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Dienstag, 10. April 2012

[English] Reversed Letterphobia and the 'War on plus-4'

Some of you might know, that I've been an active member of the Busenfreundinnen for a couple of years now. Busenfreundinnen.net is a german bra fitting community that offers general advice on bra fit, sizes, styles and brands, which includes the possibility to submit your measurements and 'online brafitters' will recommend a few sizes in order to help you to find a starting point for your bra quest. Since there are very few shops in Germany that actually stock 'exotic sizes' such as large cups and/or large or small bands, most of us heavily rely on online shopping. And when shopping online you have to have at least a vague idea where to begin with, as you can't simply order ever size available. ;-) 

However, as you can imagine it's pretty much guesswork to deduce a size from the five measurements we ask for. So our suggestions are always accompanied by the advice that finding the right size and style is something you can only achieve by trial and error. 

A main problem of the online fitting approach is, that most women do not have a clue how to recognise a properly fitting bra since they've never owned one. They are used to bands too wide and cups too small and often they're also kind of afraid of large cup sizes which they associate with Pamela Anderson boobs. They are troubled by the deeply rooted idea, that having to wear an 'exotic' size means being different from the 'normal' or 'ideal' women, or simply: not being beautiful. The Polish bra fitting community has coined the expression 'Letterphobia' for this irrational reaction to the suggestion of a D-plus bra size.

Many women who overcome this fear of abnormality tend to go from one extreme to the other. They just reverse their old habit of wearing bras that are too loose in the band and too small in the cup into buying bras that are too tight and too big in the cup. Sometimes this is due to an unconscious translation of the perception of their old size into the new and wider scale of sizes. For example, if you've been wearing a D-cup before the fitting, you think of your breasts as rather large and would go for a G-cup, which feels similarily big in your post-fitting-mindset.

This change of perspective is also fueled by the anxiety to repeat old mistakes and as a result a lot of problems concerning size are ascribed to known sizing problems, while - in reality - this is not the case. On the contrary. One good example is a center gore that is not lying flat against the breastbone: this can be caused by too small cups as well as by wires that are too wide and form a triangle. (It's hard to explain and even harder to illustrate. I tried drawing a picture but failed epically. Eventually you'll understand what I mean when reading on. *keeps fingers crossed*)

We've seen this phenomenon of - how we call it - Reversed Letterphobia in quite a few women over the years and I myself suffered from it for a while. So this posting goes out to all the over-enthusiastic girls and women who recently discovered bra fitting and are looking for their proper size!

So, how can you check if you've fallen victim to reversed letterphobia?

The first step is to check the wires of your bra:
Do you generally have the problem, that the wires are significantly too wide for you? 
In order to decide if your wires are just right or too wide/narrow, it is important to know where your breast tissue ends. Best thing is to lift your breast and push it a little to the side. Mark the line with an eyeliner or a similar pencil. Then, just like in a breast examination, feel for breast tissue beyond this line to make sure there are no glandular tissue outside the visible breast area. The wire should enclose all breast tissue!
While wires pressing into breast tissue can be uncomfortable and even dangerous to your health, wires that are too far way from the actual breast lead to a loss in stability of the whole construction, since it is vital for the support that the breast tissue fills the cup. If this is not the case, a lot of the uplift has to be achieved by shortening the straps which then take on too much of the breast weight. Plus, your band can appear to be too lose, because the wires artificially extend the length. (Same as a band can feel too tight when combined with cups too small.)

So, if your wires tend to be too wide, a consequential problem - besides the loss of support - might be the waste of cup volume to a part of your body where (in most cases) there are no boobs, meaning the area under your arms, while you lack the space in front and the breasts bulge over the cup. Sometimes this 'misplacement' of the breasts inside the bra even leads to the center gore being pushed away from the body which usually indicates a cup too small. The natural step seems to go up a cup size, and probably even down another band size, because you lose even more support because of the larger/wider cups.

As a consequence of this essentially wrong fit, a lot of unpleasant side effects show up, for example wires, that dig into armpits, sides or breastbones or are simply too long for the base/root of the breast, so they either poke into your arm or are not sitting properly under the breast but keep slipping downwards. Due to the lack of experience in properly fitting bras and to the fact that the new bras are way better than the bras they wore before, many women accept these problems as a kind of necessary evil.

To break the circle of letterphobia, I recommend the following steps:

★ Check out if your wires are distorted when wearing a bra. 
Using a bra extender might be useful. If there is excess fabric in your cups when wearing a bra with an extender, then you might consider wearing a smaller cup size.

★ Lengthen your straps. 
If you always go for the smallest adjustment (and are not exactely petite), you might reduce the volume of the cup significantly. Just as always using the full lenght of your bra straps might indicate a cupsize too small, the other extreme might hint on a size too large or a cup too deep. (I plan on writing a follow up on size problems concerning especially smaller or more shallow breasts.)

★ Place your breasts in the cups like they're meant to. 
The style and cut of a bra does not necessarily match your natural breast form. A lot of larger boobs are very close together, with a lot of volume to the front/center while most bras are constructed to push the bras to the side. While your breast tissue might not stay there, to check out the size and volume of the cup, it might be helpful to arrange your breasts like the bra wants them to be. For example pull them a little to the side. If your bra suddenly appears to be too big, its style simply does not fit you.
(For gores too wide and therefore non-fitting styles see the celebrated Boobius Maximus alteration.)

Of course not all of the problems mentioned above are signs for a case of Reversed Letterphobia. I only wanted to write a few words on the matter since I know that it poses a common problem. Especially if you have to rely on online shopping, it's impossible to try many different sizes so you probably will order only the size that usually fits best. This lack of comparison might result in the described misinterpretation of fit and size.

Is there a connection between Reversed
Letterphobia and The War On Plus-4?

Not necessarily of course! Plus 4 certainly cannot be considered a proper sizing method these days! But I'm still sceptical about the idea of using your underbust measurement as direct indication of your band size. This of course is only supposed to give you an approximate idea where to begin; but then enthusiasm sometimes tends to be a bit dogmatic and numbers in general seem to wield a kind of magical power... So if I'm reading something like "If you can close the band on the tightest hook right away its too wide" or "You measure 28 inches so you *have* to wear a 28 band" I grow a little wary.

Of course you should not have to wear a new bra on the tightest hook but simply that you could do it does not say anything, really. You should not go for the smallest band you're still able to close but for the band size you need to achieve proper support. I understand that sometimes it makes sense to chose 'conservatively', meaning when between band sizes going for the smaller one in order to get the most out of your bra. (I've also had styles that stretched so much over a couple of months that I could not wear them anymore.) But then you also have to take into account that bands will wear out faster if you constantely overstretch them.

Back to the numbers-problem:
At Busenfreundinnen.net we ask for two underbust measurements, the usual one which is to be made with empty lungs and the tape measure pulled tightly but without cutting into the skin, and then another one with the tape measure pulled as tightly as possible. One of the ideas behind this approach is to determine how 'squeezable' a person is.

The more squeezable a person is, the tighter the band can and probably should be as there seems to be 'natural padding' and this padding gives in to the band. But there are also very slim women, women with rather wide ribcages or simply a lot of muscle who are not squeezable at all. 

For example, testperson A measures 71cm (tight) and 67cm (supertight) which means usually you'd recommend a size 70 [EU] bra - which translates in 32 [UK|US]. This, of course, is much too wide. So unless A has rather large breasts, we would recommend trying a 65/30-band. A lot of women are pretty happy with that size - and it really does fit them!

Testperson B on the other hand measures 71cm (tight) and 63cm (supertight). This drastically increases the probability that only a 60/28-band will provide enough support. 

If we only take one measurement into account we would neglect the different bodytypes. While 28 inches equals a 28 band for person B, for person A it might be too small. The perspective of course is depending on the different sizing system: While in the continental system 80cm underbust usually translates into a band size 80, the hegemonic approach in anglophone countries is adding 4 to 5 inches to the actual measurement. So while we have to subtract to get the proper size, you simply stop adding. 

Transferred to our bra fitting system, this means subtracting 10 to 12.5cm from every tight measurement regardless of body shape. This results in recommending and wearing band sizes that are about two to three sizes smaller than usually advised - which works for some people and for others it doesn't.

Apart from (subjective and objective) squeezability it also depends on the size of your boobs.
The larger and heavier the breasts are, the more support they need, so a women with larger breasts probably has to wear a tighter band to get a proper fit than a woman with smaller boobs.

And then, last but not least the stretchiness and lenght of the band in question (styles and brands tend to differ a lot, as you all know) also determines which size might fit the best. Unfortunately there are a lot of styles around which go up to large cups (for example up to J) but are far too stretchy to support breasts as big.

So, put in a nutshell: Don't put too much trust in numbers and go for as much comfort as possible when deciding on a bra!

Thoughts, critique and spelling tips are highly welcome. :)

For an explanation what 'The War on Plus 4" is all about, check out Bra fitting : why are companies still ‘adding 4′? by Busts 4 Justice and similar postings in the english boobosphere.

Dieser Beitrag richtet sich vor allem an die englischsprachige Blogosphere, da es zum Thema eigentlich schon massenhaft Material bei den Busenfreundinnen gibt, beispielsweise unter Umkehrte Buchstabenphobie oder Das zu breite Bügel-Phänomen.  Bei Bedarf reiche ich gerne eine Übersetzung nach. :)

Lillefix: Great post!  
george: Glad you liked it, Lillefix. :)

June Brasil:
Hmm... I think the wire issue depends a lot too on your breast shape too.  For instance, I have narrow, deep breasts but very few brands carry my size (28J) so even though I know I need narrow wires, it's hard to find them in that size in bras that also have high center gores and more full-coverage because of my soft breast tissue.  So in the end I end up getting bras with wider wires because the ones with narrower wires often don't have a center gore high enough to prevent spillage towards the center (e.g. the sheer cup CK's, Freyas) whereas the Cleo that I recently tried was perfect with the center gore but the wires were too wide on the sides. 
I will say that at least in the larger cup sizes your band size can be pretty clear with it's correlation to pain in your back.  If I go up one size to a 30 band I get a back ache after wearing a 30 band bra for some hours whereas a 28 band doesn't do that.  I also have soft breasts and I've found that they seem to need a tighter band more than when I was younger and had firmer breasts (because they just tended to stay put more). 
I definitely agree that women have to try on bras and see what's the best fit, but I also want to point out that some women need to actually go down in band size from their underbust measurement (bra nightmares has found this often) and I know for myself I've experienced this too.  In my case I think it's part having a very squishable back and also part that my natural waist is larger than my underbust so it's hard to get a good measurement at the exact point that my bra band sits.  I measure 28" for my underbust pulled very, very tightly (about 29-30" loosely) yet in all my 28bands I can easily fit my entire hand underneath it without much effort. 
I think the moral of the story is try on as many bras close enough in your size as possible.  Unfortunately, that's not always the easiest thing in the world do to the limited size range almost everywhere you go with the exception of the UK and Poland.  :(  A commentor on my blog once suggested that it would be nice if companies would let you buy bra starter packages that included many bras in various sizes that you could try on at once and send back the ones that didn't fit.  They do this with cloth diapers and instead of charging the entire price at once they put a hold on your credit card and take it off after you return the ones you don't like.  I thought it was a great idea and it seems like they could even send some of those as slightly used bra too. :)  
First of all: Thank you for this superlong answer, June! :)

the wires:
You are right of course. It's difficult to find bras with fitting wires if you've got a very narrow breast base. I've often thought about trying to get professional wires in order to exchange the ones in the bra, since there are quite a few woman who have this problem.
BUT, and this was the point I was trying to make, many large breasted women think of wires that are too wide as a kind of neccessary evil *while* they are simply wearing the wrong sizes. I've seen this lots and lots and lots of times and I myself believed it too. The idea of the inescapability of wires too wide used to be everywhere so every newbie learned that is was a problem of production instead of (at least in many cases) the fitting. It was a very difficult step to put this dogma into question.
the band size:
Whereas I have to admit that back pain is a good index of the wrong size, the solution does not lies solely in the band.
When I got fitted for the first time, I got advice from women who could not really relate to my breast size (for which I do not blame them; it was just the theory of the time and they did everything in their power to help me). This convinced me that even in a bra fitting surrounding my boobs are considered huge. I immediately went for bigger and bigger cups but there was still spillage or the center gore was not reaching my breast bone. 
And then there was this overall feeling in the air that you should get a band that's so snug you can hardly close it. So I ordered some bras in 32JJ, 32K and 30K. 30K seemed to be okay. Certainly the straps seemed too long and the wires were a little wide but this was considered normal so I wore the size for about 9 month. Then two Busenfreundinnen came along who questioned the fit in a lot of women (Agnieszka from Only Her started the doubt and YSJ established the idea - against a lot of resistance). As a consequence I tried on three different sizes, 30K, 30JJ and 30J. I realised 30J was large enough for me cupwise. I wore it for a few days during which I suffered from poking wires and even little wounds where their ends dug into my flesh. I never had this problem before because the larger cup sizes appeared also to be wider in the band. >> And this is a very important thing to understand: how tight a band feels is connected to how large the cups are and not an absolute fact in itself.
I tried other 30J and 32HH bras which fit catastrophically - partly because the whole structure got stretched too much. Something you can - among other aspects - see in the way the wires nearly reach around to your back instead of enclosing the breast tissue properly. Earlier I would have guessed that the style just would not fit me but at this point I had already understood that fit also depends a lot on the right size. In the end even ordered 34H and understood that a bra can be supporting even without a very tight band as long as it is properly constructed for my breast size and form. You can see this for example by removing the straps and checking how much support you still have. There are some styles about that nearly are like strapless bras wheras others just seem to collapse the moment they loose the strap support.
The latter ones tend to cause back pain when I wear them a few days in a row. And I'm sad to say, that Ewa Michalak bras turned out to be torture instruments after a few days because their straps were too short for me- which were, on the other hand, responsible for the great, round shape the bras gave me.
Please, don't think that I want to question tight bands as such - I just want to point out that they can become a fetish and thereby cause a lot of unneccessary trouble.
My measurements are 32.7 inches (=83cm) measured in the usual way (empty lungs, tight tape measure) but I can squeeze myself to an incredible 29.5 inches (75cm) when I measure supertight. Most of the time, Panache bras such as Ariza or Sienna fit in a 34 band. I got some styles in a 32 band because my Cleo Lizzie stretched so much I can hardly wear them these days but I realised lately that better built bras don't wear out as fast. (Damn these two hook-construction of Cleo bras!)
Depending on the bra, my breasts are somewhere between 34H/HH and 32HH/J, so they're pretty heavy... and also rather soft and closely together. So I can understand your troubles with plunge styles...
I can absolutely relate to your idea of a starter kit!
It's extremely difficult to find your size and fitting styles via online shopping!
We try to give advice at Busenfreundinnen.net concerning styles to order first because they are known to be true to size and not very complicated. We also strongly suggest to get as many sizes and styles as possible in order to develop a feeling for the fit of a bra. But this unfortunately also means that you have to advance a lot of money.
A very useful item for finding your size which I recommend a lot would be a bra extender. While it's not the best of ideas to wear all of your bras with an extender (it also distorts the fit), it can give you an impression of a wider band size and if it would still be comfortable or already too loose.
BTW: If you don't own one, you could recylce an old bra. :)
... Okay, this is another posting... maybe I should copy & paste our comments in a regular blog post...

Scarlett Scarlett:
That larger-busted women need tighter bras is a good rule of thumb. I watched one of Linda's (the bra lady)  videos and she usually adds 3" for smaller busts, but not for larger busts. But how big should a woman's breasts be before she needs a tighter fit? DD? F? GG?
And that's interesting about squeezability; I never really considered it much before.
I'm struggling to understand the UK vs EU measurements, though. In your example, a woman has a tight measurement of 71cm (28") & super-tight measurement of 63cm (25"). She then ends up with EU60 or UK28. But shouldn't her UK band size be 24/26? Or do you use the tight measurement for UK sizing? *confused*
@June Brasil I love that bra starter pack idea!
I really think that you can't determine the band question theoretically in relation to breast size. It depends a lot on the bra style and also on the women. I've heard a lot of women with smaller breasts complaining about the wires rubbing and chafing when the bra is too wide.
I guess the idea of using your measurement to indicate your bra size relates to the tight measurement which is usally suggested: you measure yourself with the tape measure pulled tight but not cutting into your skin/muscle/fat while breathing out.
In the mentioned example this would be 28 inches. Normally you would add 4 to 5 inches to this measurement to get your size, a 32 band. 28 inches are 71 cm, so in European sizes this would suggest a size 70. 32 and 70 bands are the same size. Only the way of getting there is different.
However, experience has shown that 32/70 bands are too large for a women with these measurements. But this does not mean by implication, that it is absolutely neccessary to go to a 28 size band or even more!
Sure, bands are often longer than it seems prudent and also stretchier but this does not mean that vanity sizing is so bad these that *forces* you to go down two or more sizes!

scarlett Scarlett 
well, that's part of the whole sizing dilemma uk vs eu sizes. 28UK bands are about as tight as 60EU bands.
And that would be about the +3" that linda adds (great to know this btw!)
scarlett Scarlett:
Hmm...that's interesting. So what about larger-busted women — would you add 3" for them too?
no. But than it's really all about the body structure and squeezability, as george discussed in the article above.
I just wanted to say, that smaller breasts don't necessarily need bands as tight as big breasts.
I don't really "add" anything. I start thinking with the EU size and then go for the UK size.
Example: me. 68cm tight, 71cm not so tight, bust: 81-82,5 cm. I go for a EU 65 band. Then I know that a 65 band equals a 30 UK, so there's the bandsize. And then I start thinking about cupsizes.
If I had a larger bust I would maybe have to go for a 60/28 band to improve fit.
But that's my personal opinion :)
 It's always about finding what is right for you and not for everyone else. :) But sometimes this is harder than expected. So the more information you get, the better. ;)
My goal was simply to question the emphasis on the absolute neccessity of the measurement=bandsize-concept whereas I agree that plus-4 is not working.
Of course! I thought I made this clear earlier on.
The example above is just how I with my body would react if I had a larger bust ;)
 No disagreement on my side, dearest. I just keep repeating myself. Kind of parroty sometimes. :P
scarlett Scarlett:
Thanks for explaining it so clearly! I guess much of my confusion comes from the difference between the two sizing systems. So I guess it comes down to giving more weight to actually trying on the bras instead of relying only on measurements. :)
you're welcome :)
Yes, we can't stretch this point too much.
I know trying on bras is difficult if you always have to order from abroad first (been there, done that) but I think it's really worth it :)
Alina Schneider:
There's one thing I'd like to add to this  amazing post, wich should be showed around to get everywhere and be read by everyone. But back to the point: what I'm talking about is breathing. We all get measured with empty lungs, but measuring yourself in the full inhale might also be helpful to find out, how much can we really squeeze ourselves. I mean, we have to breathe, right? Some can inhale more air while the others don't. I almost fell into the reversed letterphobia myself, but as a choir singer I soon understood, how much air I really need and how much  space for air my bra gives me and it was the end of the actual 30 bands  for me measuring about 29 inch under bust.
The second thing is just a thought how happy we are with sizes put in centimeters, when the tag says 75 it means 75, while the British tag says 34 what actually means 29,5 or maybe about 30,5 sometimes. It makes everything so much easier!

Hey, ich bin george und schlecht darin, mich kurz zu fassen. Ich tummle mich mit multiplen Persönlichkeiten im Netz, einige kennen mich vielleicht unter meinem Terry Pratchett-Pseudonym. Zu meinen Hobbies gehört Nörgeln, Kaffeetrinken und Prokrastinieren. Mehr Persönliches gibt es im Jahresrückblick 2013 und auf meiner Vorstellungsseite. [x]


27. Mai 2013 um 10:45

I've noticed that a lot of larger women with 40+ measurements feel pressured to try a 40 band, or even 38. Larger bands are stretchy, but they are for a reason, it's not so people can wear a smaller band that doesn't fit.

27. Mai 2013 um 21:11

@Anonym Hi there. In my current job as a bra fitter I often encounter women who either take their measurement literally as an indication of their band size, for example if you measure 105cm underbust you have to wear a 105cm band (which is a 46 in UK/US-sizes) or, which is even more often the case, they choose even wider sizes which are, sorry to say, an awful fit. Most women choose bands that are too lose to provide proper support.
Then, on the other hand, bodies differ a lot - so its really hard to give advice that works for everyone, especially if you're not actually there to see and feel how the bra fits. :) So a little trial-and-error should give you an idea what kind of bra is right for you.

27. Juli 2013 um 13:21

Hi george, I've pinged you on a bra adventure on Bratabase about too big cups and why we get them, I hope you have some time to dig in. It's a slightly different theory from reversed letterphobia, but there are very similar issues :) http://www.bratabase.com/profile/3a1/adventures/2039/

I think it's very common in the Bratabase community and might be mistaken for reversed letterphobia, but in reality I think it's more about not being totally aware of ones shape and fit issues and especially not knowing which bras will work for it. And figuring that out takes some time :)

10. März 2014 um 00:35

I'm soo happy to see a post and blog like this! Plus four is not a general rule, it should depend on how far your roots (base) have extended from the usual position (closer to the shoulderblades than waist) of a person without much fat tissue (avg muscle). So it could be plus 2, or even 6. Underbust should definitely not be read as bandwidth with upper torso weight gain (adipose). Some amount of inches should be added so the band is not worn at the tapered part of the torso, necessitating more tightness due to lack of the support usually present with proper use of bra technology. Part of the reason why so many women are not getting proper support is they're wearing their bands closer to their waists than their shoulderblades. Bigger bands are for larger torsos right under the shoulderblades or upper ribcage, right above or on where the torso or ribs are largest, whether it be because of overweight or a large bone structure. People with more bone or muscle have the opposite problem, but generally not so extreme and should just use extenders. I agree really thin people might benefit from a slightly looser bandwidth, but only by 1 or two inches.

10. März 2014 um 00:50

I'm soo happy to see a post and blog like this! Plus four is not a general rule, it should depend on how far your roots (base) have extended from the usual position (closer to the shoulderblades than waist) of a person without much fat tissue (avg muscle). So it could be plus 2, or even 6. Underbust should definitely not be read as bandwidth with upper torso weight gain (adipose). Some amount of inches should be added so the band is not worn at the tapered part of the torso, necessitating more tightness due to lack of the support usually present with proper use of bra technology. Part of the reason why so many women are not getting proper support is they're wearing their bands closer to their waists than their shoulderblades. Bigger bands are for larger torsos right under the shoulderblades or upper ribcage, right above or on where the torso or ribs are largest, whether it be because of overweight or a large bone structure. People with more bone or muscle have the opposite problem, but generally not so extreme and should just use extenders. I agree really thin people might benefit from a slightly looser bandwidth, but only by 1 or two inches.

25. April 2014 um 18:10

Hi George, Great post. I am Varsha and I would be delighted if someone can help me out with my bra fitting woes. I live in Dresden, Germany. If 'busenfreundinnen' has an outlet/office somewhere in Germany, I would love to visit you guys. Otherwise, if you would rather have me send you my band and cup measurements, I can do that too. Please let me know how this can work for me. I would really really appreciate a reply... :)... thank you...

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