Fill out or fit in
The whole store discourages critical thinking: the intoxicating, highly sexualized imagery, the fully 90 decibels of upbeat, spend-all-your-money music. Normally I walk in to La Senza with a list and a plan, believing I am invulnerable to their silly marketing charade. Yet this time I had a real insight into a covert body-image message.
I was in the market for a couple of new bras and I was perusing the “lightly lined” section (the bras without a push-up). They didn’t seem to offer my size in lightly lined bras. At all. I confirmed my suspicions with the sales lady, who suggested I check out the push-ups. The store had one measly section of non-push-up bras for girls with a smaller bra size. Checking out the push-up bras I noticed something else. They didn’t offer the largest sizes with a push-up. Apparently, that would make those breasts too large.
I believe there is an unspoken normative judgment at play here. The message is that there is a single narrow range of acceptable ways to present your breasts, so that you can be sexy and worthy of sexual attention. Girls with small breasts should really be wearing a push-up, and girls with large breasts shouldn’t make them any larger -- if they want to be sexually attractive, that is. The store shows you an ideal, and gives you the tools you need to fill out or fit in to the norm.
My worry is that these kinds of unspoken messages discourage critical thinking in young girls. I worry that girls with small breasts will feel ashamed of them, and feel the need to hide them behind thick padding, and I fear that girls with large breasts will feel they cannot wear a push-up if they so desire. This was the case for me. I knew early on that girls of my size were supposed to wear a push-up.
And why is it that this sexual fashion is the mainstay of this store? Most women have breasts, many women choose to wear bras, but not all women care about being sexy. Maybe we want to purchase nice-looking underwear without being bombarded with media messages - such as those upheld in the store’s “beyond sexy” line.
A lot of women walk into this store, and I’d bet many leave feeling a little worse about themselves than when they entered. These women pick up the messages that their worthiness as women is in their sex appeal, and sex appeal looks like this: thin, young, beautiful, white, with perky yet large breasts dressed in attractive lingerie. If you don’t meet the criteria, you’ll know it. You might even be coerced into making your breasts appear larger, or discouraged doing so even if you want to.
Breasts are an important part of a woman’s body, and we should be offered a full range of options so as to choose how to dress ourselves in a more self-determined way. This subtle option-limiting move on the part of La Senza is just one of many shaming media messages I saw that day. I think it’s less important that people boycott the store, and more important that we all begin thinking critically about these tacit messages in every store in the mall.
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