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Full Support: Lessons Learned in the Dressing Room

Full Support: Lessons Learned in the Dressing Room

by Natalee Woods


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Available for Pre-Order. This item will be available on December 3, 2019


Lingerie is the foundation for every woman’s wardrobe, but it’s also where we feel the most pressure to be beautiful—and feel the most shame at falling short of impossible standards. Concerns about our age, body type, family expectations, jobs, and romantic partners crowd into the dressing room with us. The result is a bra that fits other people’s standards instead of our own bodies.

As a bra-fitter at a high-end department store for more than a decade, Natalee Woods watched women bravely facing down their fears and embracing what worked for them. FULL SUPPORT shares their stories alongside judgment-free secrets for a good fit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781944995805
Publisher: Amberjack Publishing
Publication date: 12/03/2019
Pages: 300
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Natalee Woods holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from Washington State University and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the California Institute of the Arts. She has taught English Literature and Creative Writing in the public schools and at the college level. 

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My heart wouldn't stop pounding. I could feel my hands warm up as sweat settled into the creases. Women were running in every direction as the pianist's hospitable tune echoed throughout the store. Coffee and water bottles and colorful balloons strategically placed in every department gave the first day of the annual sale a little bit of friendly oomph — and the stamina for customers to keep their plastic out. Seasoned sales associates gathered around the escalator and clapped, welcoming more women as they rushed to collect their sale items before they were gone. I could hear children crying across the way in the kids' department as their balloons found their way to the ceiling, floating beyond reach.

"You can do this," I repeated over and over in my head, looking like a mortician worked on my smile. I stood beside a panty table and gazed out at the marble walkway at the number of women filling the third floor. I wondered how far I'd get if I hightailed it to the women's lounge to hide. It was absolute mayhem, the height of retail mania, and a shopaholic's dream come true. It was also seven o'clock in the morning — and my second day on the job.

When I had arrived the previous day at the human resource office less than twenty-four hours after receiving a call from the HR manager, Cindy, it was clear the store was still in the process of last-minute recruiting. Shimmying through the office door, I passed a group of Greek Row's finest sporting Ralph Lauren button-ups, fancy neckties, and Bartell's entire stock of cheap hair gel.

"Hi." I smiled awkwardly, moving in closer to the woman passing out paperwork. Staring at her pink, deep-set blush, I worked hard to find words as I stood fighting a whirlwind of nerves. "I received a call back from Cindy in regard to sale help." I anxiously approached the desk, eyeing a small jar of assorted mints and a glass plaque that read "Seattle's Customer Service Excellence."

"Yes, that was me." She smiled quickly while pulling out a legal pad listing the store's departments. "Let's see." She paused, skimming through a list of scribbled words after spelling my name out loud. "I've got a spot left in lingerie."

"Lingerie," I repeated, lowering my chin in confusion, wondering what happened to the process of asking about work ethic, or what makes a team player, or if I've ever killed anyone.

"We really need floor coverage. Are you comfortable working intimately with women?" she asked, moving her eyes along my protruding bustline and then down to the massive wrinkle in the knee-length satin skirt that I had pulled from the back of my closet. I nodded slowly, feeling horribly out of place.

"I, uh, sure," I stuttered, watching her pull a paper clip from a cluster of formalities.

"Great," she replied, guiding me to the chair beside her desk, next to a young man wearing an emerald-green bow tie who was ready to pass over his crinkled-up Social Security card.

Feeling doubtingly well-suited for the lingerie department, I sat motionless as the office continued to buzz with last-minute hires. After a moment, I started in on the paperwork, wondering what the hell had just happened, and how, in a matter of five minutes, I was somehow gainfully employed.

My parents would be thrilled — their welcome-home question when I returned from my freshman year of college had been if I'd found work yet. That was my first clue I wasn't going to spend my summer watching Days ofOur Lives and MTV. My father had pulled at his finely trimmed moustache, then raised his hand and rubbed the tips of his fingers together in an effort to show me the money. He did this often and continued to think it was amusing. My mother, on the other hand, as forgiving as she was, kept up with a steady don't ask me for a dime.

I faced the music and went straight for a high-end department store upon my mom's recommendation — and her desire for a discount — hoping to set up women with a new handbag or a nice pastel scarf. And now here I was in lingerie. I felt I was falling into a rabbit hole for which I was unprepared. But it was a job, and I didn't have time to be picky, considering the three dollars and sixty-seven cents in my bank account.

"Our annual sale lasts two weeks, but I know lingerie is looking to fill more hours," Cindy explained, turning to hand me a sheet of paper stating the store's dress code policy, followed by a thick packet on sexual harassment.

"Oh, okay," I replied, moving in closer to the desk, thinking about Cindy's question regarding my comfort level in the lingerie department. I had no idea what she meant. And as she watched me write down the numbers "1" and "9" on the application next to the word "age," silence quickly cut between us. I looked up to find her cheeks raised from a paralyzed smile.

"Keep moving," I heard my new boss say as she passed by with a stack of thong underwear and a twenty-ounce latte. I didn't know where I was moving to except under the green neon sign that said EXIT. These women were like vultures that had just been released from captivity, frantically pulling sale items off the racks while attempting to balance a jelly-stuffed pastry and a long stretch of careless indulgence.

"There's a customer who's been waiting in four," one of the sales associates snapped while holding a pile of bras. "Can you take her? Everyone already has more than one customer, and the other new girl never showed up."

"Oh, I'm only supposed to —" barely came out of my mouth before she interrupted me.

"At least see what she wants. We need you on the sales floor."

Wiping my palms down the front of my pants, I turned to look at the lines quickly forming at the registers. I could see my manager, her latte sitting on the counter as she manically waved a bright orange flag, guiding the next woman to step forward with a pile of sleepwear.

"How about some lingerie wash to go with that?" Her voice echoed, shrill and Valley-girl sounding. Quickly, I scoped the department for black and white clothing, hoping the other girls followed directions about what to wear on the first day of the sale as I had — and, more important, were willing to help me. But they all kept zipping by, balancing bras and panties and phony smiles. I suddenly started to regret my decision, falling victim to Cindy's line about "it's the only position I have left."

"Hi there," I said, standing in front of room four. "Did you need some help?"

"Yes," a stern voice replied from inside as the door creaked open. "I've been waiting for twenty minutes."

The smell in the dressing room was borderline unbearable, reminding me of dirty laundry coupled with the inside of one's belly button. My own contribution of fresh B.O. didn't help.

"I'm so sorry about the wait, ma'am," I said, staring directly into the portable fan she held inches away from her extremely large chest.

"I was hoping to be measured for a bra," she said dryly, suddenly taking off her shirt. "And I don't have much longer to waste."

"Sure, I totally understand," I stuttered. "I, uh, just need to grab someone who's certified."

"That's not necessary," she said, shaking her head while pulling a measuring tape from off a hook on the wall. "I just need an idea so that I can grab some sale bras and get out of here. I'll exchange them later if I have to."

"Sure, I totally understand," I said again, giving the classic deer-in-headlights look as I moved my gaze from the baby pink measuring tape down to her boobs pouring out of her bra like hot lava, and then back to the measuring tape. I didn't know what I was supposed to be measuring other than Xanax; the top of her rib cage was nowhere to be found.

That's when I realized my new job was a far cry from spreading foam over lattes or shelving children's books at the library.

Dripping sweat from my armpits, I took the tape from her hand and moved in closer, wondering if the Bra 101 tutorial my manager gave me the day before would somehow pay off. She had quickly educated me so that I had some idea of what went down in the department — pun intended. Her obscure lingo was scattered and full of words and phrases like "demi cups" and "elasticity" and "tension in the straps." I couldn't help tuning out, watching all of the department's little elves race around the stockroom in preparation for the shit show I was now a part of.

Once again, I was feeling like I should've revisited Seattle's classifieds after HR Cindy asked me straight-faced, while handing me a W-4, if I was "comfortable working intimately" with women. What Cindy was really asking was if I was comfortable engaging in skin-to-skin contact with a stranger and her breasts.

It was difficult to wrap my head around, as I was still learning about my own body. I wasn't remotely prepared to understand the significance of a woman's breasts — and the relationships women have with their breasts — and bodies. I started to feel a strange disconnect from my body by just being in the dressing room, thrust under the spotlight, and suddenly questioning every pale inch of flesh in front of me. My own set of sizable goods, also in the wrong bra size, had formed a new, lasting narrative I wasn't ready to dissect, let alone embrace in that moment. The intimacy was downright startling, and the exposure nerve-wracking. Some things I thought I sort of knew about my youthful parts were immediately up for negotiation. The abundance of mirrors and measuring tapes and size tags had me drowning in more self-reflection than ever before. I was just as lost as my customer when it came to what I needed for my body — and my mind.

Holding onto the measuring tape, I tried to figure out where to stand.

"Again, I just need an idea on size," she said, pulling down the straps of her bra before unhooking it and throwing it in the chair next to her purse. "I think I'm somewhere around a 40 or 42 band."

"Oh, okay," were the only words I could conjure up as I stood staring at her nipples.

With my hands trembling, I tried wrapping the measuring tape under her breasts, cocking my head to the side in an attempt to view its position. "I'm sorry," I said, my voice cracking. "I'm going to need you to lift up your breasts so I can place the tape around you."

After I thought I had succeeded, I moved in closer to read the measurement, realizing that the dark bolded numbers standing out from their pink backdrop were upside down, and that my impatient customer was watching me in the mirror, her eyes dark brown and tired. Taking a step back, I stood in silence, staring at large crowds of brown moles and stretch marks. All I could do was stand there, flustered and mortified, choking on air.

I needed help.

"I'm sorry," I finally said again, quickly peeling the tape from around her ribcage and out of the deep rolls in her back. "I couldn't read the numbers."

"I saw that," she replied dryly, nodding her head, while her eyebrows, thick with tinting, sprung up as if they alone finally registered that she was in the hands of a novice.

Inhaling slowly, I wrapped the measuring tape deep under her flesh for a second time. Her boobs warmed the backs of my hands as I continued to stretch my arms as far as they could go without eating her hair. I held my breath while screaming at myself inside that I should have told her to leave her bra on. I just stood there, cemented in the middle of the dressing room like the Tin Man. The vulnerability we shared was difficult to navigate. I needed out of the dressing room fast.

Something started to happen to my body temperature, as it went from hot to cold in the snap of a finger. The three-way mirror started caving in, and everything around me went fuzzy, except for the two extremely large boobs resting on the skin of my forearms.

What's happening?

"I believe you're closer to a 42 band like you said." I hesitated to reveal my findings, looking down at the wet fiberglass, attempting to identify the numbers above the black lines.

"I'd like to try, what's it called, the Feather Light?" she asked, reaching for the doorknob.

"I have no idea," I responded, hoping I looked like I was smiling. "I need to have someone come back to help me with the cups."

I closed the dressing room door and headed for the sales floor, pushing through a long line of women waiting to try on their sale items. The department smelled like a mix of coffee and perfume, clogging my airway even more, though I would've inhaled anything outside of the dressing room at that point. I looked all around for my manager, but she was nowhere to be found.

"Would you mind helping me with my customer?" I asked one of the salesgirls at the register, looking over her shoulder to find Cindy from HR waving her thumb in the air at me while passing by the department with a plate full of pastries.

"I can't, I'm with two customers," the girl replied in a slow, steady tone, pretending to regret that she was abandoning me and my obvious desperation.

"Great," I muttered under my breath, walking away to find another bra fitter, realizing that I was probably wasting my time, considering their commission was at stake. I started to panic even more when I thought about my customer waiting in the dressing room, again, sitting in the chair with her boobs in her hands, wondering where I had gone. It made me feel awful and anxious, knowing that the only thing my irritated customer wanted was to cut a deal and exit from the chaos. How could I blame her? We shared the same uneasiness, wondering what the hell we had gotten ourselves into, yet my customer had a well-founded sureness about her that I definitely didn't have. She was down to business, and I was downright scared.

I picked up my pace as I moved through the crowd, now looking around each shoulder in search of the largest bra I could find, though it felt like a hopeless search. I realized that the only thing I had as a new employee in the lingerie department was overshadowing angst, disorderly heart palpitations, and a seven-digit employee number I knew would take me seven days to memorize.

"Are you with a customer?" I spotted another salesgirl dressed in a knee-length black skirt and a white button-up. But she looked as lost as I was, following her customer who had at least ten bathrobes draped over her arm. I quickly knelt down in front of a display, madly flipping over bra tag after bra tag, hoping to find something that would answer the large question mark I had waiting in the fitting room. Luckily, the same girl who directed me into my nightmare finally came to my rescue.

"I stopped by the dressing room," she said, holding up what looked like two adjoined nets. "Start with this and let her know the Feather Light only goes to a triple."

"Oh, okay, thank you," I said, looking down at the letter G darkly printed into the tag.

When I returned to the dressing room, I noticed that my customer had emerged from her room, holding her portable fan to her face.

"I have a G," I said with caution.

"A G!" she exclaimed loudly, quickly closing the door. "There's no way that I'm fitting into a G!"

"Well, I talked to the fitter who stopped by, and she recommended that I bring this back to you."

"I'll try it," she sighed, throwing her fan into her purse, which sat wide open on the chair. I quickly looked down as it clinked against a bottle of blue nail polish and a round plastic container labeled with the days of the week.

I held the bra out in front of her while she slowly eased her arms through the straps. Accidently stepping on the heel of her foot with my boot, I worked hard to connect the band.

"That's good," she said, moving closer to the mirror.

I had no idea what I was looking for in terms of a "correct" bra fit, but my suspicions led me to something much larger than what the bra fitter had suggested.

"Let me just get them in." The customer hesitated, bending over while she shook her boobs into the cups.

I quickly found refuge in the corner, watching her boobs jiggle up and down and up and down and up and down.

"Would you mind tightening the straps?" she asked, moving in my direction. "I want to make sure I can exercise in this before I buy a handful."

With my fingertips changing into a light shade of pink, I tugged on the straps. She pulled her shoulders back and tried moving her boobs to the center of her chest, bringing them in from the sides. And then suddenly, without hesitation, while I was still struggling to form words, she began jumping in place. I watched her arms go up, and then her legs, and then her knees, and then her boobs. Everything was everywhere, flailing around. And then she stopped. This is what you do to test your bra fit, I thought, storing it for future use as a long, awkward pause crept in. This is what the inside of a dressing room can look like, every bare-boned inch of fear, anxiety, and truth shining under the toughest of glares. Whether I accepted it or not, I was on my way to becoming a legit, bona fide bra fitter.


Excerpted from "Full Support"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Natalee Woods.
Excerpted by permission of Amberjack Publishing.
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