Padding and Promise

Laura Jardine

The result: a triumph bra, 10C, thick straps, no padding, bare embroidery in a colour she called nude. I corrected her and called it beige. That was our only exchange. The tag never tells you the whole story.

The brassiere is an invention only familiar to the twentieth century but has since cemented itself with personality and as a necessary accessory for otherwise free flowing breasts. Traditionally, and most popularly, the bra is worn to provide physical support as undesirable sagging is considered higher risk without one. The bra also functions to contour shape, match styles, and prop the less endowed. These fabric cups cover the threat of nipple exposure as it’s almost decree that not wearing a bra is a sign of sexual invitation unless it’s feeding time for a mother and her newborn.

A bra is the object of evaluation, critique, question and trial within the change room. Here, a woman determines the suitability of a potential purchase through an act of dress rehearsal. The change room is a space of pre-committal consumerism, where a buyer is edged between approval or denial. Within these walls, self-construction and contemplation is adjusted then tested depending on how the fabric, wires, padding and promise of support feels upon a woman’s skin.

Importantly, the fitting room is an enclave resistant and hidden from the critical gaze, since outside this space no woman can escape the target of physical judgements, stemming from both women and men. Here, wrapped within walls of security, there exists an absence of external approval thus the fitting room is a zone of privacy that renders intimacy and safeness. Peering into the dressing room generates a narrative and text, here judgements are restricted to that only of the wearer, and judgment becomes a privilege, a silent dialogue with only the self. Within this space the significance of beauty is dwarfed by the presence of vanity which allows women to threaten only themselves by perceiving the truth of their own gaze.

In "Changeroom", the presence of the custom bra fitter is an invitation of a stranger into a very private sphere. The forth wall of the private change room is peeled back, opened, allowing the assistant to enter with her goal of measuring, adjusting and fitting the younger woman. The assistant is an agent of adjustment, her role is to ensure a perfect fit, and her work habit is meticulous; she carefully orchestrates the bra into place, fine tuning and positioning into place with a level of expertise known only to a profession. Is the strap tight enough, is the band appropriately placed, and is the breast positioned comfortably within the cup? Not paying this much attention is proof that an estimated 80% of women are wearing the wrong bra proving measurement services are necessary though forever strange exchanges.

It could be argued the camera lens in "Changeroom" withstands a sense of voyeurism and how it achieves this lingers. Instead, the camera lens is explorative of the behaviours we gesture towards ourselves when faced with the self. At many moments the camera is the mirror; the one object which directly reflects self-desire.

The exposure of the private sphere is only further confirmed by the location of the artwork. Facing the street is the behaviours of this hidden room as well as bare hips, stomach rolls, skin discolourations and such. In the final image, the same black bra is wore by the two women whose bodies are physically dissimilar. The black bra does not produce beauty, it produces an effect for the wearer - confidence. The bra is an item which highlights the importance of how a garment can enhance self-attitude based on how the item physically feels and supports not just how it looks. While their bodies are different, and viewers might be faced with constructing a sense of beauty through comparison, the self-evaluating approach each woman is similar. Though it may appear that while the younger women disinterests her body, the older women claims hers brightly, presumably as she has been in her body longer.

Indeed, the vacant expression of the younger woman throughout the fitting may be a sign of dispossession which the older woman claims through the pre-occupation she offers whilst working the role of her job. Indeed in this depiction, the interaction between the women is an endless consideration. Are the boundaries crossed? Is so much adjustment necessary? What does the young girls gaze mean? Is the changeroom a metaphor or projection of internal space? Leaving answers hanging is a sign of a successful artwork in and outside the frame.

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