The Twentieth Anniversary of the Day I Forgot to Wear a Bra

Today’s guest poster lives in the Intermountain West. She would be lambasted on “What Not to Wear” for her love of unflattering long peasant skirts, but in spite of the title of the post, has never really embraced her inner deodorant-free and braless hippie.

To understand this story you must first know an embarrassing fact about me, which I will now reveal to the entire internet, as I am feeling a bit wild and exhibitionist: when I’m truly nervous, no power of Sure, Arid, or any other chemical formulation known to man can possibly hold back my sweat. (Note: please, in the comments, do not tell me about your prescription or overnight or magic rock deodorants, because I promise that in a high stress situation they don’t work for me. This post is not really about that anyway.)

So as a self-conscious and perpetually nervous high school debater, I was just beginning my lifelong quest to attempt a solution to my nervous sweat issues. I tried all manner of options: I safety-pinned sweat guards into the underarms of my debate clothes. I slathered on deodorant; I wore perfume (my apologies to anyone with perfume allergies who ever happened to be in the same building). I even, as a final resort, purchased a kind of underwear shrug with thick pads in the pits.

This proved to be my undoing. Because I was also chronically late (still am), and on the morning of my senior state debate tournament, I rushed into my clothes and out the door to the school, patting myself on the back for remembering my Sweat Shrug beneath my blouse. Only once I had arrived, and it was too late to do anything about it, did I realize that wearing the shrug that morning had given me the illusion of also having put on a bra.

It was only an illusion, though, and once I became aware I realized I felt no real chest-area support. Thankfully I was not well-endowed, and really the only person who noticed my bralessness that day was me. I hope.

Notice it I did, though, and along with my chest something in me also seemed to relax. I had spent the entire debate season competing erratically–winning one tournament, and then going all keyed up to the next one only to bomb. I was too tense, too intense, my coach told me, and of course she was right. But I had no idea how to loosen up, let go, speak the words I had practiced and prepared without coming across as a know-it-all.

Until that day, when the day began so badly, in my mind, that I had nothing to lose. I rocked that tournament. I acted confident but not cocky, I was witty, I cleverly used this sneaky part out of my debate case, the part no opponent noticed but which always won. I made it to the final round, which I lost, but I was so delighted to have gotten there in the first place that I didn’t really care. That weightless feeling got me far enough to let me relax into winning, something I had never done before. And I didn’t get to that zone until the very end of the year, the very last tournament, when it was too late to do anything about it except enjoy the one day I had.

It turns out my twenty-year high school reunion will be held this summer. Someone added me to the Facebook group, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Partly because of this article, on how you never really leave high school. Who you are as a teen defines you, it says. If you learn to fear something when you’re a teenager, you fear it always.

They did a study with mice about that, so it must be true. I’m a little flippant there, but in the end I think it is true: when I see someone I remember from high school, some weird gear twists in my brain and I’m not myself anymore. I remember how they must remember me, and I am transported back twenty years. Not to the braless day, though; that would be nice, but no one really cared about that odd triumph besides me. To other days: the days when I said stupid, arrogant, ignorant things. The days when people were kind to me and I was rude back. I wish I could change it all. I know why I was rude–I felt absolutely terrified to trust that kindness, because I had been burned before (junior high is truly the armpit of life, and no one makes a deodorant to mask its stench) and I did not believe them. But if you’d asked me to articulate rudeness back then, I would have blathered something ridiculous about no one understanding me. I am a rock, I am an island.

I don’t think I’m going to the reunion, for several reasons. It’s expensive enough that I’d blow my entire month’s entertainment budget on tickets. Looking through the list of invitees I remember an embarrassingly small number of them (I had a huge graduating class, in my defense). I weigh so much more now than I did then that I am pretty much unrecognizable, and this is embarrassing. But my ace in the hole reason for not going is that it will be held when I am still in a postpartum fog. I think it would be unwise to show up in a sleep-deprived state to such a nerve-wracking event. Between the inevitable sweat and my easily-triggered nursing letdown reflex, I could reach a new level of high school-related trauma. And as a nursing mother there is no way I will have the option of trying to liberate my nervousness by showing up sans bra.

Have you left high school? What memories do you carry with you?

15 thoughts on “The Twentieth Anniversary of the Day I Forgot to Wear a Bra

  1. I really, really loved this post for so many reasons. I did debate in high school, too, and I relate so completely to what you said about being too keyed up and high-strung; I had the same problem. My stomach was literally in knots at every tournament because of my anxiety, and yet I would do amazingly well all the way through the district qualifying rounds–after which I literally choked. My nerves translated into a case of laryngitis that recurred every year for the state tournament.

    The thing I realized about my high school self is that I was paralyzed not so much by failure but by the possibility of success. Who was I to deserve it, to shine, to revel in being good at something in such a public way? How would I have coped, and even more, how would I have ever followed up success? Failure is so safe, but it’s even safer to never try.

    I’m grateful that in the years since I’ve come to bear only a passing resemblance to that high school me. Yes, I’m more than a few pounds heavier, but I’m also much more grounded in who I am, warts and all. I like myself not just in spite, but because of those quirks and flaws. I look back at high school me and think, I would so want to be your friend.

    I totally get the rationale for skipping your reunion because of sleep deprivation and leaky breasts–I’m still nursing my youngest. But give yourself some time to mull it over; the twenty-year reunion is just when people really start to get interesting!

  2. P.S. I also very much relate to the sweat issue. What an irony for folks doing debate or any other kind of public speaking, right? On the weeks that I teach Relief Society, I have to immediately go home and change anything I wore on my upper half. And people who don’t sweat like that are the ones who always offer well-intentioned (but ultimately unhelpful) advice. There’s really only one thing to do: own it, and cope.

  3. Just wanted to say I love this post and I’m wishing I could find more writing from this guest writer. Love it.

    Funny how we let things “bind” us, like bras, like our own impressions of inadequacies that might keep us from something fun like a reunion.

    Don’t go because it’s expensive. Don’t go because it’s too post-baby. But don’t not go because you are afraid of who you were perceived as then or how you perceive yourself now – that one’s a reason you may regret.

  4. I probably won’t ever go to a high school reunion. I went to one high school for three years and then we moved across the country for my senior year. My parents don’t live in either place anymore, it’s been 17 years since I graduated from high school and I rarely think about it anymore, and I didn’t have very many friends while I was there in the first place.

    I’m also a very different person from who I was in high school. In high school I spent so much time worrying a lot about what I wasn’t–cool, popular, socially adept, liked by boys, good at math, athletic, etc. I am glad to be past that now and to be comfortable with myself and others; I really have no desire to go back to high school at all.

  5. At first I thought that, somehow, I’d written this post and forgotten about doing it. I mean…I still love to wear peasant skirts, and I thought I was the only one who is constantly sweating since I reached puberty and I also was in debate in high school. I, too, owned a vast selection of sweat guards that you could pin onto your shirts and one really great one that had straps and you wore like a little under-thing so it wouldn’t get displaced. Sigh. I’m SOOOO empathizing with you. You’ve beat me in the bra-forgetting category, though.

    I’ve been to my 20th reunion–it wasn’t too bad. But the 40th reunion was somewhat fun. However, my high school class was really small, and, even though it had been 40 years, I was so anxious when a certain boy (well–man) walked in the door. I’d dated him for several months when we were seniors, and then I really rudely dumped him. No, some parts of high school never go away–even after 40 years. How annoying!! I’d never want to be a teenager again. It was waaaaay too much stress.

    Even more annoying, now that I’m a grandma, I’m still sweaty. At this point, I get to blame it on menopause. I can’t wait to get to heaven and ask “Hormones??? Seriously???”

  6. I went to my 20 year high school reunion a couple of years ago, and I loved it. The main reason was that I truly didn’t care what any of my high school peers thought of me anymore. I’d grown up and now have a beautiful life, a wonderful husband, and a career I’m passionate about. I’d spent so many years in Jr. High and High School so painfully self-conscious and worried about what everyone thought of me that I felt paralyzed. Maybe I just needed to go a day without my bra… It was liberating to see old friends for whom I still felt genuine affection and shake the hands of the people who had been unkind to me, knowing that their opinion of me had absolutely no bearing on my self esteem anymore.

    That being said, I wouldn’t go back and relive those years for all the money in the world…

  7. The negatives of me in high school: arrogant, socially inept, smug. The positives: smart, involved, goal-bound. I’d like to think I’ve learned to temper the first two traits (although I did ask my husband the other day “if I’m still feeling socially awkward in my 30s – will I forever feel awkward?”). The other three have tempered as well. Nothin’ like an advanced degree to tell you know relatively next to nothin’ and nothing like a baby to slow down your time for involvement and goals.

    I remember a HS teacher telling my class, “These are the best years of your life.” I remember retorting in my brain, “If these are the best years and everything is downhill from here I might as well end it here.” I’ve since learned more accurately that they were the easiest intersection of responsibility and ability to think and act. That said, I wouldn’t go back and live them again. I prefer the me here and now.

  8. Didn’t need to forget my bra, I didn’t have one yet. Yep, my mom wouldn’t buy me one until I had something to put in it. I had a guy stroke my back during a slow dance, realize I wasn’t wearing one and then start searching up and down my back like he had lost something. I was devastated. High school years are in no way the best years of our lives, college maybe, but high school….I’d never go back.

  9. A good friend once counseled me, “High school was irrelevant.” Best advice I ever received.

  10. My 20-year reunion was a couple of years ago. After swearing off the five, then the 10, I planned on swearing off the 20, for so many reasons. I was out of state, it was too expensive, my husband wouldn’t come with me, but then about a year before it, I made plans with my best friends from high school and made it a girls’ weekend. I have to say, I had a great time. My mantra the whole weekend was “It doesn’t matter.” It doesn’t matter what happened in high school; I am who I am now because of who we all were *then*. A friend of mine looked over at one of the tables and said, “Oh, look, all the popular kids are sitting together.” Not only did I not remember who the populare kids were, it didn’t matter.
    Who wasn’t an anxiety-filled, moody creature in high school? Some just hid it better than others!
    I got clearer pictures of a lot of people that day — the woman who was brave enough to come to the dinner on her own, who didn’t have any friends in high school and was looking for a table to join. She gets points for courage for even showing up. (She did get invited to a table at the dinner). The guy who welcomed me with a huge hug, then promptly introduced me to his wife. Great guy then, great guy now. The stalwart basketball player who shook hands and leaned in to listen to whoever he was speaking with– I think I heard a couple people call him “Bishop”, which didn’t surprise me. One of my best friends that I fairly recently had reconnected with over Facebook turned out to be … odd. Just odd. I left the reunion thinking “Missed opportunity? Or dodged bullet?” As I am very happy with my life now, I’d say “dodged bullets, all of them.”
    Although I did have a great time, I definitely agree with whoever said there’s no way I’d go back and do it again. It’s hard enough watching my kids in middle school.

  11. High school. May those years RIP. I honestly can’t look back with any amount of joy. It took me a long time to get over them. Needless to say, I won’t be going to any reunions (my 30th is coming up).

  12. at my 20th reunion they read a tribute to the graduates written in the school newspaper the June we graduated to introduce the evening of memory highlights but stated that they didn’t know the author. I was the author. I was credited under the headline and I was sitting right in front of the announcer at the reunion. That incident summed up my high school years- the invisible girl, the unacknowledged talent. Why should the reunion be any different?

  13. I had a pretty good high school experience (it was jr. high that killed me), but I’ll never attend a HS class reunion. My class was the worst ever–the popular kids and the druggies were the same people. I always felt so gypped, because in the class above me smart + good = popular.

    In general, I also felt that I didn’t relate to “typical” teenagers (whatever I thought that meant). So for me, high school was about finding out who I was, what I loved to do, and where to find other people who loved to do the same things. I guess in that sense it remains a big part of who I am. But I’ll still never go to a reunion.

  14. Oh amen on the sweating. Story of my life! I would have sweat beads roll off me while standing still in an air conditioned room! Issues.

    I know you don’t want advice for you, but guess what finally worked for me? Botox! 50 shots under each arm every 9 months. Best money I’ve ever spent.

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