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For the A-Cup Crowd, Minimal Assets Are a Plus

By CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS, New York Times
Published: September 1, 2010

IT is commonly assumed that small-chested women feel that nature’s lottery has left them coming up short. The parade of heaving bosoms in Victoria’s Secret catalogs not only suggests that bigger is better but also that supersizing with a push-up bra is universally desired.

Wrong, says Ellen Shing, the owner of Lula Lu, a Web site and boutique in San Mateo, Calif., that cater to AAA- to A-cup sizes. She says that while a small number of her customers come in looking for padded bras and tell her, “Make me as big as you can,” the majority “don’t want to supersize themselves.”

Those customers, including ones who are nearly ironing-board flat, “are happy with their bodies,” said Ms. Shing, 42, who wears a 36AA. “It’s a misconception still that you want to be bigger if you’re smaller.” She isn’t sure if the small-and-loving-it attitude she has noticed is “about pride or more like being O.K. with who they are.” But it’s fueling her sales.

In the last three years, said Elisabeth Dale (formerly Squires), who wrote “Boobs: A Guide to Your Girls,” there has been “a huge surge in Web sites and online retailers that specialize in smaller bra sizes in a very empowering way,” like evesappleslingerie.com. “They are not about ‘Here’s how you stuff your bra,’ ” she added. “They are like, ‘The way you are is perfect, and here’s how I can help you.’ ”

These days, it’s not uncommon for women with modest busts to flaunt what little they’ve got with a deep V-neck cut or a halter top. And more small-chested ladies seem to be openly celebrating their look on Twitter, Facebook and various blogs.

A new blog, smallbustbigheart.com, has become a venue for these women, according to its author, to “gush about the lingerie and clothes that scream, ‘Can you handle me?’ not ‘Am I enough?’ ”

That is not to say handwringing over a Lilliputian bust no longer exists. Some women still find a soulmate in Nora Ephron, whose 1972 essay in Esquire, “A Few Words About Breasts,” perfectly articulated the lament of women who realized they were never going to fill out. Bust magazine, with its feminist streak, has a support group for those laid low by their tiny breasts, and its recent entries are poignant. One woman wrote: “I hate getting outbreasted by teenagers.”

Still, the persistent strain of A-cup pride running through our culture is unmistakable. Facebook groups like Flat Chested and Proud of It! and Flat Chested Girls United exist, and their members trade bon mots as profound as “im flat as a tack :)” — which garner male support like “you are blessed.” For all their entourage to see, more than 2,300 people joined another Facebook group to declare “flat chested girls are prettier!!”

In recent years, as people’s weight has ballooned, breasts (mostly made up of fat) have only gotten larger, and commensurately bra cup sizes, too. K-cups now exist. Brandishing a tiny bosom may be a reaction to that trend.

Unlike many women who struggled as teenagers to make peace with their minimal assets, Sabrina Lightbourn, 37, a photographer in Nassau, the Bahamas, never second-guessed her A-cups, even in a land of bikinis. “In my mind, they are fabulous,” she said. Sometimes, she favors down-to-the-sternum cuts that make it “really obvious that you don’t have much.”

Small-breasted women have also begun to express their anger on the Internet when they suspect one of their brethren has decided to artificially augment what nature has given her. This year, pictures of a bikini-clad Kate Hudson — along with Keira Knightley a symbol of modest-breasted seductiveness to the A-cup population — surfaced showing what looked like modest implants. Afterward, Jen Udan, who works in Internet marketing in Austin, Tex., felt as if she had been slapped in the face. “I don’t need to look up to you, Kate Hudson,” Ms. Udan, 25, wrote in a blog post entitled “Diary of a Mad, Small-Breasted Woman.”

With its motto “Small is Beautiful,” Lula Lu is just one of several retailers and bra makers serving the band of women who make no excuses for their inconspicuous bosoms. Some brands, like the Itty Bitty Bra sold online and in Fred Segal Silk in Santa Monica, Calif., require women to have a sense of humor about being “bust-challenged,” as the Web site jokes. “Some people are taken aback by it, especially the name,” said Jane A. Hodgdon, the designer and owner of the brand, which is sized 32 AA to 38B and retails for $45 to $60. Mrs. Hodgdon, 42 and an AA cup, was tired of bras that “were so heavily padded it just wasn’t me. It looked ridiculous. I’m proud of what I have. I wanted coverage and lift.”

Lailides.com, pronounced LAY-leed, offers come-hither wireless lingerie for $46 to $72 and a healthy dollop of self-love. “Having small breasts and wearing A-cup bras (or AA cup or B cup) is a cause to rejoice,” the site declares. “Women who wear A-cup bras do not experience pain from running or dancing, they can sleep on their stomachs, and best of all, sagging is minimal compared to larger women.” (Their $68 Firebird bra, semi-sheer and scalloped, may make women reconsider underwire altogether.)

This kind of cheerleading is not about girl power. This message of empowerment is resolutely intended for adults who wish their lingerie to reflect their age and station. No woman in her 40s wants to disrobe to reveal a polka-dotted training bra, and unfortunately for too long, grown women have had ill-fitting options or unsexy mood killers in the bra department.

“We are supplying sexy, chic lingerie for grown-up women, not teenagers, who are proud of what they have and not worried about trying to look bigger,” said Fiona Goad, 44, the managing director at LittleWomen.com, an English site with a vast selection whose sales of AAA-cup bras have overtaken AA-cups recently.

Women with flat to small chests disagree about what they want from a bra. One camp consists of traditionalists who take little issue with push-up bras; their complaint is never being able to find one with a small enough band and with cups close enough together to create yelp-worthy cleavage. The Little Bra company, which has 28 to 36 in the A to B range, delivers this kind of instant gratification.

Emily Lau, the chief executive and the designer, said most padded bras look and feel as subtle as “two pillows over a flat board.” Often a push-up bra stands away from the body in an unflatteringly way that makes even the most assured woman wish she had more to “fill” the cup. By contrast, Ms. Lau created her line with contoured-to-the-body padding so that minuscule breasts can be enhanced with no gaps at the bustline.

At the other extreme are the au-naturels who would just as soon go braless if it wasn’t for this little thing called the office and the awkwardness of erect nipples in cold conference rooms. Exquisitely designed soft bras with no underwire appeal to this camp for gorgeous details and “nipple discretion,” as it’s called in the industry, said Susannah Hornsby, an expert bra-fitter at Journelle, a boutique in New York.

In fact, soft bras have come such a long way from their training-bra lineage that Claire Chambers, the chief executive of Journelle, says her saleswomen, most of whom are 32D, regret that they cannot fit into all the crush-worthy fashion pieces from brands like The Lake & Stars. Really.

The middle camp also wants a certain degree of authenticity and their real silhouette to shine under a T-shirt. In their minds, no bra should so transform your breasts that they are unrecognizable. This is tricky, said Ms. Hornsby, who also manages Web operations for Journelle.com, since such a bra has to have a “shallow and stretchy” cup, the between-the-cups spacer as tiny as possible, and a small band. One that fits the bill is Timpa’s $33 Duet Lace Underwire Demi bra, she said.

For too long, bra shopping has demoralized women with just a bit on top. Some department-store saleswomen tell adults to head to the children’s department for training bras. Others are just dismissive. As a size 28A, Heidi Brockmyre, an acupuncturist in San Diego, says she has been turned away from bra-fitting boutiques. “They were like, ‘No, we can’t help you,’ ” she said. “I felt like I’m a freak of nature.”

She has since bought five Little Bra Company bras, and now dabbles in the joys of cleavage — on occasion. “I’m O.K. with not having cleavage,” said Ms. Brockmyre, 33. These bras just make it “more fun to wear tank tops.”

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