At a time when powerful male figures are being exposed for the sexual harassment and disempowerment of women, we’ve been considering the role of lingerie in female empowerment. It is through her journey of adolescence and bra shopping that Katherine discovered how lingerie can both undermine and promote female empowerment and it is the latter that inspired the brand ‘Katherine Hamilton’.
I was first introduced to bras at 9 years old when presented with a garment that looked like a complicated crop top. I was both giddy with excitement to be wearing something so grown up and confused by the ‘AAA’ sizing that no one explained to me. This lack of bra fit education proved to be a great disservice to my self-esteem and self-respect throughout my teenage years.
Growing up as a dancer I was aware of my body from a young age; of how I moved and how I looked. Slim, lean and elegant were the ideals for a dancer but as a ‘big boned’ girl (as someone once described me) I felt quite the opposite. In fact, I felt like a cumbersome oath which wasn’t helped by my clumsiness! I became incredibly self-conscious and learned to hate my shape and size.
Puberty only further hampered my self-esteem as I grew into a curvy woman with a small waist and big hips and bust. I felt that I didn’t fit in with my dancer friends and was embarrassed by my body. With puberty also came the growing awareness of sexuality as my peers became preoccupied with dating and attraction. Already self-conscious of my appearance, my curvy figure drew unwanted male attention and I started to experience how women’s bodies are sexualised, judged and objectified.
Unhappy with the sexual attention my curves drew, I tried to find ways to hide them. I wore baggy trousers and tops to hide my shape and looked through photos to analyse why I looked so busty and big. Looking back at those photos now I can see that I had poor posture from trying to hide my body and was clearly wearing an appallingly fitting bra that was much too big in the band and much too small in the cup. With no education whatsoever in bra fit and sizing, I simply followed my friends who all bought on average 32B. Some of my braver friends would have fittings and then we’d all copy them in what size to wear. We didn’t understand the sizing suggested to us nor did we know how a bra was supposed to fit; a significant failing of the professionals we trusted to fit us. All we really knew at that time was that women wear bras. Despite my intense unhappiness with my size and the attention it drew, I was so clueless that I even bought a Wonder Bra simply because that’s what my friends did. In hindsight it was the worst thing I could have bought, and I didn’t really understand what it was for.
With such poorly fitting bras, my breasts didn’t have the support they needed and so bounced around in every direction drawing attention from onlookers. One time in gym during a skipping competition they bounced right out of my bra! And following a hurdles race in front of my entire school, a friend pointed out that all he could focus on were my breasts bouncing up and down. I soon learned that lots of the boys watched me for that reason who joked about it in front of me afterwards. My body was becoming open discussion among my peers. I felt mocked and objectified.
The realisation that others were judging my appearance directed my attention to what others thought of me, and more specifically, what men thought of me. An experience perhaps shared by most young women. With adolescence being a time of wanting to be liked and to fit in, I tolerated and accepted men discussing my breasts openly in groups of friends and even grabbing me in clubs. It had become the norm to be devalued and objectified in this way and it severely damaged my sense of self-worth.
At age 16 I opened up to my mum about my dislike for my body shape and she took me to Bravissimo. It was an incredible and emotional experience. They educated me in how a bra should fit and put me in a 28FF. I cried. With my lack of education in bra sizes I thought this meant I was huge. Already self-conscious of my size this confirmed to me that I was in fact huge. At the time it didn’t matter that I was wearing a correctly fitting bra…my preoccupation was on the size on the label. After that fitting however, I looked smaller. My breasts were contained, they didn’t jiggle for the entertainment of men and they stayed put when I exercised! My preoccupation with the size of my bra disappeared almost overnight and I soon forgot about what it said on the label and instead shopped for bras that fitted properly.
Whilst by breast and bra issues were resolved through just one expert bra fitting, developing the sense and strength to oppose sexual objectification took years. Not only had men taught me that my sexual appeal was my most valuable asset, but so had the media. In particular the music industry was (and still is) overtly objectifying women with not only their lyrics, e.g. Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred lines’ epitomising the urban term ‘rapey’ but music videos by female artists themselves, such as Niki Minaj, using their bodies to sell sex. The sexual objectivation of women within pop culture is a topic that deserves its own dedicated article, but it certainly influenced my self-perception. Most notable for me is what the women are wearing in these sexist videos; underwear. Apparel that I adore and value is being used to objectify and degrade women.
With Bravissimo being the first place for many young women to get fitted, it is commendable and responsible that they stock brands that pitch to women and not male desire. The designs and imagery are constructed to convey comfort, shape and femininity that starkly contrast with brands who present their models provocatively e.g. draped over car bonnets, in orgies, bent over or tied up; images that portray sexual objectification.
It wasn’t until I chose to stop dating for a year that I learned to stop caring what others (and in particular men) thought of me. I focussed on my personal academic goals and dressed for my own sense of attractiveness as opposed to sexual appeal. It was empowering. I was developing self-respect. It was at this point that I started looking for lingerie for me and my wants; lingerie that was comfortable, provided the rounded and projected shape that I like, and was elegant composed of French lace and fine silks with matching suspenders and robes. But no one offered this combination of qualities in my size. And so began my journey with ‘Katherine Hamilton’.
Following 7 years of exhaustive research and development with experts in the large cup and luxury lingerie industry we have brought luxury lingerie to the large cup market; combining luxury materials with superior technical fit. And I now finally own the lingerie I have always wanted and needed.
Our lingerie is by women for women. We’re not appealing to male desire; we’re catering for a woman’s comfort, confidence and sense of elegance and sexuality. We’re advocating self-respect and self-worth.