Monday, November 14, 2011

Guest Post: Body Images Issues as a Foreigner

(I hope you all enjoy this guest post from June of the awesome new blog Braless in Brasil as much as I did! Be sure to check out her blog as well.)

I want to first thank Brittany for letting me write a guest post here.  Her blog was the first one that I found that really discussed body image, bras, and finding clothes when you're curvy and it was like a breath of fresh air to me. :)

 I could write a book on body image issues.  Growing up with large breast while never having any great examples on how to find a well-fitting bra and dress my figure, really did a number on me.  However, I think the worst experience that I have had to date came from shopping in Brazil.

 Before I get to that, let me give you a quick background.  My husband, daughter, and I moved to Brazil earlier this year.  Also, for over a year now I have been in the process of losing a significant amount of weight (as of right now I'm over 60lbs down). I've lost 20lbs of that weight since moving to Brazil.  Because of that I desperately needed some new clothes and bras, enter the horrible shopping trip. 

We're lucky enough to have a mall close by with a ton of lingerie shops in it.  I thought for sure I'd be able to find something there (or at least be pointed in the right direction of a specialty shop).  NOPE.  I entered the first store, Marisa Lingerie (basically, the Victoria's Secret of Brazil), and after briefly talking to a sales clerk it became immediately obvious that bra shopping in Brazil would prove to be impossible.  It turns out that bra sizing here is done by assuming everyone is a B cup and they simply increase the band size.  So according to my bust measurements I should be a "50", however, the corresponding band size with that bra fits a 36.5-38 inch underbust, which would dwarf my 31" underbust. 

However, I was determined to find something that would fit so I went home and scoured the internet for anything.  It turns out that two brands: Hope and Liz have recently introduced cup sizes but the largest I've been able to find was an "F" cup.  Still, I wanted to try it on for myself so I found a Lingerie shop close to the mall that carried both brands.  When I went there not a single salesclerk could answer any questions about the bras.  They also didn't even have a changing room so you could try on the bras. I ended up putting it over my shirt just to see, yeah, even with another bra  on already I could see that I would be sporting a pretty great quadraboob look if I were to purchase that one.  I think at that point the message really hit home that I was monstrously huge and wouldn't be able to find a good supportive bra at all.  I remember the sales lady even giving me a strange look and kept asking if I was sure if the bra didn't fit.

I still had some hope, though.  Hope at least that if I couldn't find a bra, maybe I could at least find some shirts that fit!  I was feeling pretty good about my loss and I knew that I was definitely out of plus-sizes in terms of pants  so I thought I'd be able to pick up some shirts at the very least.  Oh, how wrong I was!  After visiting many, many stores at the mall it become obvious that in Brazil the bust is cut even smaller than in the US.  Most non-plus-sized stores carry up to a 44 or 46 (roughly US sizes 10 or 12/14) so I grabbed clothes in size 42-46 and ran to the dressing stores.  Nothing fit.  In any of the stores.  Occasionally, I could find a size 46 that would at least let me button it up all the way (or zip it up all the way or pull it down over my bust) but the waist would be huge in comparison.  I could get into either a 42 or 44 pants just fine but tops were a complete no go. I have to admit that I teared up a bit in one of the dressing rooms after what felt like the millionth top didn't fit.

Between the bra problems and the shopping trip, I got the idea that I was freakishly huge compared to the average Brazilian woman, even after losing all that weight!  Boy did my ego take a hit.  I had gone in full of confidence and left with the thought that even if I get to my goal weight, I'm never going to be able to just buy clothes here. Never.  A lot of my insecurities from high school where I was never able to find clothes that fit right and I couldn't wear the same trends as my friends resurfaced.  I just felt like I was built like a freak.  It's amazing after all these years how quickly these thoughts can resurface even when you're old enough to know better!

It really did get me down for awhile.  It didn't help that I was still wearing my old too big clothes that covered up all my hard work from weight loss.  Eventually, though, I decided enough was enough and I needed to do something about it.  First I started really looking at other women on the street, I saw how their bras and clothes fit and it became pretty obvious that I WAS NOT ALONE! Even women who looked incredibly put together were sporting the 4-boob look and had bands inching up to their necks.  Other women were busting out of their tops that were clearly meant for someone with a B cup, not a G cup.  Even websites that supposedly sold bras in larger sizes showed pictures of models with very, very badly fitting bras.  Even though I really felt sorry for these women who must be dealing with a lot of back pain, it came as a huge relief to me that I wasn't a freak here but I had the same problem that so many other ladies had. 

Then I found out about Brazilian plastic surgery vacations.  The bra fitting problem is significant enough that women are choosing to do breast reductions to be able to fit into the bras here rather than finding bras that fit them.  Breast reductions are so common here (and cheap) that women actually come from the states and take a "cosmetic vacation".  It turns out Brazil has the highest per capita of plastic surgery and breast reduction is the most popular type of plastic surgery here (surprise, surprise!):
Cosmetic Surgery Abroad. Cosmetic surgery's popularity is spreading throughout the developed world. South Korea has the highest ratio of cosmetic surgeons to citizens worldwide, but Brazil has the most cosmetic surgical procedures per capita. ... In Brazil, breast reduction is more popular.[7]
From (see Grobman P. Vital statistics. New York, NY: Plume Books; 2005.). It seems crazy that it's easier for women to pay for surgery than it is to find well-fitting clothes and bras!

Finally, I came to the conclusion that I CAN do something about this.  I don't have to sit around in old bras that don't fit well and clothes that look horrible on me.  I started researching and looking at sales.  My husband is traveling to the states next month and I've already ordered a number of bras and shirts ahead of time so that I can hopefully find something that fits me.  I've also ordered some bras from Ewa Michalak.  I'll have to pay some pretty costly customs fees for them but it will be well worth it to find my size.  Due to the costs of well fitting bras/clothes, I'll probably have to make do with a lot less but it's worth it having things that fit well. 

I also started reading blogs from other busty girls.  The first one I came across was Thin and Curvy and it really was an amazing experience to read about someone who had really BTDT when it comes to ill-fitting bras, hard to find clothes, and body image issues.  It was such a relief to know that these issues were real and not something to just be dismissed because I was "too fussy".  Another thing that I've started doing is getting some of my old outfits tailored.   Thankfully, alterations are relatively inexpensive here so it's something I plan to do often!

I do have at least some good news to report.  I have found a few clothes since that horrible shopping down.  I made a great score at a local consignment shop.  This dress:

It does still have some gaping but is infinitely better than most.  I plan on taking it in and have the waist taken in and see if she can let out the bust a bit (or at least sew an extra button there).  Sorry for the wrinkles, I haven't had a chance to iron it yet. I also found this dress at C&A, which really was an incredible find!

The material is very stretchy, which is why it probably works.  Again, the bust still has a slight gap but I think I'm going to take it in soon to get an extra button put there as well as have the waist taken it on this one also.  I have to admit this find really did give me a huge confidence boost.  It's amazing how something so little can drastically change your mood!


  1. I just want to say, I feel your pain! At 17 I was an exchange student to Austria. Due to a thinner population and what I think is just a different average body shape there, I felt enormous. Most of the girls in the class were a US size XS-S, and I found about 2 pairs of jeans the entire year due to that same smaller sizing scheme.

    I'm also very busty, and at the end of the year a friend revealed to me that the class had thought my boobs were fake. It hurt to think that my body was so different, it must be artificial!

    It hurt, but in the end, finding good resources online helped me get the clothing I needed, which fit. I really hope you can find those in Brazil.

    P.S. Earlier this month, I also ordered some Ewa Michalak bras, and they're the best I've ever tried on. If they don't boost your confidence a little, I don't know what will. ;)

  2. Oh my, I'm so happy I found this blog! I am from Finland and my measurements are 43-26-43. Also, I'm just 5'1 and I have pretty narrow shoulders, so I find it really hard to find any nicely fitting clothes. All the clothes in shops are made for women who are 7 to 8 inches taller than me and who have a totally different body shape. Knowing that other people have to face this problem too is really helpful. :) Thanks!

  3. Oh no . . .Dont get Down . . .You're great/ Meravigliosa wearing those dresses!
    Dear June, Brittany . . . Aurè the Italian Artist says:Busty Girls are Amazing/Bellissime. . .they're Goddesses of Beauty!
    Stay Happy, stay Proud of your Big Boobs
    Ciao dall'Italia

  4. Hannah Jean- I'm sorry that you had that experience. That couldn't have been easy dealing with the assumptions of the other students.

    I have made a point of ordering a lot of clothes online and I'm lucky enough to have friends and family who visit often enough who bring them with to Brazil. :) It definitely helps to keep me sane!

    Oh, and I actually reviewed my order of Ewa Michalak bras recently. Unfortunately, both were too big for me (although one was a close enough fit that I was able to alter it instead of having to return it). I'm currently waiting on another shipment with the hopes that the sizes are right this time around.

  5. Anonymous- you definitely aren't alone! It really can be a struggle to deal with body image issues when you can't find clothes in your size and everyone around you has such a different body type. I hope you've been able to find brands locally or online that suit your body type!

  6. I'm sorry you feel this way. , I'm Brazilian and althought I agree that it's harder to find above F cup sizes there are great brands and it's not true people seek cosmetic surgery because of fitting issues. We have the best doctors in the word and like Argentina, Mexico and even some places in Us .. It's a body contious country. We also have the most spend in gyms and a fit nation. I'm a DD btw... Don't let your bad experience interfere on how you feel .

  7. House of Pinheiro- If you have any brands you'd like to recommend I'm all ears! Seriously! I have yet to find a bra above an F cup here. :( Right now I'm probably something like a 30GG/H. I'm definitely open to shopping locally (I'd actually prefer it if possible) but as you can see from my post I haven't had much of any luck. Most of my friends/relatives are quite small breasted or have had a boob job themselves.

    As for the cosmetic surgery, unfortunately, it's just what I've seen in terms of friends/relatives. Obviously, it's not always the case (I'm sure readers aren't coming away from this with the idea that all Brazilian women have had breast reductions!!!) but it is true that statistically speaking Brazil has the highest number per capita of plastic surgeries and that the most common surgery is breast reduction. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if at least some women were doing it because of fitting issues (and issues like back pain can sometimes be alleviated with a proper fitting bra). It certainly happens in the US and UK too. Appearance can be part of it too, it's a pretty complicated issue that normally can't be pinned on just one factor.

  8. Thanks for sharing your story! I'm 5'3, and granted I AM overwieght, but I have a HH cup, and it was a J/K when I was breastfeeding! I have to admit, I would love to take a "cosmetic vacation" to Brazil :(

    Brittany - Where can you get a supportive bra that will LAST that DOESN'T look like an old lady should be wearing it in a size 36/38 HH for less than $100?

  9. June, you are so not alone! I wonder, do you read Portuguese? I ask because I read an article (in English) awhile back about the terrible state of clothes sizing in Brasil. Apparently the retailers have made clothes smaller and smaller and most Brasilian women can't fit into them either. It led to an epidemic of eating disorders. This was a few years ago, and some people were arguing for legislation that would standardize clothing sizes. You might be able to find some stuff in the Brasilian media about that.

  10. Hannah- I too was up to a K cup while breastfeeding! Thankfully, they've gone down a lot since then but oh man, I shudder when I think of my old nursing bras (also because they never had band sizes small enough for me so I had to go up a couple of band sizes too).

    mycurves- I do read Portuguese, but am not 100% fluent. I'll definitely look around for some more information on that. I have to say that the clothes run about a size or two smaller than European sizes. Right now I can fit into some of my pre-pregnancy clothes that are a German size 40 but here in Brazil I wear more like a 42 (sometimes going up or down a size depending on brand). Some of the more expensive malls have "plus-sized" stores, they start at sometimes as low as a size 38 (so about a US size 6 or 8)!!!!!

  11. Yeah, I know how bad that is... I have always had the "I must be huge" problem. Actually, in the brazilian equivalent of a prom, I didn't even wear a dress, since it has always been such a depressing experience.
    Besides being a G cup, my breast started growing pretty early, and it was SO DIFFICULT to find myself bras. Not only because I didn't know how to fit myself or because in Brazil eeryone assumes you're a B cup, but because of the faces people made when a clerk would ask what size would you need and a 13yo would ask for a 44(something like a 38D). They would look at me like I'm totally out of my mind and say I should try the smaller one, just to be sure. And I, a 30G, would end up in a 36D.
    For that reason, I had always had body image issues, and even thought of breast reducing!
    Oh, and I never wore bikinis from ages 12 to 17. Ever. I had this sports tops size XXL that would cover me up.
    When I went as an exchange student to Finland, I found out(really, I had NEVER heard of anything this fantastic) that bras WERE made with different cup sizing for each band sizing! Of course, the largest I could find was a DD, but certainly a good start!
    Now I buy my lingerie through the internet, lingerie that finally fits me! I still struggle on the shirt matter, but it's getting better. Now I can finally be proud of my breasts :)

    And also, about the other sizings in Brazil, pants are CRAZY! It's really retarded sizing. Getting better, though.

  12. Psycho- I'm so sorry to hear about your experience. :( I can only imagine how hard that had to be growing up. While I know I was in a very poorly fitting bra growing up (I wore a 36C and was 32lbs lighter than I am right now where I'm currently wearing a 30GG/H), at least I had cup sizes!

    I've had the same experience with people trying to tell me that "you're not that big" or "why don't you just by this", when it clearly didn't even remotely fit me. I'm glad to hear that you were able to find bras, though! That does give me hope. Sometimes I dream about opening up an online lingerie shop here but then I'd have to quit my job (something I really don't want to do).

    I haven't had to buy any pants here yet. I've tried going shopping for capris without any lucky (I kept getting too much gapping in the back!). Any tips on finding good clothes here?

  13. June - lovely article!
    I always enjoy your postings.

    I hope you'll find some nice clothing soon! If you're husband travels to the US soon, maybe he can pick up some Levi's Curve ID Jeans? I heard that they are rather inexpensive (compared to europe) and the sizing calculator on the Levi's Website does work pretty well.

    All the best to you!

    @Hannah Jean

    I am from Austria and I'm really sorry about what happened to you!
    You're right, it seams that austrian teenage girls are rather thin. It was hard for me, even being an "average sized" girl when growing up.

    The bra-situation used to be horrible around here too, but it starts to develop now!

    greets, denocte

  14. Good for you, and you look great!

    I recently visited Brazil (Rio) and noticed (as you did) that women of all shapes and sizes were stuffing themselves into one-size-fits-all clothing. I ungenerously assumed that it was a part of their collective "fashion culture" to wear something tight at all costs - not that more appropriate sizes simply weren't available. Luckily, there is the internet/online shopping, and blogs like this one!

  15. denocte- Thank You! Actually, I have tried some Levi's Curve ID jeans, you can see my review here:

    They really are lovely jeans but, unfortunately, with my weight loss they're now too big for me. :( I can buy more locally but they're about 3-5x the price, arg!

    Maia- you know, Latin countries really get ripped on a lot in the states for the women wearing too-small clothing. I always wondered about it too. My mother-in-law and I were talking about it once and she thought it was normally because women had gained weight but couldn't afford larger clothing. However, I don't think it's that either because I've seen women who are clearly well-off in ill-fitting clothing. I think a much bigger part of it is that clothing manufacturers just don't hardly make any clothing in the larger sizes and if they do it's both very frumpy looking and very expensive. I've always thought that a store like Lane Bryant/Torrid or even a non-specialty store that carries plus-sized clothing (like Old Navy) would do amazing well here. However, it's been my experience that anytime brands come from abroad the clothes immediately become massively overpriced (like Levi's, 5 times the original price if not more than that...).

  16. This sounds so much like me! Only we're supposed to have different cup sizes here ;) I just sew my own tops so no gaps for me ... but try finding a 28F/G (no double letters) bra. What you could do is buy a bra with a fitting cup and shorten the under bust band A LOT. It's a really simple operation (pun intended) and you can even do it by hand. As long as the bridge isn't way too big that is. Why do manufacturers assume, that large busted women with small rib cages still have a large gap between their breasts?

    BTW: You're looking great!
    BTW2: I'm so happy to have found fellow "sufferers" :)

  17. Butterfly, thanks! I'm jealous of your sewing skills. I'd actually love to get a sewing machine and make my own clothes but I just don't have the time or money at the moment, it'd be fun, though!

    I've definitely shortened a number of bands before but I don't get the same fit. It tends to widen the cups, which is pretty much the opposite of what I need (I need narrow, deeper cups). However, it's definitely gotten me through some pinches!

    Oh, and I have no clue about the gap between! I just don't get that at all. I have very close set breasts to the point that plunges don't work at all for me. I wish I could just afford to get all my bras custom made, sigh...

  18. Best essay that I've ever found dealing with the misery that is "Why doesn't anything fit me?!" :

  19. I used to work with a girl who was absolutely gorgeous - beautiful face and a killer nubian figure. However, her waist was so tiny and her rear very large in comparison. She had to sew most of her bottoms because of her unique shape, so she became a very skilled seamstress.

  20. Haha, that post is precious for me. I always read your blog, although I am a petite girl, since I really like the things you show here. I am brazilian and I can relate to your post, but quite on the opposite side.
    I hate how clothes and lingerie here assume that we are all the same size in height, weight, measurements. You felt too big and I feel like a malnourished kid. I am really short, with tiny ribcage, small breasts, waist and normal hips, so people would think: "Well, if everything is tiny, then it should be easy to find something, right?". But it's not.
    All I can say is that I feel your pain. I wonder if there is anything to do about it besides trying to maintain our self-steem or trying to change our bodies. I am hopeful since some brands are starting with the whole band x cup system other than the number system that assume that you have huge ribcage. Let's hope it'll improve soon.

  21. hi June

    Its not just Brazil, i'm in Chile and they look at me like im crazy when i ask for a 32F - some times they offer a 34D (its always beige and frumpy), other times they walk off. Most dpartment stores stock 34-36, B-C, some just B.
    Ive just started an online underwear shop here selling upto G, but rather than be a relief to women as i expected, its really hard to get people to accept theyre anything above a D-cup as they think it means theyre fat. Again, breast reduction surgery here is popular - whilst its frustrating for women like us who know what size they are but cant find it, when all you've ever seen in the shops is B and C cups and you need DD+, many women seem to feel embarassaed of their "freaky" body. It makes me sad to see so many blog posts of people saving up for years to reduce, what in the UK/US would be considered "normal size" breasts

    love the blogs ladies, keep up the good work!


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