew thought it was so funny I kept referring to somewhere as “Upper State New York.” I was like “What?!” And they were like “Upstate, Lauren??” Whatever.
It’s probably safe to say everyone has something that makes them insecure. How do you overcome your insecurities?
Honestly, that’s kind of a safety in numbers thing. I always feel better when I think someone feels (or has felt) the same way as I do. When I am trying to pump the jam for something that makes me insecure I try to remember just that—that everyone has felt that way at some point and time. All is cool in the universe! One minute you’re sad, next pissed off, next ecstatic and excited…such is the roller coaster of life. Acknowledge it and get ready for the next. Like Stuart Smalley said, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”
When did you first become aware of your breasts?
Literally, the boobs happened over night in 5th grade. It was like God said, “What’s up Lauren? It’s me. Here’s your period…here’s your boobs…go for it!”
What was your first bra like?
I remember being VERY embarrassed to ask my mom for a bra. I noticed my boobs under my shirt and I was like, “I hope I’m the only one that notices…” Not until after high school did I come to terms and actually appreciate my breast size. I think the bra was a cotton candy pink triangle cup. That was pretty much the extent of it.
How did you decide what size bra to buy if you’d never been fit?
Good question…I probably picked whichever one had the coolest looking Tween on the front!
How would you define your style?
I would like to think of my style as the love child of an Easy Rider biker dude from the 1970s and Ellie Mae Clampett (Beverly Hillbillies).
You’re a pretty stylish girl. Have you ever felt you needed to compromise style because of your breast size?
I’m a tiny gal with big boobs. A lot of people would think this is awesome, but not when it comes to picking out clothes. I have to consider something I like to call “daytime cleavage”…nothing too tight or showy for work. Granted, I can’t be expected to wear a giant sweatshirt all the time (I’m sure my mom would prefer I would) but fit has to be considered. Definitely forget the button down shirts. Bathing suit season is another topic. My friend who makes them custom fit (Bone Feather) finally set me straight. There was nothing to be found off the shelf.
Did you think there were better options for bras out there?
I had no idea there was something that would fit me until I had my bra consultation. Honestly, I was just used to poorly fitting bras.
Now that you’re in the right size, what is your favorite part of having the right size?
I feel my boobs match my petite body frame. My clothes fit more smoothly, not to mention, they were instantly slenderizing (seriously).
Will lingerie play a bigger role in your overall style now?
The bras made for my t-shirts will be the most appreciated! I might want to revisit those that I put in the “When I Lose Weight” closet because I feel a good-fitting bra is instantly slimming.
What would you tell someone struggling with their blessed bust?
Like my mom always said, “People pay a lot of money for those!”
"I wanted boobs so badly and then it was like POP."
NYC, New York
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I work as a corporate event planner. The other side of me is a bit more artistic—my best friend calls me a semi-professional amateur photographer, but in the past year my day job has taken over a lot of time, so I don’t pick up my camera as often as I used to.
You’ve taken some beautiful photos, including yourself. Would you say you have a positive body image?
No, I wouldn’t say I have a positive body image at all. I would definitely say that I think I can look good but I don’t wake up in the morning and say “oh DAMN i look good.” I have to try to make myself feel that way. I’ve always struggled with my body. I’m 30 years old and I weigh 100 pounds. Most people always tell me to shut up and not to worry about it and how they wish they had bodies like mine, but the truth is dressing for my body is NOT easy at all and was especially hard when I was younger.
You’ve mentioned you were a later bloomer.
I wanted boobs so badly and then it was like POP. I don’t ever remember wearing a training bra. I remember one day suddenly just needing to wear a bra. And of course they didn’t make bras in my size, so I went a number of years with a lot of back pain. Even to this day I still don’t own that many bras. I think I buy about 3/4 every other year and I just rotate through them.
Do you still have difficulty finding the right bras for you body?
Ha. You have no idea. How often do you see a size 28F Bra? Actually I don’t even know if that’s the right size anymore… it’s been awhile since I bought a new one. I actually get depressed when I have to go bathing suit shopping. Who decided that everyone was small on bottom was also small on top? I LOVE when stores sell separates. But even then it’s rough. The one bathing suit I wear the most I bought in 2003…sad.
Do you have certain fit criteria when shopping for intimates?
I just want it to be comfortable and fit. At this point in my life I’ve given up on ever being able to wear a matching set. I’m convinced they don’t exist for people like me. It’s just something practical at this point. I’ve never been given the chance for it to be “sexy” so I don’t think I’ve ever looked at it that way.
Have you been able to explore underwear and bra wardrobing?
Sigh, no. I’ve got my cotton undies and my bras that fit me. There is nothing else in my wardrobe. I’ve even tried buying a cute nighty before…waste of money, I’m too embarrassed to wear it even in front of my boyfriend, who I live with! It just makes me feel like i have droopy ugly boobies. If the girls already hang this low, I can only imagine when they’ll look like in another 30.
Even though you struggle with your body, are you more comfortable in your skin than before?
I hate showing my boobs off although I will admit I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but I think I’ve just gotten better at finding things that fit me better which is the only reason I’m okay with it.
Can you tell me about your art and photographing the human body? What you love about it?
To be honest I never really thought about it…I really enjoy photographing myself, as narcissistic as that sounds. But I think that’s because it allows me to dress up and be a character that I wouldn’t be comfortable being in front of everyone else. There is too much stigma in this world, if you’re corporate you have to be one way or another. I say poppy-cock. I like putting on a wig and dressing myself up, it’s actually given me a a lot more confidence.
Even though you struggle with your body, are you more comfortable in your skin than before?
YES! I’m sounding like a bit of a downer, but that’s not the case. I’ve finally actually gotten to a point where I can embrace my body, love it for what it is and through my artwork find a way to express myself. I’ve learned how to see myself in a light that isn’t negative and like it for what it is.
What would you say to other women or men struggling with body image?
Love who you are and don’t let others get you down. I started my 365 project of photographing myself everyday and it’s what made me look at myself differently. I enjoy myself now. Yes it’s still hard find clothing sometimes, but I am who I am and I have no plans to change the skin I’m in.
"… I honestly thought God was mad at me for altering my body."
Can you tell me a little about your upbringing?
It was very conservative. I had 3 brothers and most of my upbringing was taught about being a girl—canning and cooking and cleaning and boy’s jobs were lawn mowing and taking out the trash. There were certain traditional roles that the girls did and the boys did.
How old were you when you started singing?
Did you sing locally?
My dad had a love for music. It was just in him and they were southern people. His dream was to go to Nashville and make it in country music. That was what he always wanted. We sang for everything, any competition, school talent night, he made sure we were in all that stuff.
What were you called?
Small Fries at first.
Then we became the Smith Family Singers.
And you started traveling around?
I can’t remember ever going to a high school basketball game because we were never home.
When you were singing, did you feel pressure to look a certain way?
I was pressured to look a certain way by the time I was little. Even my dad said if you don’t stop eating, you’re going to look fat like Annie May Hicks. So I always had this idea of what I should look like. I was a really chubby little kid and I knew I didn’t want to be fat. I was so completely embarrassed of my body that I didn’t have to shower with the other girls. My PE teacher let me go in and shower before everyone else and get out of there before anyone could see me. That’s the honest truth.
Was there someone you thought a woman should look like?
A Barbie. Barbie dolls. Long legs, thin waist, nice, nice boobs. When I was growing up, like pre-teens, these were the measurements 36-24-36. Everybody wanted that. And when I was in high school I had the 36 inch hips, the 24 inch waist. Did not have the boobs, did not have the coke bottle boobs.
When did you decide you wanted implants?
My husband bought me an outfit for Christmas. I can tell you exactly what it looked like. It was beautiful. It was black. It was a 2-piece, like a suit. It had a look of leather but it was actually fabric. It fit perfect. The skirt fit perfect. I put that on. The front was just…gappy. It was ridiculous. Honestly, that’s when it happened. I thought—I am done. I don’t have to put up with this. I don’t have to look like this. And I am done.
Can you tell me about your initial surgery? How did you find your doctor?
He had been on Oprah. He was from Des Moines and I thought if he is this talented then I want him to do me (and of course I had no idea this was how it would turn out). [Laughs] I honestly thought this could be perfect. And I had a couple friends, they had awesome results. I thought this could be a piece of cake. And it was worth it to me. I actually borrowed money. I didn’t have the cash in hand. I made payments. I didn’t do it so other people would look at me. I did it so that I could put clothes on and feel like a woman.
Do you think that’s what you hated most about not having breasts?
Yeah, I don’t think at this stage in my life I would necessarily feel that way but when you are a 25, 35 year old woman and you and your husband still have a healthy, sexy life, you want the whole ball of wax. You know what? I used to make love to my husband but I’d always wear a t-shirt. I never wanted him to look at my breasts.
So he must have been excited for you to—
I think he must have been really happy! [Laughs]
Talk about the surgery. What happened?
So I had the surgery. I did not expect as much bruising as I got and the breast tissue was so swollen, I had no idea. But they had warned me that that’s just part of it. But the second night there was so much pain, I couldn’t lay down. When I got up to use the bathroom, I passed out and fell against the kitchen table and that broke everything inside loose. I had to go back to Des Moines then.
Did you know it had ruptured?
No, I didn’t. It almost felt like something in my belly was real jellyfish and that was blood.
What happened during the second surgery?
They took everything out of that breast. Completely cleaned everything up and redid it. But what happened is scar tissue formed and caused that implant to go up real high so they literally had to take both of them out again and redo the scar tissue area. Then I never had any trouble with them again. The only thing is I am numb. Both of my nipples are numb.
You’ll never get that back?
No, that’ll never come back. But I’m going to tell you the truth—to me, feeling or not, I’m still glad I did it. I still like having boobs.
What helped you cope after the two surgeries?
Because of my upbringing, I honestly thought God was mad at me for altering my body. I started to feel really bad that I had done it. Dave Wilson came to visit me in the hospital and he said, “Brenda there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus so forget it.” And from that moment on I thought, you know, what is the difference then? Putting braces on crooked teeth, having lasik surgery so can you see, what’s the difference? I wanted breasts.
Did it take you a while to adjust to your new body or did you love it right away?
I smiled every time I looked at those boobs. It was the first time I bought matching bras and underwear and it was so fun…and I know Dan loves it when I look good. Sometimes he makes comments, “Boy your cleavage looks really good today.”
Anything you would say to other women wanting breasts?
I knew all my life I had been way smaller than other girls. And I kept thinking when is this going to happen and I even had women in the beauty shop say when you have that first baby, your breasts will get a lot bigger. Well I had the first one and that did not happen. And then I had a lady say when you go through menopause, your breasts will get huge. And I said who cares in menopause? I want them now.
I’m a firm believer. I hope that any woman who feels this way about herself, I say “go get em!”