Liz Conor: Comment and Critique

opinion, essays, cultural and political analysis

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Morphing to Matron

You might think the Intimates fitting room at Myer an unlikely place to be granted a most auspicious promotion. But it was here in these surreal quarters that I was appointed to a more weighty status than many women can aspire to. I submitted to an intimate ceremony, and under warm and gentle hands I was granted the status of Matron.

Twenty years ago, when I could only dream of such becomings, I myself fitted women in the changing rooms of what was then known as the ‘Intimate Apparel’ Department of Myer. In those days I wore a bra that was more of a salute while I coaxed the looser flesh of older women into devices that creaked like harnesses. I amused myself by imagining attaching reins and running off a matrons’ derby across the hushed aisles. I had no respect.

What exquisite, translucent things festooned my working days that summer. What a dream world of enticement I wandered through. Now of course I have acquired the wisdom to be impervious to things that better flatter hangers than human bodies. For I am a Matron. I know these things.

On this day I was recruited from the wireless section. I clearly needed help, for not only was I failing in my duty to give myself adequate support, but my cups were all over the shop. ‘Why are they all padded these days’, I asked compressing foam between fingers. ‘It’s not padding dear, it’s just a bit more support’. I was a woman who needed to be taken in hand. ‘I’ll fit you’. I was marched off to a curtained cloister of corporeal reckoning.

My fitter winced at the sight of my globes. Her tender handling gave new meaning to global warming. ‘I never would have said you were a C!’ and she dashed out in search of more fortified sills. ‘You see … just here … this is really where a D is letting you down. This is where your milk ducts are and they need support.’ I thought they were switched off, however, for their sakes a double D was summoned.

Double D! Woohoo. I pranced around the vestiary feeling like a red spot special. After all isn’t this how escorts advertise their wares? When my fitter returned she strapped me in and plumped my bosomy excess. Alas, she shook her blonde bob. ‘I think we should try an E’.

Now advancing to E is no small matter. It was no use protesting that my ‘Balcony’ bra at home (otherwise known as my mid-life-crisis bra, or just Thwang) was C cupped. My new status could not be shrugged off with the relative sizes of brands in the hope that Elle might size me down to a girly C. Only escorts of the Big Mama variety would admit to being an E. As ‘the place where emotions are felt’ (breast n literary) molded snugly into their E cups I entered new territory.

I happen to know a thing or two about underwear. It is commonly believed that corsets were abandoned in the 1920s. In fact they made way for what famous Australian Health advocate Annette Kellerman dubbed ‘the muscular corset’. Our own Annette, the ‘Australian Venus’, and reputedly the first American pin-up, was once arrested in Boston for wearing a one piece bathing costume. She had no time for the ‘trickery’ of corsets, which ‘laced in fat’, and passed it off as ‘form’.

But despite Annette’s stern warnings, women continued to measure up to the ‘Berlei Indicator’ in which they might come to know themselves as ‘Average, Tall Slender, Short Slender, Curved Back, Short Waisted, Tall Heavy, Short Heavy, Large Above Waist, Large Below Waist’, and accordingly purchase the right sized corset.

Dress Liberation? Not in Annette’s day and judging by the latest Kaiser indicator of ‘Apple, Pear, Column or Hourglass’ not in our day either. It begs the question, has any woman, since standardized sizing began in the 1920s, and largely for the convenience of prêt-a-porter clothes manufacturers, ever felt they are The Right Size?

Esteemed Matron Catherine Deneuve famously said that after a certain age a woman must choose between her face or form. That is, if she attempted to maintain her coltish young limbs, she might look good in clothes but out of them she would invoke a bag of badly assembled Nancy Reagans. Her face, her true site of worldly encounter, would literally lose its substance.

But would I go so far as to call it ‘form’? Any Matron can tell you that you can tone thigh muscle sufficient to snap a man in half, but as you get older it bears less and less relation to all the flobble that sits on top of it. Since becoming older is no reason, it seems, to tolerate the baggy surrounds of our own skin, women continue to ‘tailor underneath’. These days we submit to a new regime of hosiery ‘trickery’ called control-top pantyhose. In between writhing, wriggling and rebirthing into these woman-traps we might well ask: will we women ever simply Fit In?

This defining e-moment in the Myer fitting room set me back $64.95. Was I any the wiser for it? Any Matron could have told Einstein it’s all relative: the cup/back continuum might range a woman anywhere from a 10E to a 14B. The next brand on the shelf might summarily demote me to B. But, having pulled the wire out of my harness, I’m happy to assume the heavier-weight title of Matron. I suspect Matrons know better than anyone that we’re entitled to take up all the space we need, and preferably in devices that don’t constrain or creak.

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