34B? Why Changing Bra Sizes Means Something More Than a Number

Unlovable Bra

Ever since I’ve worn bras, I’ve worn a 34A. I guess I’ve been surprisingly consistent over the years, and when I was younger I didn’t know exactly how bras should fit so I just wore them without complaint (I was probably more like a 34AA). I started wearing bras when I was about 13, so that’s 10 years (almost half my life) that I’ve been wearing the same size.

During that time my weight/dress size has fluctuated (never by much– I’ve always been about a 6-8), but my bra size stayed the same. And as many of you know, in our society a bra size can be much more than just a number; it can be an aspect of who you are.

Laragh McCann by Gemma Booth for Elle France

I’ve read so many amazing blog posts about how breast size has affected how you think about yourselves, from both ends of the spectrum of small- to large-busted. Even though I’ve been small-busted all my life, I thought I’d managed to avoid holding on the stigma of small breasts (“too small” “not womanly” “not curvy”) and just accepted them they way they are.

Boy, was I wrong. But it wasn’t until I came to the realization that my bras were fitting a little differently than usual that I had an emotional response to what my bra size “says about me” (as bogus as that might be). Could it be that a 34A wasn’t working any more? Was I really a 34B? I suddenly felt like I had graduated into a “normal” size, like I was curvier and sexier– which just told me how much I had internalized the stereotypes about small busts + the numbers that go with them.

Source Unknown

What I have to say is this: right now I’m between a 34A and a 34B and that’s just about sizing of the bra, not breast size fluctuation, which should make it pretty clear that these sizes are arbitrary. Before you say to yourself that you ARE a certain bra size (as I just did), remember that it doesn’t really say anything about you, except for a general guide for your own reference when buying a bra. Although even then it isn’t a strict guide, because every brand is different.

We need to stop beating ourselves up about the way we feel inadequate or excessive (as the case may be), especially about bust size. And watch out for those people or companies or slogans that make us feel like our bust size says something about us.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve talked about how small my own breasts/bras were because I was just used to dismissing them. And I was wrong: I’d like to stop critiquing parts of my body like there is anything wrong with the way I am. There isn’t. I’d love it if you all would give it a try too– and the second you hear yourself saying that some size is “too big” or “too small”, check yourself, whether talking about yourself or others. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you, no matter what you think of your shape. I promise.

  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences and inspiration, even for a man (may be better sometimes) it’s great to know and understand more about women’s inside life. Great job :-)

  2. Hello there!

    I’ve just stumbled upon your blog, and as a fellow lingerie-loving-lesbian (of the lipstick variety) I am so excited that it exists!

    May I make a comment on bra sizing, though? Throughout the months, I’ve learned quite a bit about properly fitting lingerie, and the USA is notorious for fitting us wrong. (as I think you already know!)

    My comment is this. I wear a 34 band and a size 12 dress. At a 6-8, I’d guess that your rib-cage should/might be smaller then mine? This needing a smaller band/larger cup? Just a friendly suggestion, not trying to pry at all! I just think you have so much pull in our community, and even smaller busts need proper support. (Been trying to convince my “34A” girlfriend that she actually needs a 32B or a 30C/D since we met. To no avail. :( )

    • Thanks so much for reading my blog! I really appreciate your comment :).

      I’m basically certain that I can’t go down a band size (although of course, it depends on the brand)– I’m guessing that you are larger busted than me, because for some weird reason that I still haven’t figured out (although it might have something to do with relative chest boniness?) bands for larger bust sizes are often longer than for small busts EVEN IF THEY HAVE THE SAME BAND NUMBER. It’s a weird phenomenon. Also, bust sizes often do not go along with clothing sizes– if you imagine the circumference of my chest, about 85% of that measurement would be filled with chest vs. bust, while for a woman with a larger bust, the measurement might be more like 60/40. Therefore, if you imagine that we have the same chest size, and then add however many inches for your bust (which naturally increase your dress size) and voila! It’s perfectly possible for us to have the same band and different dress sizes.

      Okay, that was an incredibly long comment from me! Just trying to clarify why it’s hard to talk about bust size via the internet– it’s actually super hard to apply one person’s bra experience to another’s unless they have exactly they same size :).

      • Hi, sorry I’m sort of butting in on a few of these comments, but have you measured under your bust? Because the closest number should be your band size, of course I also am of a bigger bust size so I’m in no place to judge what smaller bust-band bras feel like. However, for example, if you look at the brand Freya, their band sizes are pretty consistent between cup sizes (although they still do have looser bands all round than most brands). Just might be worth testing a few out, double checking etc.

      • Welcome to the comment party! I haven’t measured it in a couple months, but last time I checked my underbust was about 30″– however, I can’t fit into a 32A or 32B because the band doesn’t close! But maybe I should just go on a bra trying binge and report back :)

      • If you’re wearing a 34A-B, with a 30″ ribcage, you’re going to want to try around a 32C (or a 30D).

        It’s supposed to be quite snug, and will be difficult to close if you have more breast tissue than fits in the cups.

        I was a 32D (before I realised my band was too big) and a size 8 (sometimes 10 if something wasn’t stretchy around my bust) which should be only a cup size difference to you.

        I’m 29.5″ around and wear 30F/28FF now, after a boob growth spurt.

      • Hi Emily– thanks so much for commenting! It’s good to have a bunch of perspectives. I think you are missing one thing though– I am very small-busted (I know it may not make sense to you when you compare our measurements!). I also do know how to tell how a bra fits, which is how I know that I’ve gone up from a 34A-34B (in many bra brands, although there is variation, which is why I say I am between sizes). A 32 band actually doesn’t even close on me! (99% of the time– there are always exceptions).

      • Comment party, yay 😉
        May I just add that smaller busts often do have completely different fitting standards as bigger busts have?

        We (hello, girls 😉 ) very often don’t need our bands that tight because there’s simply not so much weight on the band.
        Plus I think you always have to consider the following:
        * You don’t know the Linger Lesbian in person. You don’t know her story, her preferences, her body.
        * You’ve probably never seen how her upper body looks. Does she have a broad and boney ribcage? Does she have any extra padding on her ribs?
        * You don’t know which brands she’s referring to. Sizing is SO arbitrary, I think it’s important to remember that you can wear totally different sizes in different brands. I’ve got bras in my drawer between 32B up to 28D. They all fit.

        I just want to give some perspective, why it is nice to want to help someone via the internet in finding their bra size, but it’s always a bit of a risk – you should know the person really well. And based on this one article I wouldn’t feel comfortable suggesting that she’s wearing a “wrong” bra size.

        Why don’t we put our emphasis on how a bra should fit, educate the women* in the world and let them make their decisions for themselves – helping where help is needed?

        xoxo denocte

      • I agree with warningcurvesahead. I’m another gay lady and I recently switched from my old-faithful 36-A to a 32-DD (30-E also kind of fits but I always get headaches with a snug fitting band) and I look so much better in my clothes!

        It’s definitely a mental trip to get used to. I’m not very busty, so “being a DD” feels strange

    • There is a good chance that you’re right as far as technical size goes, but lighter breasts don’t require as much support as heavier breasts. If the breasts aren’t heavy enough to weigh down the front of the bra and, thus, drag the band up in the back, it’s not an issue. A person who measures to a 30D might be more comfortable in a 34B, even if it technically isn’t the correct size… particularly if there are boney ribcages involved!

      But if the band is riding up during the day, trying a smaller band is a good idea.

      • Only tangentially connected to the post directly above, but it reminded me of my experience with fittings and size expectations:

        I spent years being uncomfortable in 34Bs because they fit my “measurements” without ever fitting my body. My breasts are perky, and both broader and shallower than the average allowance for a 34B breast. For me it is not a matter of weight, but of width and depth.

        Back straps rode up between my shoulders, shoulder straps fell off no matter how short I adjusted them, wires rubbed permanent scars under my armpits and between my breasts, and yet my cups gapped in front. So despite the fact that I looked like squashed double-bubbled crap in an A cup I maintained the illusion that I was still somehow “too small” for the B cup I was wearing. Yet of course as an itty bitty sort of girl it was ridiculous to even consider a “bigger” cup size. Hubris even!

        Until the day I found a description of proper bra measurements (why in hell are we adding 5″ to anything again? What exactly is that supposed to achieve?) and discovered that I wear either a 32C or 30D depending on the bra. The cups are wider and shallower so I don’t feel like I’m wearing fancy pinching crab claws with strange air gaps (crumple zones for front end collisions?), and the bands stay at the level that I latch them for a good six months before I have to even consider moving to the second hook.

        And yet people look at me like I’m insane if I mention my bra size, as if it is laughable to I suggest that I have “bigger” breasts than I actually do (rather than acknowledge the fact that it’s an issue of proportion). I’m sorry, am I somehow insulting someone by “claiming” a D cup with my smaller breasts? Have I somehow diminished all boobdom?

      • I agree. Bra size is affected by how heavy your breasts are. And also by how fat or thin you are. My size is 38 DDD or E on most brands. When I measure under my chest, it is 40.5 inches. But because I’m a fat girl (240 pounds) I need a really tight band or it will ride up and not give me any support. It doesn’t hurt because there’s a lot of fat as a cushion, and fat is squishy. Some bra fitting ladies tell me it’s impossible for my band size to be smaller than my measurements, but I prove them wrong by trying the 40 DD or 42 D that they recommend, then being able to stretch the band and fit my hand between the band and my body. I like my bands to have space only for 1 finger. Also I always try on my bras on the largest hook, because eventually it will stretch.

  3. This is lovely. We do become so fixated on size, and it helps to have more voices reminding us that if our clothes fit and we feel good, then we’re fine. Sizing can be so arbitrary, and I know that, but it can still throw me for a loop if I find my size changing. There is nothing wrong with us, and we are not our bra sizes.

  4. I love this. I recently moved up in size from a 36D to a 38DD (the college years were rough on my waistline) and I hated the idea of being a DD. There are so many stigmas behind those two letters that I was almost ashamed. Thankfully it really hasn’t made a huge difference in my life outside of my own perception but I’m so glad to hear someone else had that a revelation with their change in size.

    • I have to say, the universe’s obsession with DDs is just so messed up. The fact that the name that there are for different boob sizes is so ingrained with an identity within us it just shows how completely women’s breasts are objectified. Do I even care what size my shoes are as long as I can get shoes in my size? No. It should be the same for bras!

  5. When I finally measured myself properly and was fitted in a specialty shop, I was quite horrified to be somewhere between a 32H and 34GG depending on the manufacturer. Not only is that combination of band and cup so incredibly large in most people’s heads (which is really isn’t), it means never being able to just buy a bra at the mall in good conscience, again. After I bought the right sizes though, I fully embraced my numbers and letters, and I even sort of enjoy the staggered looks I get when I announce them. :p

    I’ve seen so many women describe their breasts as DD’s as to puzzle me exceedingly. I think it’s a terrible cycle perpetuated not just by women, but men that read the sort of mens magazines that publish measurements. It’s like, “Oh ___ is the new perfect size? That’s what I want!” So women even larger busted than I am are cramming their poor bosoms into bras much too small thinking they fit, and the bra band fitting system that is generally accepted in mall brands (your rib measurement + x number of inches) has so many women in a lower number than they should be. It’s like reverse vanity sizing at both ends of the spectrum; smaller-chested women are put in numbers that can feel discouraging, and larger-chested women don’t want to go above what the store sells because it can be embarassing and frustrating!

    Anyway, bottom line: love your boobs, and not because of numbers and letters!

    • Thanks so much for your comment! I agree 100% with everything you said– women with boobs of all sizes have a lot of feelings about what that says about them. And lad mags definitely perpetuate the “DD” stereotype!

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  7. Out of habit, its easy to say “I AM a 34B, I am a 30G, I am a 38D…” (in the same way as saying, “I am a size 10, I am a size 18, I am a size 4”) instead of “I wear X Y Z…”
    It tells us that even the common use of our language encourages us to identify ourselves by labels we can use to compare ourselves to an ideal, or to each other. Like you say, we internalize those numbers as if they’re points we’ve scored.

    I feel like the bra size that I “am” doesn’t carry with it the kind of general associations that match the way I look and the way I feel about my body. I feel I have average looking boobs for my size and frame. However, most guys fall over at the mention of an F cup (no doubt because of the lads-mag education on breast size), but I don’t see them falling over at the sight of my chest. And plenty of girls would say, no… you can’t be an F cup, I’m only a C… surely not…?

    And so we have a framework around which we can compete for who is closer to the “ideal”, around which we can pin our insecurities, around which we can be judged and scrutinized.

    OR we can try to ignore all that, and focus on the actual purpose of lingerie – which is, to my mind at least, to help a girl feel comfortable and confident. If the number on the clothing label bothers you, cut it off. (Goodness knows I’ve done that a few times!) Then you can stop identifying yourself with arbitrary numbers that are deemed “too big” or “too small”, and focus on the many other things life has to offer.

  8. What I enjoyed about your post (I found your blog courtesy of Jezebel) is that you talk about YOUR relationship with your breasts. Yes, society seems like it always has something to say about women’s breast sizes, shapes, and what not, but it is yours that counts. It is natural to get attached to a size, but I have learned that also how a bra is cut can affect the sizing. Much like how pants or dress sizes work, forget about the number on the label and go with what looks wonderful and makes you feel beautiful. As an actual DD (38), my breasts have been all over the board in terms of sizing. Much bigger (42DDD) to now, and a 36C when I was a teenager. They were differently shaped with both of those instances, lush and full at a bigger size, where as now they’re flatter but are less cumbersome. This is why finding great bras is wonderful. They can minimize, accentuate, give me killer cleavage, or make it so I can work out comfortably. A woman who feels good in her skin (and lots of times clothes/undergarments helps out with that!) shows that numbers aren’t sexy, but confidence is!

    Love your blog, keep up the good work!

  9. This article really made me think. Back in my much more fabulous youth I was a 32A maybe a 32B and then I quit smoking and I hit some arbitrary age where my metabolism decided to slow down and I became the 36D I am today… I gained 40lbs (to be fair I was probably 10-15 lbs underweight) and I’ve struggled with my weight, struggled at accepting my weight and my big assed boobs for the last 8 yrs… I saw the change in my bra size as just another blow to my ego of being ‘fat’.

    While I got curvier I also got far more critical of my body and it’s shape. While it’s been a struggle to be more accepting of my weight and boobs… I still find when shopping for lingerie that my larger breast size means I’m ‘still fat’. Even though I can run half marathons… and swime miles and I am healthier than I was when I was smaller.

    So thank you for giving me something to think about in regards to my bra size and my body.

  10. This is a great piece! I have been almost everything on the spectrum due to being a late bloomer and various weight fluctuations and I can attest to the fact that my bra size always had an effect on how I looked at myself. I started out as a 32AA and eventually got to a 34E, settling now as a 34D or DD (depending on the brand). I actually preferred being smaller, I felt more agile and had less back pain. I do remember the moment I went from an A cup to a B. I felt like I was ffinally a grown up. I was about your age and had just had my first child. I never went below a B cup again and basically went up a size with each child (I have 3). I eventually learned that it’s pretty arbitrary, especially when I started making a decent money and could afford better bras. Then I noticed that cheaper brands would have me in a larger size and more expensive brands would be different.

  11. Bit late to the party, but I wanted to leave a comment too.

    It took a good conversation with a woman who grew up between a DD and an F bra cup size to learn that it’s not a number or letter that you should attach a stigma to, although easier said than done, right?

    I’ve been between a B and a C all of my life and I suspect it’ll always fluctuate. What matters at the end of the day is whether you feel good and comfortable enough to keep the bra on.

  12. Throw on the size change that happens to most women after the first baby (hey, your ribs can spread FOREVER? Neat!), and we’ll have a party here!

  13. Oh my gosh! This post really resonated with me, and I had no idea how much I defined and judged myself by my bra size until you pointed it out. I just did the exact same thing you did – at 23, I “graduated” from my lifelong 34A into the “real woman” size of 34B. It still feels weird to think of myself as a B-cup, and then even weirder to realize that I just defined myself as a bra cup size D:

  14. Hi, I’m new here. I’m full-busted, haven’t been small-busted since elementary school, and would normally be on the “go down a couple band sizes” bandwagon (no pun intended), but I came across this great post written by Claire of Butterfly Collection on the women who actually need to add inches to their underbust measurement (http://blog.butterflycollection.ca/2012/09/the-women-who-need-to-add-inches-to.html). That made me rethink things a little bit. I still don’t advocate the plus-4 method, but in the end, sizing is completely meaningless without context.

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