I’ve Spent Hundreds On Custom Lingerie And Swimwear (In The Name Of Self-Care)

Forget about a swimsuit-ready bod. I’ve finally found my body-ready swimsuit.

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Editing for HealthyWay is a privilege and a motivator. I spend my workdays supporting writers—most of them women—in asking and answering the question “What is a life well lived?” When I pack it up in the evenings and head into my weekends, it’s my turn to ask and answer those big questions about wellness and womanhood, and I get to take all that inspiration and information with me. One of the most important things this has precipitated? Getting real about my limitations and needs and feeling a spark of creativity when it comes to defining and investing in self-care. Working on articles about treating yourself to lingerie, managing stress in ways that prioritize mental health and physical well-being, and making the most of alone time when you’re coupled up gave way to something unexpected: the desire to commission some custom clothing—and when I say clothing, I mean swimsuit tops and bras. Here’s why…

Owning the Over-the-Shoulder Boulder Holder

I hate that phrase, and Mother Nature decided not to bless me with anything that could be called boulders, but hey, we all know what I’m talking about. No grown woman I know likes bra shopping, and for me, it’s long been an uncomfortable (and sometimes shame-inducing) experience. I have a genetic connective tissue disorder, and during college I was diagnosed with costochondritis—a related condition that results in swelling of the cartilage around the sternum, along with chest wall pain and tenderness. I remember trying on clothing with my sister in a fitting room a year or so after my diagnosis. I wanted her opinion on a little underwire number. Was it a shirt? A bra? Who knows. “What’s going on with your chest?” my sister asked, pointing to a puff of skin that was protruding where the underwires met. “Yeah…that…” There was little more to say. She was shocked, I was mortified (but felt cared for and seen), and the top went back on the hanger because obviously it wasn’t for me. For years I kept forcing myself into underwire bras (front-closing styles are sometimes somewhat more bearable) thinking Something’s gotta give. Eventually my body will get used to it. Then one afternoon in a CPR class, while I was practicing life-saving measures on a dummy, the pain really kicked up. I was wearing one of my favorite Calvin Kleins—a bra that looked so good I couldn’t imagine bidding it adieu. I started to feel nauseated and broke out in a cold sweat. Suddenly the instructor stopped the class and asked if I was feeling alright. “I don’t want to be performing CPR on you!” I slithered off to the bathroom, where I would’ve cried if it hadn’t been for the tremendous relief of wriggling out of my bra and hiding it in my purse, saved by the cami-plus-button-down combo I was wearing, which easily hides what I’m working with. Since then, I’ve bought and retired a lot of bras—guilting myself for the money wasted. I’ve got a few go-to sports bras. I’ve even swallowed my pride and tried nursing bras, despite not having any kids. I’ve mourned the loss of endlessly telling my husband “I can’t wear that” when he points out something he thinks I’d look good in. And just when it seemed like there was no sexy left for me in the lingerie department, I ordered a couple of Amuse Society swimsuit tops that wound up being my salvation.

Bringing Sexy Back (ft. a Side of Anxiety)

Longline, wire-free, adjustable straps: just a few bra-related terms that are music to this girls’ ears. I didn’t think I’d find my perfect bra swimsuit shopping, but surprise! That the Bailey Solid Longline Pullover Top was marketed as swimwear? I didn’t care! No one else had to know. I undid two internal seams—carefully—and inserted soft cups to get that sought-after nip coverage, let out the straps to ensure even pressure around the most irritable part of my ribcage, and eagerly anticipated wearing lower cut, dressier shirts whose aesthetic is ruined by neon racerback sports bras. I’d found my bliss in two colors—black and mint green. All was right with the world. I even risked exposing them to chlorinated pool water during a vacation in Tulum last February, but please believe they are always line dried. That said, I’ve never outgrown the anxiety that comes from living with chronic pain and sensory processing issues: the panic-inducing possibility that the one thing that makes you feel good will break, wear out, or get lost. I shouldn’t be wearing these every day until I can buy more! Amuse Society stopped making them. I’ll go bra free and only wear them on special occasions! That wasn’t the solution either. Ultimately, I’m not comfortable rocking the bra-free life 365 days a year, and I’m owning that. Initially I wondered if this meant something terrible about me. Should all women be comfortable enough with their unadulterated femininity—and nipples, areolas, and boobs in general—to go bra, cami, and pastie free? I don’t know. The answer is complicated (or there isn’t one), and I’m okay with that. My own attachment to wearing a bra most of the time has helped soften my moralizing about elective surgery, expensive cosmetics, and hair dye. We all have our thing(s), and self-care means facing those and investing in them as needed so we can be nicer and get on with life. Owning our thing also gives us an opportunity to get creative and support other women. Here’s what that looked like for me:

Make me a bra!

Sitting at work one day, it hit me: I should just have some bras made for me. Why not? It was an exciting moment that I owe largely to the work I get to do—the inspiration and ingenuity I edit every day was dissolving my narratives of lack and not enough. I can’t afford it, I don’t know where to begin, and That’s selfish weren’t true anymore. Thank you, ladies of HealthyWay! Stepping into my power meant reaching out to my network. One cannot simply make a bra alone! I DMed a burlesque stage manager (badass, am I right?) I used to work with and asked if she knew anyone in Saint Louis who does custom costume and clothing design. Of course! Another DM, a busy schedule, and a referral to a mentor later, and I had an appointment to talk bra with a legit designer. I took my precious mint-green brassiere with me and she invited me up to the impeccably decorated shared space on the top floor of her apartment building overlooking the idyllic Central West End. She told me about her work for Disney, showed me some pieces from her swimwear and athleisure lines, and explained that she does sizing and could help with putting designs into production. Then we discussed features I was looking for in my ideal garment and the collection of bras and tops I was envisioning. She seemed way out of my league but agreed to take my project on anyway. When she asked to hang on to my bra so it could inform her prototype and pattern, I gulped down my fear of never seeing it again. The possibility of more—more colors, more details, a little more sexy without sacrificing my sternum—was too good to pass up. A few weeks later, I was treated to a fitting in her beautiful apartment-cum-studio. I got my OG bra back and left her place inspired. This weekend, a brand new, swan-white, custom-designed bra will be mine! Up next: floral printed swimsuit tops, maybe a bit of lace, perhaps some pom poms? The sky’s the limit, and yes, I will be drinking more drip coffee and fewer Starbucks cherry mochas to fund the operation. Bras are complicated. Boobs are complicated. Living with a chronic condition, anxiety, or the body image issues that often come with womanhood adds a dimension that is sometimes hard to put into words or relate to our zest for life. We can feel angry at our bodies. We can be mad at the industry. We can also get creative and work together to be true to ourselves. Kelly Dillon of Eating Off Plastic recently posted this advice for those with sensory processing disorder, and it’s a dose of encouragement we can all apply: “[Make] your world fit to your sensory needs, rather than trying to fit yourself into a world that doesn’t seem made for you.” Here’s to thinking outside the box, asking for and investing in what you want, and a summer of rocking body-ready swimwear—whatever that means to you. Share your fave body-ready swimwear with the ladies of HealthyWay by tagging @itsthehealthyway on Instagram.

Linsey Stevens
Linsey Stevens is a lifestyle and wellness editor who’s developed and curated content for numerous sites and print publications, plus the Nautilus award-winning 2017 book Iphelia: Awakening the Gift of Feeling from Tyrian Press. She continues to write a series of feeling-forward book reviews for iphelia.com. In addition to her writing and editing, Linsey has interests in travel, depth psychology, collaging, and magical realism. She serves on the board of the C.G. Jung Society of St. Louis and is passionate about eating well and the em dash.

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