“I chuckled along with casual homophobia in public and cried in private”
BY FELICE SOUTHWELL, IMAGES BY ELLIE THOMPSON
Getting a bra fitting is a very intimate experience. It’s just you and a stranger in a room with one of you getting half naked. As a fitter, I make it my mission to try and help each customer feel as comfortable as they can be with me because I know what it’s like to feel that awkwardness. I was a young queer girl, growing out of bras every month, who felt like an imposter in a lingerie shop. Now, 12 years after my first bra fitting, I fit other people’s bras at Bravissimo, and I’d like to tell you about my long journey towards acceptance as a queer woman in this industry.
As a bisexual woman, you get used to the wolf whistles when you walk down the street with your girlfriend and the people who are convinced that you’ll announce that you’re a lesbian sooner or later. The one place we’d all like to feel safe from this is at work, but unfortunately many workplaces still harbour homophobia. It’s no wonder that Stonewall say over a third of LGBT+ staff (35%) have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination. Even the workplaces that brand themselves as accepting of the LGBTQI+ community can lack substantive anti-bullying policies or diversity commitments, leaving queer employees unprotected.
In the fitting rooms, I would chuckle along at customers who said to me, “Oh, you can look at my bra, as long as you’re not a lesbian!” Of course, this rests on the assumption that a queer woman like me couldn’t possibly remain unaffected by boobs during a bra fitting. Not to mention that the queer fitter might have also experienced the issues boobs can bring or be genuinely good at their job. This made me feel so confused because it felt like a personal attack on my competence as a bra fitter, and simultaneously, it made me feel guilty for failing to defend myself and queer women.
When I began my relationship with my girlfriend, I felt as though I shouldn’t tell the people who I spent half the week with about my happy news. My life was split, with one foot in and one foot out of the closet. At the time, the possibility of there being a queer bra fitter seemed so taboo that I felt forced into hiding. I didn’t feel safe enough being my whole self at work, so I chuckled along with the casual homophobia in public and cried in private.
The queer community has a critical eye towards companies engaging in “rainbow washing” and branding themselves as supportive of LGBTQI+ communities during Pride, while ignoring the same community for the other 11 months of the year. However, people are waking up to this tokenistic activism and after four years at Bravissimo, I believe we’re on the way to growing past this.
I wanted to find out what Bravissimo CEO, Leanne Cahill thought. “We have always been committed to representing our big boobed community at Bravissimo, but 2020 really was a year of reflection,” she said.
Emma Lynn, the Head of People & Culture at Bravissimo said: “The Diversity and Inclusion team meet regularly to have transparent conversations and play a key part in amplifying voices from our LGBTQ+ community, across all areas of our brand, in driving our long-term business priorities and focus.”
Hearing these attitudes from Bravissimo’s senior leadership team helped me recognise a shift in the company atmosphere, from a business who cares for its staff in general to one who cares about all its staff as individuals.
These steps aren’t revolutionary, but any progress, however small, is still progress. Bravissimo has avoided the trap of simply “rainbow washing” because they have helped an individual like me feel comfortable being myself at work, and I know that my ability to be not just out, but supported might inspire others to live their queer lives with confidence and openness too. That’s why when my colleagues set up a Pride-themed display of products in the shop, I felt deeply emotional. I even cried because it showed how much progress we’ve made in this small corner of my world.
This is what the Pride movement is about, feeling comfortable living your own life, loving who you are and who you want, with the support and allyship of people in your life. No one is claiming that the fight for equality is over, or that Bravissimo can relax its diversity and inclusion work, but what we’ve done is a step in the right direction. Queer bra fitters aren’t a taboo anymore because I am one and I’m thriving.
Felice Southwell is a freelance political journalist covering politics, gender, disability, and queer issues.
Find Felice on Twitter @FeliceSouthwell
DIVA magazine celebrates 27 years in print in 2021. If you like what we do, then get behind LGBTQI media and keep us going for another generation. Your support is invaluable.