It is said that working in retail isn’t glamorous, and I learnt that the hard way after seeing over 300 breasts this summer.
When first year came to an end it dawned on me that I must get a job. The days of living off my parents were long gone. If I wanted to have a life that summer I knew I had to find work. Somehow I landed a job working as a sales assistant in a lingerie store. By the end of the summer I was running it as a one woman show.
When I tell people I work in a lingerie shop they look at me strangely. “Laundry? Is that not kinda disgusting?’’, to which I then explain for the hundredth time that instead of scrubbing red wine out of white shirts, I actually measure breasts for a living. Even though I studied French for six years, I am often too lazy or embarrassed to pronounce the word lingerie with the flourish it needs. So it often comes out as “long-gerry’’. Which people then interpret as laundry.
It is an unusual occupation. At first, I was unsure how to act when forced into a changing room with a topless woman. Do I make eye contact with her or her nipples? Which would be more awkward? The first four times I found myself looking anywhere but at her and her body, which made measuring very difficult.
By week two of employment I was utterly unaffected by the bare breast. To be honest I don’t even understand the appeal of tits. After seeing so many this summer I don’t find any body part more unappealing. I’ve seen them in every shape, form and size as we stock everything from a 30A to a 44K.
There are some things that can never be unseen, like the breasts of a woman after a month of breast feeding. It’s not pretty. But that’s my job. I am the polite, attentive, empathetic and professional girl that women pretend not to recognise while passing in the street. While it’s not too awkward in the store, it’s always awkward outside. Even more awkward is seeing the men who I have helped shop for their loved one. Or worse, the creeps who would try to pick me up during work. ‘’What size do you think your girlfriend is?’’ I would ask trying to be helpful. ‘’What bra size are you? You look like her size on top,’’ is an example of one reply. Creeps. They’re everywhere.
When I reflect on all of the funny things that happened to me while working I think I could write a book. My WhatsApp group with my best friends was constantly filled with the unbelievable tales of various things that happened on a daily basis. From cross dressers coming for private fittings, to nuns complaining about provocative mannequins in the windows, many funny things happened.
While sometimes these strange encounters were funny, other times they were plain uncomfortable, even for someone with a strong stomach, like myself. The heatwave this summer brought an entirely new set of customers to the shop: the sweaty elderly. Throngs of country women flocked to Galway this summer to stock up on lingerie and I was unfortunate enough to serve them. Nothing traumatises a gal quite like standing face to face with a topless, perspiring old woman while you measure her boobs.
One of the funniest things that happened was the time an old lady went to try on a bra in the hallway of our building. About ten minutes after giving her the bra to try on, I went to check on her in the changing rooms. She was nowhere to be found. On my way back to the counter something caught my eye. She had gone out the fire exit. Picture a half-naked 80-something-year-old changing in the dark between a solicitor’s and a chiropodist’s office. Priceless.
It’s been a very interesting experience so far. My knowledge of how a bra should fit will stay with me longer than my leaving certificate French. One thing is for sure, after my time working in this field comes to an end I will never want to see another topless woman again for as long as I live.
I’ve always wondered what my calling in life would be. Some people can dance, others can sing. As a journalism student I had hoped my thing would be writing. As it turns out, my thing is measuring boobs. I’m still undecided about how this makes me feel.
When I think about my relatively newfound talent I sometimes worry … Are my long term goals affected by this new calling in my life? Can I still move to New York and become Carrie Bradshaw? Will I still even be a journalist when I’m older? At the moment I’m unsure. All I know is that for now I’m content being paid ten euro an hour to do something that apparently comes naturally to me. Will I need therapy by the time this is all over? Probably. But at the end of the day a job is a job.
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