Training Bras and Shaving Legs

Hungry to grow up in youth; hungry to slow down in adulthood.

One of my earliest pre-teen memories was the recurring dialogue between me and my mother:

Me: I need a training bra.

Mom: There’s nothing to train.

Aggressive Insecurity

Oh, how I wanted a bra. After all, I was officially a two digit number (10) and any day now (it would be another four years), I was going to be blessed with Mother Nature’s Gift of Womanhood: the coveted period.

I obsessed about wearing a bra. Underneath that non-stop desire was insecurity. Desperate to be deemed “normal” by peers, hungry to fit in. I’d seen other girls in my 5th grade class, their white bra straps winking on shoulders like an unspoken Calling Card of Coolness, of Belonging.

A training bra signified a ticket to my Belonging.

I read and reread Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret — folding the well-worn page where the tween protagonist does the ‘special’ breast-growing exercises while chanting the now famous words:

I must, I must, I must increase my bust.

If You Wear It, Boobs Will Come

My poor mother never heard the barrage of requests to get a training bra. It didn’t matter that I didn’t even know what a training bra was. I remember my unarticulated logic went something like this:

A training bra is a requirement, a prerequisite for boobs. I am doomed to walk the Earth as the only female in the world without “real breasts” if I don’t get that training bra. Why can’t my mother understand this??

In hindsight, my thought process was Field of Dreams: if I wear it, my boobs would come. 

Adolescent Blind Spots

No sooner had the sacred day arrived, the training bra in my pre-teen hands, that I started getting teased by a boy for sporting hairy legs.

Him: Why don’t you shave that?

Me: [horrified but hiding it] I don’t want to. [insert failed attempt at looking bored shrug]

I’d been so consumed with wearing that dang bra that I hadn’t even considered what was going on south of my torso!

Contemporary Boobs and Legs

It’s with a chuckle that I look back at that pre-teen girl who was yearning to develop so fast, she didn’t consider the beauty and wonder of her changing body right-then-and-there. Of course I didn’t. That’s youth, isn’t it? We are so hungry to grow up, eager to see what’s next, what’s next, we don’t appreciate the gift of the moment as its unfolding.

Now almost half a century on this Earth, I find myself grateful for my breasts and legs but not because of what other people will think. I appreciate the health of my body in general, and the gift of this existence.

Now, the bra is more a nuisance, a small harness more appreciated off than on. Hair removal is no longer something I do to please the “popular kids” but to please myself. 

Ordinary Miracles

What a gift this life is. The memories of my mom and I discussing the much-desired training bra is something I treasure. Even the boy who looked at my hairy legs with horror, while shame-inducing at the moment, was special in its own way. In hindsight, that moment was a hallmark of my continuing journey into womanhood. 

It’s the ordinary moments, the ones we often take for granted or hunger to rush through, that are often the most precious in retrospect. It’s why Memory Lane is flooded with commentary once we reach young adulthood. We cherish the past, the experiences we can merely capture with words — a scratch we just can’t quite itch.

The Unspoken Struggle

There is a silent but desperate pain in many teens and tweens in our 21st century world

As a writing teacher, I have the bittersweet gift and responsibility that comes with reading the many hidden thoughts of tweens and teens. An English teacher is often informally consigned to the role of therapist, a safe repository of one’s typically dormant insights. While a significant number of students’ essays contain innocuous content, there are sometimes those red flags that require I share my concern with the school psychologist. Unfortunately, I’m seeing an uptick in red flags.

Since the pandemic, we know there’s been a rise in mental health concern. According to MedScape (, depression symptoms have “jumped threefold, overdose deaths…increased in 40 states, and 25% of young adults have suicidal ideation.”

It is no surprise then that our adolescents are demonstrating an increase in anxiety and depression as well. This past week, I’d assigned my students the following prompt:

“Write about a time when you have felt or experienced a struggle in your life. Did it resolve? If so, how? If not, why?”

Regardless of ability (i.e. ELL learners, GT students and everything in between), my students were eager to write about their struggles. They were also hungry to be heard. Shortly after posting the assignment, a barrage of emails appeared with the following inquiries:

“This really helps. Can we do more of these prompts?”

“I normally hate writing, but I like this assignment. Can I do more than one?”

“I have a pretty big struggle. Would it be okay if I shared it with our class?”

There’s a sense of safety in writing, in getting our thoughts out onto the page. Writing also creates an immediate sense of being heard—even if it’s just for an audience of one—YOU!

Several of my “red flag” essays end with a request to not share their anxious thoughts and/or depression with anyone. They write of observed or experienced domestic abuse, estranged parents, gender uncertainty, cancer, the loss of a loved one, and bullying. The overarching emotion that binds them is a sense that they are alone and unworthy.

I want to hug each of these students. Instead, I tell them the truth: they are courageous for sharing their stories and they matter.