Full Support sneak peek:
I quickly moved out from behind the counter, conscious of Roxanne’s spiel about “promptly” welcoming the customer once they’d hit the department.
“Hi there.” I patted down a tree of bras, awkwardly fidgeting with their arrangement.
“Hey,” a bronzed-over brunette nicely returned my greeting, already holding a few sale items and Harry’s desired bustier.
“Can I start you a fitting room?” I asked, ready to grab her merchandise.
“Yes, absolutely.” She smiled. “And I’ll keep looking.”
She moved fast. It was clear she knew what she liked. And judging from her selection of frilly panties and a few bras, her sizes were consistent, leading me to believe this wasn’t her first round in the lingerie department. She picked up G-strings, thongs with ties on the side, a couple sheer crotches, and bright lacy bras matching perfectly with the bottom half. She was a good mixer, making me think I needed to clean out my own panty drawer and start all over.
While she continued to look around the floor, still gathering random pieces of lingerie, I tried looking productive by tidying up the counter area but got stuck on the department’s daily overview written down in our team booklet, highlighting Yvonne’s impending arrival, Michelle’s verbose recap about the order in which bras should hang on the wall, alteration pickups, panty table fill-ins, and our new hire, Tabitha, shadowing Rachel for the day. We had a lot to cover. And with a newcomer on board, I suddenly realized I’d be responsible for most of it.
“I think I’m ready to head in,” my customer stated softly, concluding my ill-fated analysis.
“Yes, of course, follow me.” I smiled, catching a glimpse of her additions, noting garter belts and a couple black satin corsets. “Do you need help with any of the bras?” I asked, trying not to stare at her amazingly tight backside crammed into an old pair of Levi’s.
“I think I’m good.” She smiled, reaching for the doorknob. Back out on the floor, I figured I would get started on filling one of the panty tables until enough time had passed for me to head back into the dressing rooms. It didn’t take long, however, for my customer to appear in the walkway, attempting to mask her naked body with her shirt.
“Is there any way you can grab me a 34 triple-D in this and maybe a pair of black stockings I can try with one of the garters?” She stood, pointing to her boobs as they sat atop the bra’s ruched lace, mimicking the roundness of two eight-pound bowling balls covered in a brownish-orange metallic coat and glistening under the entryway lights.
“Yeah, no problem.” I nodded her way, knowing exactly what pairs of lace-top thigh-highs she’d be getting.
After a quick jaunt to the hosiery department down the way, and a pit stop at our sidewall of sheer lacy bras, I felt good about my recommendations and to my surprise, Yvonne’s arrival. The top floor was filling up quickly and my curiosity had already determined my whereabouts.
“Hi, there.” I crept into the hallway outside the dressing rooms.
“It’s Nicole.” My customer opened the door wearing nothing but a string between her bulletproof buttocks and a v-shaped patch over her lady bits.
“Alright, Nicole.” I stood holding onto her lingerie as I fought hard not to stare at the rest of her body, seemingly inscrutable and firmly intact.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I brought you a few suggestions,” I continued, struggling to comprehend the words inked along her spine as she turned to grab a bra off the bar.
“That’s great!” she lit up, putting her arms through the straps. “I’ll try anything!”
“Sounds good,” I replied, steadily nodding my head, hoping to find the right wording in an effort to remind her about dressing room etiquette and placing her potential purchases over her already owned panty.
“Do you happen to have your own pair of underwear?” I finally asked, spotting another trail of black ink along the inside of her forearm. And if truth be told, I couldn’t care less about one’s try-on methods, especially if it brought us to the register, but when I’m left to strategically rehang small pieces of fabric on plastic hangers, moments after seeing them placed elsewhere, aversion tends to come on strong.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she apologized then paused. “It’s just so hard to get the right look. I promise I’m buying most of this. I’ll definitely buy the ones I have on. I, uh, actually don’t have my own panty,” she replied, making me rethink my need to say anything at all, though the number of panties I spotted on the chair was slightly alarming.
“No problem,” I replied, hoping to change the topic as I noticed the bra’s band riding up her back. “Have you tried going down a band size?”
“You mean a 32?” she asked, turning her body in front of the mirror. “Yeah.” She hesitated, examining her backside. I stared at the dry drippings of dark hair dye encrusted around her hairline and then down to a subtle map of stretch marks along her hip bone. “It’s the back fat,” she continued. “My job won’t have it.” I paused at her sudden ambiguity, reeled in by the second and wanting every last piece of the particulars.
“What do you do for work?” I asked after a short delay.
“I’m a good old-fashioned stripper.” She smiled, unhooking her bra.
“Oh, alright.” We both laughed at her unfiltered reveal.
She was forthright and not remotely timid, moving around the dressing room with little regard for wasted time.
“I tend to clean out your sale racks.” She shimmied out of her panties. “I bring a bunch to the house for the other girls.”
I fought to stay audible as my eyes moved from the small patch of pubic hair immaculately groomed into a shape I couldn’t quite make out.
“You guys all live together?” I asked, swiftly moving my gaze.
“No, no.” She laughed. “The house is where we dance. Some of the girls are in school or working another job or playing mommy. It’s hard to go shopping with the hours.”
“Yeah.” I nodded like I knew what she was talking about, wondering who had been helping her from my team.
“I’ve never seen you in here before.” I tried not to sound too meddlesome.
“I just moved here from Vegas a few months back. And I really hate shopping to be honest. I try to avoid as many crowds as possible, which is why I do it all in one swoop.”
“That makes sense.” I stood nodding again, ready to leave her with her merchandise after my awkward and lengthy lingering act.
“Sooo ...” She struggled to multitask, studying a pair of high-end panties before she unhooked them from the hanger. “You’re not the first bra fitter who’s told me I should be wearing a 32 band. Why is that?”
“Well ...” I paused, looking at her rib cage poking out from her skin. “It’s so the band won’t ride up your back. The higher the band, the lower the breasts.”
“Ah, I see.” She looked at my boobs and then down at her own. “Even with silicone?”
“Depends on how old the silicone is. Yours look great. And they’re certainly perky. I would wear whatever band size you’re comfortable in, to be honest.”
“Let’s try one for the hell of it.”
“No problem.” I stepped back to open the door. “I’ll be back in a few.”
The sales floor was still surprisingly quiet. Michelle was in her usual frantic state, doing her best to be seen in case Roxanne walked by, and Rachel, who had the patience of a small child, had started her intensive tutorial with Tabitha. I tried my best not to stare as the two stood massaging bra cups and fiddling with the intricacies of popular panties. I sensed confusion on Tabitha’s face, or utter panic, while Rachel talked a mile a minute, spontaneously cupping her own breasts in the middle of the department. Missing Farah was valid. She was my breath of fresh air, my person.
Knocking on Nicole’s door, and somewhat prepared for anything, I stood, organizing my delivery.
“Wow, thank you,” she said, welcoming me in. I wasn’t sure if she wanted me to stay or go, but I liked talking to her. I appreciated her control as she boldly flaunted every last piece of lingerie wedged into her skin. She was quietly forceful, knowing exactly what she wanted.
“I’ll let you adjust the bra,” she said, running her fingers along the straps. Following the scent of a soft floral, I stood with my hands on her breasts. They were big and round and in my face. I couldn’t help staring in amazement at a job well done as I attempted to readjust their placement.
“First hook,” I said, moving behind her. “And you’re probably more of a 30 band.”
“Thirty!” Her eyes widened. “Not a chance!”
I watched as she turned around to examine her back, stopping at a small pinched layer of skin. “The truth is I don’t really wear bras all that often,” she said, quickly unhooking the bra.
“I would assume so.” I smiled, grabbing the bra from off the chair. “Wouldn’t that defeat your purpose?”
She laughed, making me feel at ease for potentially crossing customer boundaries.
“You’d be surprised at what people want.” She stepped into another pair of panties, still refusing to leave on a panel of protection.
I waited as she retied the sides of a G-string, carefully making loops with her nails.
“Have you been at it for a long time?” I asked, mustering up just enough audacity to ignore the part about professionalism and pry tirelessly. I couldn’t help imagining her front and center, especially as she stood before me stark naked and impeccably groomed.
“Too long,” she replied, combing her pixie cut with her fingers. “And it hasn’t been easy, but it’s paid my bills and allowed me to keep my daughter in private school.”
“I can only imagine,” I replied, still trying to understand the words tattooed along her spine, as well as a world I knew nothing about. The facets of the trade appeared dark and daunting, leading me back to my last memory of a strip club and the repercussions of disbelief due to its widespread phenomenon. The mass of attendees was startling and I, a little shell-shocked at how progressive the industry had become, wasn’t expecting a game of peekaboo at a strikingly slow rate.
“It can knock the wind out of you sometimes,” Nicole continued, throwing a pair of panties atop a growing pile of lingerie. “I’ve learned to separate my true self from the performance though. It sounds crazy, but I do it for my daughter. The money gives her experience.”
“Huh.” I stood in awe, marveling at her strength. I felt terrible, too, admittedly trying to redeem myself from any and all preconceived notions regarding her industry. She was a woman, a human being, working to live. “How old is your daughter?” I asked, watching her carefully glide a sheer black thigh-high up her leg, her posture robust and unshaken.
“She’s six,” she said, beaming, before grabbing her phone from her bag.
“Wow, she’s beautiful.” I leaned in, feeling every ounce of her admiration as she stared at her daughter’s toothless smile. “You doing this on your own?”
She paused, slowly studying her body in the mirror. I wondered if I had meddled unwantedly again.
“Since she was three months old,” she replied. “Fatherhood became too much for her dad. He struggled with mental illness and bounced from job to job. I woke up one day and said I’m done.”
My heart felt like it skipped a hundred beats as I watched her pull the last of her outfit together. “I don’t blame him though,” she added after a moment of silence. “His episodes even scared him.”
“Wow.” I once again struggled to find the right words, realizing that I was at risk for overstaying my welcome.
“Life,” she responded quietly, eyeing her pile of panties. “We’ve been on our own ever since. And money talks.”
Her comment hit me like a ton of bricks, especially because I felt like I had started to understand. Survival manifested itself the way it needed to, unmistakable and hard-hitting, yet its offerings kept her going. Staring at the G-string sandwiched between her ass as she worked every last inch of space between us, I thought about my handful of quarters in my coin purse and the clothes on my back, and quietly acknowledged the stark difference between our circumstances. “I have to ask,” I said, completely invested in her vocation and all its secrets. “What do they want?”
“Hah!” She smirked, picking up on my vagueness while finalizing her pile.
I couldn’t help attempting to do the math in my head, wondering if the entirety of her mound would overwhelm the receipt roll.
“To be honest.” She stopped and looked directly at me. “The men are the ones who want the attention.”
I nodded slowly, envisioning Nicole spread-eagle and oiled like the well-built machine that she was.
“Not all, but a lot,” she continued. “I have a gentleman who brings me flowers every week. He’s a businessman, vulnerable, and a great conversationalist, especially when it comes to politics. And then, of course, there are the dirtbags, drunks, and misogynists who think they know you. They think you’re just a piece of meat with a sad story looking to be saved.” She shook her head and sighed. “And sometimes there are women looking to be saved because they’ve never known real, unconditional love. I used to dance with a girl in Vegas who grew up in twelve different foster homes, molested in two, starved in one. Her parents were drug addicts and abandoned her when she was four years old. She didn’t choose to experience that. But she’s a ‘lowlife, a whore, a slut.’ I’ve heard it all. And sometimes it comes from the man sitting right in front of you.”
“Jesus Christ,” I muttered, my pulse high.
“I dance with a girl right now whose boyfriend beats the shit out of her, years after her own father did the same thing, so she’s trying to save enough money to leave town and, well, survive. It is what it is, you know. We’ve all taken to the stage for different reasons. And like I said, it’s fast money, it’s good money, and money talks, especially when you’re out there trying to stay alive with the cards you’ve been dealt.”
Silence crept in again.
“Right.” I stood catching flies while circling back to the businessman and the flowers and the great conversation. I was perplexed, yet oddly empowered. Nicole had purpose, fighting round for round, escaping into steadfast resolve, presumably fueled by an exit strategy. I admired her command. I admired her willingness to open up about a trade that society has long deemed dirty, desperate, and demeaning without any real context. It felt so unfair, too, because it all started with people, real-life human beings with brains and beating hearts.
It has been the very people of our society, lost in bigoted doctrines, positions of power, and blinding privilege, who have created such dehumanizing judgment, casting aside those who are “less than.” Casting aside people of color. Casting aside women who have been wrongfully trapped inside the binding folds of patriarchy. It is the very essence and vulnerability of humanity that other fucking people have discarded and objectified and pointed fingers at, constructing an even larger system of spiraling ignorance. It’s just never made sense. People vs. people. Man vs. woman. Survival vs. advantage. Ignorance vs. everything.
It came as no surprise that my quiet rumblings brought me right back to where it all started—my own sexuality. Boldly accentuated with Victoria’s Secret body sprays, Maybelline mascara, a flowing mane, and a winning pair of red velvet G-string thongs I bought for Michael Morrison, my developing mojo felt on point. Hot AF. And as commanding as I wanted it to be, yet still guided by a list of standards I fell prey to as a young, sexually curious teen. My thin velvet strings carried a strange power that made me feel validated, though still controlled by a culture that criticized––and continues to criticize—women for our chosen attire, our behavior, our desires. Don’t speak. Cover up. That makes you look like a slut. Have some self-respect. Shame on you.
The juxtaposition between my teen customer Molly and me came back tenfold as I stared at Nicole. Though years apart, sadly so, we still followed a similar set of criteria, eager to explore the unknown while searching for an unrepentant tone, because, somewhere deep within sexism’s glaring ridicule, we’ve had to. We have been taught to control our sexuality, our bodies, and our minds, never to experience a gender-equal playing field. Men aren’t told “cover your chest, I can see your nipples.” “You should really wear a bra because your pecks are saggy, but only the ones with underwire because you’ll get a better lift and it will help smooth your gut.” “And by the way, your penis is making you really emotional. Is it that time of the month?” “Are you really going to wear that in public? It makes you look fat.” “It’s okay if your pants are a size 44x30; you have a handsome face.” “You should really trim your balls. My god. It’s like a plantation down there.”
“You look confused,” Nicole smiled, bringing me back to the conversation as she zipped up her jeans.
“No, no.” I looked down at the carpet. “I just, I don’t know.” I struggled to articulate my thoughts. I liked her too much, too soon, to have my words misconstrued. Plus I felt uneasy and pissed off. “I’m—”
“Fascinated and bothered all at the same time,” she finished for me.
“Yeah,” I replied, dumbfounded and still probing. “Do you ever enjoy it? You know, the job?”
Nicole paused and stared at her pile of panties.
“You know ...” She spoke with careful thought. “I do. Some nights I go out there and feel so sexy and in control of myself that I almost black out. I tell myself every night that I’m in charge; it’s my house.”
I laughed, loving her attitude. “Damn right,” I said with a smirk, trying not to look overly obvious as I snooped inside her bag.
“You should read it.” She followed my gaze before pulling out a thick blue book with the title Cunt printed across an orange daisy. “It’s a good reminder of all things wonderful in the world.”
I laughed again, immediately intrigued as she passed over her book. I had seen it at some point in one of my women’s studies classes. I also nearly exploded with adoration as I went on to read the subtitle: A Declaration of Independence. It was meant to be. The timing, the book, the words ... Nicole.
“I had a lot of reclaiming to do,” she said, scooping up her pile of panties. “So I read it a couple times and wrote myself a love letter, realizing I had to stop hating myself for what I do and don’t do. And most important, I had to stop caring about what other people have to say. The world will always judge you.”
Her words lingered. The world will always judge you.
More silence came rolling in, putting a swift halt to any sensible formation of words on my behalf. Her honesty was, quite possibly, the rawest I’d felt, igniting a long string of penetrating thoughts and the burning need to break away.
I had a book to buy and work to do.
Nicole’s bravery and boldness packed a punch, leading me to examine my own ideas about sexuality, identity, intimacy, and survival. I never expected to feel so much empathy as reality came knocking. In a matter of minutes, I began to feel wildly liberated, following my new client to the register like the lost puppy dog that I was.
“Do you have a business card?” she asked, handing over her pile of panties, bras, and a set of thigh-highs.
“I do,” I replied, eager to take down her information, quickly making note of her purchases and her telephone number and her words, knowing I’d see her again.
“A declaration of independence.” I repeated my new claim, turning the register screen around so that she could see the numbers more clearly and bail if she wanted to.
“Exactly,” she said and laughed, handing me five hundred dollars in cash before locking in another smile. “You’ll never be spineless.”
I quickly looked up, finally comprehending the words boldly inked into the ridges of her backbone. A declaration of independence, I repeated internally, smiling at the thought of my own departure as I watched her walk toward the elevators.
With renewed wind in my sails and a merited lunch break, I was hot on the heels of a Barnes & Noble associate. “Excuse me, sir,” I repeated twice, realizing I was too close for comfort as he turned around. His lips were straight as a ruler, and thick magnifying glasses rode the tip of his nose. “I’m, uh, looking for a book titled Cunt.”
I quickly checked my surroundings.
“Cunt,” he restated my request louder than I liked, overenunciating the “t” before leading me to a wall full of organized promise.
I immediately spotted the bright orange daisy as it adorned an arrangement of book spines. “That’s it!” I yelled, grabbing the book and making my way toward the register. I knew I was cutting it close—that is, my budget, or rather, lack of a budget. It was a quandary: Do I neglect my mound of laundry and attempt to live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the next three days? Or buy the book? Eyeing the register one more time, I stood smack dab in the middle of the bookstore, mentally registering other food items I had left in my kitchen, while noting my half tank of gas and a bottle of wine for Chase’s house. I can do it, I thought, slowly making my way up to the counter, holding tight to the edges of Inga Muscio’s Cunt and the embarrassment that enveloped me as I quietly dug for quarters, knowing I had just enough to declare a win and total stupidity.
It didn’t take long for me to settle into the hospitality of our outdoor seating, far removed from the doorway. My mind raced as my time with Nicole erupted into bits and pieces of ceaseless inquisition. Her fearless declaration and commitment to herself and her body reminded me that I had been failing at so many things, carelessly clipping my own wings. My fear of intimacy and vulnerability was bigger than anything I’d ever known, pecking mercilessly at every organ in my body until the madness came spilling out. She was a game-changer, though, fortuitous and unpredicted, pushing me to create my own unapologetic declaration and actually live it.
Nicole also propelled me to really think about the position of women in our current society. I started to reexamine what I had learned about feminism and power and my own inner roar. The act of “reclaiming” continued to ignite a revolution within myself, yet the very notion of women repeatedly reduced and ranked by society exasperated an already present rage. Why are we still fighting to claim and reclaim a place in the world?
Just a piece of meat with a sad story. I reworked the words over and over in my head, wondering if my housewife Julie from the day before felt the same way. Did she believe her place in the world only existed within the confines of her male counterpart, the husband she thought she knew? My job as a bra fitter began to worry me. Gladys’s struggle with age, Molly’s skewed perception of beauty, her mother’s perception of other women. I had come to experience too many alarming patterns.
So I sat, staring up at the sky before opening my new book, refusing to feel anything but sexy and grand and full of moxie, like Nicole. I was ready to get turned upside down and inside out on my terms, shamelessly starting with “The Anatomical Jewel.”