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Bra Shopping Is Hard With Poland Syndrome, But It's Taught Me So Much

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“Hey, Mom, do you think maybe we could go shopping this weekend?”

The silence between my question and her response seemed to never end. I stood there, awkwardly, hoping I could go through this conversation without having to relive the school day out loud. Just having the thoughts still lingering in my brain was enough to leave me somewhere between curling up in a ball sobbing or running out to the woods and screaming.

Since I was a small child I’d been very aware of my Poland syndrome, a rare birth defect characterized by underdeveloped muscles and bones on one side of the body. I used to think it was a funny way to “stand out” from others by showing people my hands and watching them try to figure out how they were two different sizes. Puberty was causing a whole other form of attention that was much less enjoyable. All eyes were on my chest where a set of breasts, or rather one developed breast and one severely lacking “partner,” sat for everyone to openly mock.

I naïvely believed having my mom take me shopping for a bra would help the stares and smirks and instantly make the slurs stop. Not only did the bullying continue, but the entire experience of shopping for undergarments left me feeling even more defeated. It was impossible to find anything that fit one side without looking ridiculous on the other. The sizing issues caused the underwire to hit me in places that hurt, and I fought back tears as my mother said, “Bug, nothing is going to be ‘right,’ you should know that by now.”

Unfortunately, nearly 18 years later, I do still fight those tears and feelings of self-consciousness each time I step into a fitting room to purchase new brassieres. That initial experience will never leave my memory, but I have learned how to cope with my insecurity regarding my chest. I’ve discovered the styles that help “hide” the difference, and I’ve learned what types of clothing aids in making the size discrepancy less obvious as well.

It’s quite tragic to think back and realize how vain and body-conscious everyone was in middle school. Nothing else about me mattered besides my body and its attractiveness to the opposite gender. Those years, and the “brassiere conundrum,” taught me to rise above the system that taught us beauty was only skin deep. I spent my high school years and beyond surrounding myself with people who saw me for more than my appearance and most especially, more than the difference of my body from Poland syndrome. I don’t wear makeup, I have no inhibitions of going to the store in my pajamas and I try to show my two daughters there’s so much more to life than being “a pretty face” or a “killer body.”

The most important thing I believe we can all learn, whether we have a rare disease, chronic illness, disability, or mental illness is to find that way to embrace ourselves as we are. The world can always be adapted to fit our needs and unique situation, but we can never truly change who we are or take away our conditions. The more I learn to accept my body though, the easier it becomes to be comfortable with myself in those fitting rooms or even just walking down the street.

Even the worst of times can teach us how to embrace ourselves and help us grow.

Photo credit: VeranikaSmirnaya/Getty Images

Originally published: October 2, 2018
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