Some days, I talk to my co-workers about mundane things like the weather or what I had for dinner. Other days, it seems, the conversation is doomed to descend into a racist, xenophobic, and often factually incorrect rant about immigrants, the EU, and the ‘destruction of England’. This seems to be inevitable in a country which, until recently, I considered to be part of Europe (my American education never disputed that idea and it is, you know, right there next to it). Men carry bags, people go to cafes for lunch and tea, they have a queen: Europe! Many of the residents, though, would be strongly opposed to that assumption, and would likely voice their opposition very loudly. Central to all these conversations is the assertion that ‘Some day, there will be no one truly “English” left in England’, an assertion I find really laughable. After all, the government deemed me to be ‘English’ enough for it to say so on my passport, and I still get confused by the difference between ‘chips’ and ‘crisps’ sometimes.
As a person who hails from a country often referred to as ‘the melting pot’, and specifically from a state where white, English-speaking Americans (‘real Americans’ as many unabashed bigots would happily tell you) are often in the minority, I find this strange conversation to have heavily racist undertones. The same person who will tell you that ‘Englishness’ is under threat will start the next statement with ‘I don’t mean to be racist, but…’, leading me to roll my eyes and immediately exit the conversation. (If you don’t mean to be racist, I think, you should probably just not say what ever it is you are about to say). After all, no one has ever confronted me about my easy citizenship, granted to me simply because my biological father happens to be from England. And, if you wanted to be really pedantic about it, you could point out that my fathers family is actually from Scotland originally, and therefore isn’t really even English at all. I may very well have distant cousins who recently marched in the streets for their independence from the British Parliament.
But what really strikes me as interesting in all this is the idea of ‘Englishness’. What, I find myself asking the speaker, does it mean to be ‘English’? What is this ‘Englishness’, and how exactly is it threatened by immigrants and refugees? Once, in the US, we had this crazy idea that all you had to do to be ‘American’ was to live in America. People came from all over the world simply to become American, and once they were granted that privilege they took great pride in their new titles. However, in England, this doesn’t seem to be the case. People who immigrate to England, it seems, often still identify as whatever they were before they arrived. I remember my confusion is university when a girl introduced herself to me as ‘from New Delhi but grew up in Islington’. I though, if you grew up in Islington, aren’t you English? After all, I’m from Nottingham but I grew up in Alabama, and despite my issues with the title I still identify myself as American most of the time. It seems, then, that ‘Englishness’ isn’t something people particularly want. Why then are we defending it with so much anger and vitriol?
A little while ago, I remember a friend being absolutely terrified that I, a 22 year old adult woman, own only one bra. It is a black, plain, flat t-shirt bra from Primark which I bought 2 years ago. I wear it constantly and I wash it once a week, or every two weeks if it passes a sniff test. My friend, another 22 year old adult woman, was completely horrified, attesting that this was unhygienic and that I should buy another one right away. Over and over, I’ve found this weird disconnect between women when it comes to how they care for their lady lumps. Whether it be a Buzzfeed video comparing different ways to clip them, or a terrifying Chinese woman screaming at me in a Shanghai fitting room that my (carefully fitted) bra does not fit correctly, there seems to be a veritable chasm of disagreement over how bras work. Needless to say, this all really got me thinking. And then I got really confused and scared that I may be doing the bra thing ‘wrong’, and therefore failing utterly at being a woman. Then I got all feminist about it and felt really angry about the patriarchal emphasis on female appearance which forces me to waste valuable time thinking about this shit. Finally, I decided to document some of my own bra experiences, so that just maybe another woman like me, reading this article, might think ‘Hey, I thought I was the only one who did that! I’m not a freak! Hooray’. But most likely you’re probably just thinking ‘For God’s sake woman, buy another bra!’. Either way, here are my bra-fessions.