WIN is an acronym for Women In Need, an organization that offers temporary shelter to homeless families. I became involved with them one year when my women’s group, The Family of Women, did a holiday celebration/community service project with some of the women then in residence.   Several of us visited one of the residential facilities to sit and talk with the women, and offer them support in things like applying a for bank account or interviewing with a landlord to get an apartment. We brought sweet treats and donated our gently used handbags, and filled baskets with health, hygiene and beauty products to distribute to the ladies.

We who are privileged do not have to worry about something as mundane as filing our nails because a quick, cheap manicure is easily accessible in the city and throughout the boroughs.  When you’re homeless, you’re lucky if you can find the privacy of an enclosed toilet so you can take care of your daily business. Most of us can’t quite fathom the loss of dignity that accompanies homelessness, and the deprivation and inability to meet  basic human needs like shelter, food, clothing. We take many things for granted.   I was very moved by the plight of these women,  many of whom had young daughters, and wanted to help them.  

I decided to have a Bra Mitzvah celebration for the girls living at the shelter.  In Judaism, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah takes place when a boy or girl transitions from childhood to adulthood, thirteen years old for boys, and 15 for girls.   “Today you are a man!” beams the proud papa. “Welcome to Womanhood!” proclaims the Mom gently. For girls, certainly the first bra fitting is a rite of passage, hence Bra Mitzvah.    But these girls, and their  families, were bereft of resources, and there were no celebrations or welcoming rituals in their lives.  I wanted to celebrate these girls, to pump up their self esteem, self respect, to reassure them that having a goal or a dream to work toward in life was important, was possible, and worthy of their efforts. I told them that I’d gone back to school at 30, and started Bra Tenders, when I was 45!   

They arrived at the shop as a silent cluster, accompanied by, and clinging to, their chaperone.  At first they were hesitant to speak, overwhelmed by the walls and racks filled with bras, but after a brief discussion, and a few very vocal, very busty 12 year olds, they all chimed in, many expressing frustration and self consciousness over their budding breasts.   After introductions,  I helped each girl find the perfect size, and best bra for her body, then gave them each 2 bras.  Several of 10-12 year olds already had womanly curves, and wore E, F, and G cups. The new bras supported and lifted them, contained their breasts so their clothes fit better and looked neater.  They talked of unwanted attention from men, and I remembered my own mortification when I was 13, and how I hated when boys, men, stared at my chest. I wore oversized clothes, and slouched, to hide my breasts.  I wanted these girls to feel empowered, and to accept their bodies without shame or criticism.

I can’t describe the looks on their faces when they saw themselves in their new bras – smiles from ear to ear.  They looked at themselves as if something magical had just happened, and I suppose that’s what I like best about doing this work – that look on women’s faces when they feel good about how they look, and how they look makes them feel good.  We toasted the girls with iced tea and cookies, and some were so excited, they proclaimed their intention to work for Bra Tenders when they were a little older.

What they got:  

Freya Sport 4002

Maidenform basic T shirt bra

Wacoal Halo Lace wired bra