the guys behind me on the train

I was on the train, heading back to NYC from New Jersey and there were three guys  sitting behind me. They were talking about life. Which meant that they were mostly talking about girls.

“Sometimes some girl asks me if I have an ideal woman,” said the guy with the deep, commanding baritone, his voice carrying over the crackling of a broken ceiling speaker. He paused for dramatic effect. “I can give you measurements.”

The other guys chuckled, low and a little menacing.

Deep Voice didn’t leave his bros wondering. “Thirty-four C,” he said. “Definitely thirty-four C…”

“Yeah…” said the other guys, savoring the measurement.

“A twenty-four inch waist. Hips, thirty-six.”

Murmurs of agreement.

“She’d be five foot seven inches.”

“Good height.”

“Yeah, five seven…”

“Weigh about a hundred and thirty.”




His authoritative voice went on and on and I sat there, tensed in my seat, suddenly uncomfortable and on-edge. Suddenly, I was in much younger, much less sure of myself, and I was thinking that I didn’t know how big around my waist is but I am positive it’s bigger than twenty-four inches. And I was thinking that my breasts will probably never fill a C cup, and that my rib cage is too big for a 34, and so I have both a larger frame and smaller breasts than this guy’s ideal woman. Which, in that misguided, flash of a moment, felt like a failing. I am not an ideal woman, I thought.

This is ridiculous, I thought next. I am not eighteen anymore. Who cares what this faceless guy behind me on the train thinks about anything?

But in the ridiculous moment before, it’d seemed like he was somehow speaking for all men.

I had a brief fantasy about turning around in my seat and saying something. But what would I say?

“Do you want to hear about my ideal man? I can tell you exactly how long his penis is.”

I knew I wouldn’t turn around. Instead, I hunched lower in my seat and listened, feeling invisible and acutely aware of my imperfect body, all at once.

“I don’t know, man,” another of the guys was saying now. “I don’t think that much about measurements…”

But he was cut off by the first guy, who was asking him about some girl he’d hooked up with. “No, but was her name Christine or Christina, because she’s a junior, right? So she’d be at—” here he said the name of an institution—”And Bobby is there. He knows everyone so he’d know her. Brown hair?”

“Yeah, maybe Christina,” said the guy who wasn’t sure about measurements. “Maybe Christine. I don’t know man, but she was hot. Blond, I think. Really skinny. Definitely really skinny and blond. And tall. I’ve been thinking about facebooking her.”

“Yo, speaking of hot girls,” said Deep Voice, “I ran into Lydia at —” Another name of a place I didn’t recognize. “She’s really cute. But her abs are too thick, you know what I mean? I don’t like girls with thick abs.

Thick abs? What? Is that even a thing? I tried to figure out what else he could possibly have meant. My brain tried to work it into “thick arms.” That would make sense, I thought, looking down at mine. But it wouldn’t fit. Thick ass? It had really sounded like “thick abs.”

“I bet it’s totally different, in the real world, with girls,” said the third guy, who hadn’t said much so far.

Deep Voice was ready for this. “Yeah, it definitely is, man. After college, girls are really into money. It’s like, if you go out to Wall Street, even if you’re this nerdy guy, and like a year later you come back with twenty mil in the bank, then they’re gonna be all over you. Like, at the reunion. It’s totally different.”


Suddenly I knew who they were. They were Princeton students! They were boys who didn’t know anything about anything. $20 million, your first year out of school? Or ever? It was laughable.

They talked about the social hierarchy for a while and a lot of their conversation was lost to the crackling of the broken speaker. There was discussion about the eventual first reunion they would attend, and mentions of how the girls in New York City would be all over them, when they moved there after graduation, and speculation about whether it was better to be at this place or that place. The places, I realized, were eating clubs. Students at Princeton join big frat-like groups their freshman year, and their social lives, housing, and food all revolve around their groups. I remember, when I took the campus tour at seventeen, how they were cheerfully described by a current student.

“But what if you don’t get into one?” someone asked.

She explained that that was rare, but that there was alternative housing, for the kids who got left behind.

I remember the horror rising in my throat at the thought of being one of the kids who didn’t get picked for an eating club.

Deep Voice told his friends about a few other girls he knew who were flawed but acceptable, and one of the less important guys told the story of grabbing this girl and kissing her at a party, and then walking away as she shouted after him, “Hey! You’re not allowed to kiss me!” He snickered, pleased with himself.

Then there was a story about this girl one of the guys had hooked up with after a party.

“I didn’t get her name. I mean, she wasn’t that hot.”

Laughter. Deep Voice: “She served her purpose.”

I tensed again. I wished for a second that I looked like a supermodel or a movie star. Then, I thought, I would whip around in my seat so that the full-impact of my hotness blinded them, and say something scolding or insulting. Looking like myself, I didn’t feel powerful enough. They sounded so sure about girls. About what girls were worth. About how girls were divided up and measured and ranked. And I still felt like a college girl.

The guys stood up at the Newark airport stop. They fussed with their bags for a minute, and I got my first look at them.

My breath caught.

I was grinning, suddenly.

It was a short Indian guy with acne and a dumb tee-shirt, a tall, gangly white guy with unfashionable glasses and puffy hair, and an Asian guy whose chest seemed to cave in, with stringy too-long hair, and round glasses.

He was Deep Voice. The last one. The scrawniest, most fragile-looking of the lot. The one with the most oblivious hair.

I laughed. They didn’t look over. They were too busy showing off for each other.

I was flooded with relief.

Why? Because they weren’t threatening-looking. Because they were just little boys. Because they looked like they had never gotten kissed, let alone hooked up after every party. Because they suddenly were no one to me, so I didn’t care about their judgments. About their favorite measurements. I didn’t care about them.

Sort of like the way they didn’t care about the girls they met who weren’t hot enough.

They got off the train. A quiet, middle-aged couple took their place. I sat beneath the enthusiastic crackling of the speaker and thought about the boys, all the way to Secaucus.

Before I had known that they were wearing stupid tee-shirts. Before I had known that they were kids my youngest brother’s age. Before I had known that they didn’t know anything—I had been automatically diminished by them. Deep Voice had made me feel like I didn’t matter, for a few minutes, on NJ Transit. Just because my measurements are different from those of his “ideal woman.”

What’s that about?

That’s about beauty and body image. It’s about the way that your self-esteem is constructed, as a girl, and the way it evolves as a woman. It’s about worth. It’s about what makes girls important.

But  it’s also about me. And someday, I hope that Deep Voice makes me laugh first, before I know who he is or what he looks like. Or maybe I’ll turn around in my seat and say, “Can you please keep your voice down? I don’t really want to hear you talking about girls like that.” And it won’t matter what I look like, because I will be powerful no matter what.

(here’s a better idea for measuring tape)

*  *  *

How do you feel when you overhear guys talking about sexy girls? Are you at the point where you don’t care?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look without nail polish. Weirdly enough, it’s been a while.

Reader cake pic!! Her face says it all…



Kate on June 4th 2012 in beauty, body

72 Responses to “the guys behind me on the train”

  1. Heather responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    I laughed out loud when you finally got a look at those guys! I have to say that some girls would have still felt inferior and not good enough even after getting a look at them. I bet I may even be one of them. We all learn confidence as we get older, however we also all have our moments of weakness. Side note – my thought would also have been to turn to them and make a comment equally as degrading to them as theirs was towards women. But alas, a lot of times my bark is bigger than my bite and while I dream of saying something totally clever, I would have just sat there shaking my head knowing that they have a lot to learn =)

  2. V Demetros responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    Interesting story, and I know I’ve heard guys talking like that before. But I was struck by something in your story. These guys talked of ideal women and sex with someone and not getting a name because they weren’t hot enough to matter. But after feeling intimidated by these guys for a bit, you were no longer intimidated by them after you saw what they looked like. Why? They were not hot enough to matter. In a twisted way, weren’t you doing the same thing to them? If they had looked like Hugh Jackman and Johnny Depp, would you have felt worse about yourself? Does the opinion of a hot guy matter more than the opinion of a dork? Interesting concept, and your post today really made me think about this. I’m not criticizing as much as I’m noticing this in myself also. Great head scratcher today.

  3. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    @V Demetros
    Yup. I tried to point that out here: “Why? Because they weren’t threatening-looking. Because they were just little boys. Because they looked like they had never gotten kissed, let alone hooked up after every party. Because they suddenly were no one to me, so I didn’t care about their judgments. About their favorite measurements. I didn’t care about them.”

    But maybe I should have clarified?

  4. Hannah responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    I was actually really rooting that you’d turn around and talk to them, share your wisdom with them. If only so that in the future when they see a girl who’s cute, they’d know better than to ask for her measurements. If only so that they’d know better than to think that money is the only important thing to a woman (although, that said, if I met someone who found me attractive and who made $20 million their first year out of college, I’d be pretty darn interested.)

    Why is it that we let ourselves be diminished by nameless, faceless people we encounter? Why do we think that they have the truth and our friends are just lying to us? Because I do it too, and it’s silly.

  5. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    I added a line. Hope that helps.

  6. Melanie responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    I definitely would’ve turned around and said something. After getting a look at them it probably would’ve been something like, “It must be nice how when you’re born with a dick, you think you can be pathetic and scrawny, not to mention obviously fucking idiotic, and still deserve the physically ideal woman. How blessed and peaceful that must be.”

    Then hours later I would’ve regretted it, because men like that would just laugh at the fat woman who was mouthy enough to speak up to them on the train. Sometimes silence is far more powerful, then letting someone know they got under your skin.

  7. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Yeah, I was thinking, “If I’d said something to them, that would’ve made for a better story!” :-)
    And I love that you admit that you’d be into a guy who made a ton of money and was interested in you. I feel like women aren’t supposed to admit it if they feel that way. But it makes sense!

  8. Melanie responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:30 pm #


  9. Caroline responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    But… what if they’d been hot? How would you have felt then? Is your dismissal of them due to their appearance also rooted a beauty-based assessment of peoples’ worth? They looked inexperienced, maybe that’s one thing, but it also seems to be important that they wore dorky clothes and had bad hair and skin.

    (And, i’m not saying i wouldn’t have had the same reaction.)

  10. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    there is definitely room for judgment on both sides of the fence, always…

  11. Lili @ Relatable Style responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    It is also true that you dismissed their (no doubt questionable) opinions based on their looks, too. Would it have been different if they had been beautiful?

  12. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    YES! Why is this point so hidden?! :-) Do you just expect me not to notice it?

    “Why? Because they weren’t threatening-looking. Because they were just little boys. Because they looked like they had never gotten kissed, let alone hooked up after every party. Because they suddenly were no one to me, so I didn’t care about their judgments. About their favorite measurements. I didn’t care about them.

    Sort of like the way they didn’t care about the girls they met who weren’t hot enough.”

  13. Kerry responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    I’m at the point where, when I hear things like this, I say something. My husband hates when I do, and he always tries to get me to let it go – to rise above it, if you will – but I’m through with all that.

    If you want to have your gross, demeaning conversation in a public place where you know people are listening that’s fine. If I can hear it and it makes me feel crappy about MYSELF or MY LOVED ONES, I think it’s also fine to point that out.

    Does it make a difference? Probably only to me, and that’s enough.

  14. Aurora responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    This brings up an interesting point — that the reason you didn’t take them seriously in the end, is because they looked unattractive and inexperienced. If they had turned out to be hot guys in their mid-20s with nice professional clothes, would you have cared more? Are the attractive the only ones fit to judge attractiveness, and are the competent the only ones whose judgments matter?

    (Just food for thought, curious as to what the response is.)

  15. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    AAAHHH!!!! Check back in the post. I swear I covered this.


  16. Sheryl responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    The first thing that I found myself thinking as I was reading this is that I bet they wouldn’t even recognize it if the perfect girl (by their definition) walked up and smacked them in the head. Seriously.

    I don’t really like overhearing conversations like that (who does?), and it makes me sad that people really actually judge their romantic interests so much on looks. I wonder, though, how much of that is just bluster, put on to impress friends and peers, and how much is real?

  17. San D responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    being a fly on the wall with complete strangers is kinda like voyeurism….because each “group” of friends (in this case the “Princeton” guys) have their own dynamics (competitive, joshing, embellishing, etc) that you are not part of. So your observations are superficial at best, and speculative at worst. These young men are no less programmed to think of the perfect woman, than women who are looking for their “prince” and would be comparing notes on the train, or indeed like women who try to measure up to the perfection served by television and magazines.

    Which is not to say I agree with their assessments of women. To the contrary, I wouldn’t like anyone sizing up anyone in terms of their physical attributes, nor would I like anyone using someone for sexual purposes only without even knowing their last name.

    That said…

    Instead of turning around and talking to strangers I would try to influence people in my own sphere with teachable moments. I am happy to say that many of the young men in my high school classes ended up dating and or taking to the prom young women who were not traditional beauties, but were interesting individuals. And many of the young women in my classes surprised themselves with their new knowledge of how smart, talented, and creative they actually were. (Today’s Times has an article on teen abusive relationships…which kind of relates to all of this too).

    I once wrote a poem in high school that talked about how as humans we “judge”. Our judgement abilitiy and “habit” came from our cave days when “friend or foe”, “fertility”, and “leaders” were essentially sniffed out by our ancestors. The heirarchy of beauty is part of this established ritual of judging.

    We could no more stop judging then we could stop the sun from shining.

  18. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    @San D
    I wrote this post not to illustrate how meaningful my observations of these guys were, but to observe my OWN reaction to them. I’m not claiming to understand them, or to make a statement about all men based on a few people. I was just startled by how they made me feel!

  19. Jen responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    I know the exact feeling those types of comments can stir up in the pit of your stomach. I also hate the way I let the opinions of others lead me down a dark path sometimes. Sometimes I realize quickly they don’t matter, other times I feed into them and allow the comments to spin out of control in my head until it ruins my whole day. I’m not sure why I do that sometimes…

    This weekend I was walking down a crowded city street with my 5’8 boyfriend. I’m 6ft. I heard someone say, “What the hell, is he 4 ft nothing?” then he yelled out “Dude, your girl is bigger than you!” It was humiliating and it stirred up those feelings that we weren’t good enough; we didn’t fit the part of the ideal couple. I turned around ready to yell some crude comment back but thankfully, my bf insisted arguing with a stumbling drunk man was not a wise idea. The man’s comment hurt me but I think we grew closer as a couple because of it. The criticism made me realize just how sad and lonely people like that must be (much like the boys on the train). They will never find the idea of perfection they seem to think exists in this world. That goes for everything, not just appearances.

    Anywho, great article! Just what I needed to read after this weekend :) I am still sensitive to what others think but I hope to someday be able to feel sad for those people and not myself. I can’t believe they find beauty or joy in much of anything in their lives. What a sad life that must be.

  20. San D responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    Perhaps that got lost, because it seems a few of the respondants seem to focus on your reaction to the Princeton Boys’ physical attributes and then your dismissal of your initial feelings of their words.

  21. Annie responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    Ha, your description makes total sense–I knew guys like that in school. The poor things were so insecure that they needed to put down/objectify women (at least when talking to each other) in order to feel a sense of power and prove that they were “manly” enough.

    And yeah, I wish I knew how to fix that “caring too much about what random people think” thing, but it’s a curse I haven’t quiiiite figured out how to break yet. =)

  22. Mara responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    …I actually can’t believe you didn’t say something. XD
    How on earth did you keep quiet? I would’ve turned around and let them have it. I have insults stored away especially for occasions like this.
    Of course, you’re probably a better person than I am. More patient and tolerant and stuff. I’m kind of, um, really hot-tempered. XP

  23. Jen responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    P.s. I totally understood how you were shocked on how their appearance affected your opinion. I think this was well written and I’m not sure how others missed that.

  24. Maggie responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    I often find that guy who say things like that have no clue what that woman looks like. The range of girls they actually find hot is way broader than what they say, especially in cases where they’re just preening for each other like that.

    Also, in reference to the dead horse in this comment thread, I don’t think people are pointing it out because you didn’t see it, but because you didn’t really address it. If what they were doing is reprehensible and sexist, how is it that you feel so smug when you find yourself doing the same thing? When men disagree with a woman, they often resort to insulting her looks or her body or her femininity. It’s not okay.

    If you’d overheard a conversation that was totally unlike the one you heard–three men talking about their respect for powerful women, their disdain for men who objectify women, or how their ideal woman is brilliant and artistic and completely confident in her body–and then seen the same three men, would that have changed the way you viewed their bodies?

    (Also, full disclosure, I’m a big fan of nerdy, scrawny dudes. I have been known to take personal issue with the notion that there’s something less masculine about those guys just because of the shape of their bodies.)

  25. Caitlin responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    I would have actually felt worse. If a not so great looking guy describes his perfect woman that way, what does a hot guy want in a woman? All that, plus she has to be a CEO or a model?

  26. Kristina responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    there is something even more grossly pathetic i can admit to. have you ever felt bad about yourself because a small child (maybe 5, 7, 8 yrs old) made fun of the way you look? i have. i turn into a little girl in elementary school and feel like i am the ugliest thing that ever walked the planet. why do we let others’ opinions or judgements affect the way we feel about ourseleves? i don’t know. what i do know is that sometimes it doesn’t matter if those people are good looking, or dorky looking, or a kid, what they say can ding our self-esteem. then it’s our own job to pick ourselves back up and remember that those people are just many that we encounter in life. there will be more. anyhoo, i just measured my waist and it’s 35 inches. what in the world!!!

  27. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    Hmm…I guess I’m not incredibly interested in addressing the point about the guys being nerdy. I thought it was important, but again, the post is about something else (me feeling vulnerable around these random people on a train!). It’s always interesting to see what people respond to, though!

    I agree with your point about how people can describe one thing and want another, or at least a range of things. People show off for each other in conversation all the time. I bet all of those guys would be open to A LOT of different women. I think that’s generally how people work. At the same time, it was a little startling how specific the dimensions of this guy’s fantasy were!

    (I like nerdy guys, too, for the record.)

  28. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    I wondered that for a second, too! But maybe, like Maggie was saying, what people say and what they think are entirely different things.

  29. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    I have totally been there. I think everyone probably has, actually. I’m actually trying to figure out how to write about this. I want to write a piece about how vulnerable I feel (and other people, too) about the possibility of being called ugly. Just the possibility is a terrible thing!

  30. Kristina responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    @jen, your comment really hit home with me. i do the same thing. someone, usually a stranger, will say something rude about my looks and, i swear, my whole day and any positive feelings i had go straight down the toilet. what is that?? it’s one of my worst faults. i am not tall, actually quite the opposite (5’1″), but i have often been made fun of for my dark-skin. but apparently tan skin is very “in” these days so I suppose i was just ahead of the trend ;)

  31. Generic Male responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    I never understood the “what body type do you prefer?” question that girls always seem to ask. No guy ever really knows until he meets the girl he wants.

  32. margosita responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    (Hey, that’s me eating cake!)

    Interesting post. I can understand the relief you felt when they turned out to be unthreatening looking boys. I didn’t read it as though you were judging the boys the way they judged women as much as you recognizing them as actual people, and people who are (probably) not who they are pretending to be. Like maybe all their bravado and insulting “standards” are bluffs, which frees you from feeling like you have to uphold them.

    And relief, too, in knowing they are real. So much judgement comes from media and ads and magazines and when it comes without an actual person attached to it feels like it comes from some authority. Realizing that the “authority” on “ideal women” is a fragile looking kid can feel great, because you can live your life pretty happily without the approval of one Princeton student. It’s different when you trick yourself into thinking that the Princeton student is the voice for all men (or society), everywhere.

  33. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    I LOVE the picture of you eating cake.

    And I think I’m going to start directing all questions about my writing to you. Even if I wasn’t thinking exactly that, I probably should have been :-)

  34. Jen responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 3:01 pm #


    Thanks! I’m glad to share the misery with someone haha. I too think that is one of MY worst faults! I have realized I talk worse to myself than I ever would to anyone else! I need to talk nicer to myself, not agreeing with the rude person in my head. That’s the first step in not allowing negative comments to ruin my day. I also find it odd how we feel insecure about things that others find beautiful (dark skin and being tall) hmmm… I wonder why that is?!?! I could hear 100 times that being tall is beautiful but the moment someone makes a comment about me being tall/taller than my bf, it’s as if all the positive comments never happened…weird…And I have also let little kids hurt my feelings as well. So don’t feel alone in that. I’ve been told my neck looks like a giraffe neck…haha! I can laugh at it now, but at the time it stung more than I’d like to admit. :)

  35. Sadie responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    It’s odd, I was reading this point and thinking, oh wait, that’s me!! I’m 5’8”, 34C, 25 waist, 36 hips, and 127lbs…. Yet I’m constantly insecure about my thighs, my stretchmarks, my very visible veins, my pudgy tummy.

    These awful boys might say that, but I doubt they’d look at me and scream, IDEAL WOMAN!!

  36. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    @Generic Male
    Thanks for this! And it’s sort of amazing to me that girls ask guys that. Why?! Does it happen a lot?

  37. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    That’s interesting! And also, it figures. There’s no point on the beauty spectrum where you feel totally confident about your looks all the time. That has to happen through a different process.

  38. Generic Male responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    It tends to be the first question out of a girl’s mouth after they find out a guy is single. Bizarre, that.

  39. Andrew responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    There is virtually no chance that the girls they hooked up with were anywhere near as hot as they claim.

    Conversations that are audible to passersby and make passersby uncomfortable are rude, but they happen. I don’t think confronting them would have been so far out of line. I imagine you would have turned from steaming to giggling in 0.3 seconds when you got a glimpse of them.

    I think you reacted the way you did for 2 main reasons:
    1. You have a basic human desire to be desired by desirable men. Once you realized they didn’t fit your criteria, you weren’t concerned about theirs. No one’s favorite trait, but it rears its ugly head sometimes. Oh well. Actually, this ties into something about which I would like to pick your brain the next time we run into each other, or if you happen to make a blog post about it before then.
    2. Upon seeing them, you realized their stories (or at least your interpretation of their stories) and goals were essentially works of fiction, and you discounted the stories.

    It’s nice to be reminded that most of us are in the same leaky boat.

  40. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    I’m curious– what did you want to pick my brain about? Send me an email or let me know here!
    Too bad no one ever learns to make a better boat :p

  41. RSV responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    I have enjoyed reading your writing for some time now, and this is the first time I am posting a comment (though not the first time I have wanted to). One of the reasons that I gravitated to your blog is due to struggles I have with my body, my need for control, my perfectionism, and my self-image. I went to the school those guys attend and your transcription of their conversation caught my eye immediately, before you told us where they where affiliated. That sort of conversation is very common there and, I feel, woven into its history in some ways. It deeply affected my relationship with myself and others, both men and women. On the one hand, I want to point out that this sort of conversation happens within / among male circles in places outside of Princeton. Yet I also want to share my positive experience of meeting many men who do not speak that way and believe it to be incredibly offensive.
    The thing I struggle with is that it is not all about them. Like you say, Kate, WE can say something. First, is what you have done – say it to yourself. I wish I felt strong enough to. Your writing is helping me.
    Thank you.

  42. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    Thanks so much for being here!
    Interesting, about Princeton. I think probably these sorts of conversations are pretty normal for every college. People are trying to figure themselves and each other out. There’s a ton of pressure to hook up with other people. Etc.

  43. morgaine responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    What would have made me call bullshit, even before the reveal, is the “34C” thing. There’s no way I could discern a woman’s exact bra size, even as a bra-wearer myself. *I’m* a 34C, and other 34Cs look completely different. Makes me think he just pulled a number out of the air to embellish himself.

  44. Kate responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    LOL!! You’re right. I never have any idea what bra size women wear and I’m a woman myself. Who wears a bra. I didn’t even know my own bra size until this year, and I still think I might have gotten it wrong…

  45. contrary kiwi responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    There are so many great things about this post and the comments (I love reading the comments on this site – they’re always so insightful) that I’m kind of sad that I was sidetracked right at the beginning by Deep Voice’s description of the breast and waist size he’d like in a woman.

    Firstly, 34C is small for breast size and fairly large for ribcage size. Band sizes match your actual underbust measurement, so with most women in order to wear a 34 band you should have a 34 inch underbust. You’d usually have to be at least a US size 12 or 14 to fit a 34 (but there are always exceptions) which while beautiful, is hardly likely to fit into those guys’ ideal of “skinny”. A 34C actual breast size is probably about two cup sizes smaller than average (based on a fairly educated guess). So the chest size the men are describing is plus-size with smaller than average breasts. Again, beautiful but probably not what they were envisioning.

    Secondly, a woman with a 24 inch waist should not be wearing a 34 band bra. I don’t think it’s physically possible for your waist to be 10 inches smaller than your underbust which is only a couple of inches higher up your torso. A woman with a 24 inch waist should probably be wearing either a 24, 26 or 28 band bra (all three of which are hard to find, but they are around).

    @Sadie, I suggest you have a look at the blog called Thin and Curvy, which is written by a woman who also has a 24 inch ribcage. She has a lot of very useful information, starting with how to measure yourself:

    @Kate I think you should have a look at that link too, if you suspect you’re not in the right size. Or you’re welcome to hit me up, as I would be all too happy to help!

    I probably would’ve turned around and started lecturing them on correct bra sizing xD

  46. morgaine responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 10:56 pm #

    contrary kiwi – the band size is the underbust measurement + 5. 34 = 29-inch underbust, quite reasonable for a 24-inch waist.

  47. Jen H responded on 04 Jun 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    Diminished. I bet that struck a chord with every person who read it. Great blog, love your insights. Thanks for that.

  48. Claire Allison responded on 05 Jun 2012 at 12:56 am #

    I think that I’ve had that experience- been listening to some men objectify women only to turn around and see they are young dorks themselves. I hung out with those dorks in high school, so I know a lot of it is a front, but I think the sad thing is that for some of the dorks that attitude stops being a front and it becomes an ingrained ideal that they actually DO want… even if they have no objective idea how big a 34C actually is.

    My solution is to laugh at them. Loudly. The more they hear you the more self conscious they become. If you’re with a girlfriend say, loudly, “Oh my god, did you hear what that guy just said!” and laugh. Then begin an equally ridiculous conversation about anything- men, your body, feminism, anything that scares the crap out of little dorky boys. It actually works all the time, and if they’re dorky guys they won’t reply. Actual frat guys, the kind who are pumped up on their own egos, actually do respond or react to it, so it’s worthwhile to turn around and check them out first.

  49. contrary kiwi responded on 05 Jun 2012 at 1:17 am #

    @morgaine Underbust measurement +4/+5 inches does actually work for some women, but not many. For most women it results in a back band that rides up, shoulder straps that dig in from holding boobs up and a whole lot of discomfort. A better starting point is to use the +0 method, which says that you should take your underbust measurement and go from there.

    To use your example of a 24 inch waist and 29 inch underbust, you’d look at either starting with 28 or 30 band bras, and once you’ve got a correct cup size with them (as wearing a bra that has a cup size that is too small makes the band feel tight) you can go from there and possibly go up a band size – but usually you’d want to stay with a 28 or 30. I actually have a 29 inch underbust myself and wear 30 bands, with the occasional tight 32. A 34 slips and shifts and gives me absolutely no support. A woman with a 29 underbust who has less fat on her ribcage than I do might prefer to wear a 32 band, and a 29 underbust with high-set breasts might prefer to wear a 28 band. Under no circumstance should any of us start off wearing a 34 band unless we physically cannot do up anything smaller (and then I’d be questioning whether the 29 inch measurement is correct).

    The +4/+5 method is an industry standard that is outdated and these days, almost always incorrect. Women with smaller breasts can often get away with having looser bands because they don’t experience back pain if their breasts aren’t supported, but that doesn’t mean that they should be wearing looser bands.

  50. Mandy responded on 05 Jun 2012 at 2:56 am #

    @Generic Male

    “I never understood the “what body type do you prefer?” question that girls always seem to ask. No guy ever really knows until he meets the girl he wants.”

    I think that’s Girlspeak for “Do you find MY body type attractive?” Either fishing for compliments, or for reassurance. Maybe both.

  51. Mandy responded on 05 Jun 2012 at 2:59 am #

    Does this mean that attractive people can get away with being offensive, simply because they’re attractive? That their opinions matter more?

  52. Sadie responded on 05 Jun 2012 at 8:13 am #

    @contrary kiwi

    I’m pretty sure that technically I should be wearing a 32C, since my actual breasts are proportionately large for my back, but those are surprisingly hard to find. My bras often sort of shift around my ribcage, making for lots of public adjustments, haha. Also, I always think of C cup as average, or maybe I just know a lot of small-chested girls?

    As @morgaine said, a cup size can look so different on different people! My best friend wears the same bras as me, in size, but looks so much more busty, because her breasts are rounder and wider, while mine are full and small. So, you never know.

    I really think that boy must have been just pulling decent sounding measurements out of the air, cause how many boy measure their girls waists, or have ANY idea what a ten-inch waist-hip ratio actually looks like? I could never estimate another’s waist properly!

  53. Sarah responded on 05 Jun 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    Yes, I have also been affected by the comments of random strangers. I get particularly grumpy when references are made to movie stars being fat and therefore unattractive because it shows such a narrow notion of beauty.

    I usually try to remind myself that this narrow view is that person’s loss and that if all they are looking for is a particular body type to bed and brag to their friends about, I am not interested in their approval.

    But it does smart a bit to be reminded that there are people who would dismiss me based on my waistline or breast size. People who will ignore what I have to say because I do not match their narrow definition of worthiness.

    I just always hope those are never people that I need to make listen to me.

    That being said, the bra size comments you overheard made me chuckle. I would assume that any guy who is that specific about a particular bra size really has no idea what he is talking about – or he’s a very experienced dressmaker which sounds doubtful considering the rest of the conversation.

    Bra size and appearance of breasts don’t always go together very well and so many of us are wearing the wrong size anyway.

  54. Alii responded on 05 Jun 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    The thing that disturbs me the most about their conversation is that it’s so dismissive, negative, and creepy. Kissing a girl without her permission? Not getting a girl’s name because ‘she’s served her purpose’? Even if those bits are entirely works of fiction, I wouldn’t ever want to be around guys who thought that was funny.

  55. Alpana Trivedi responded on 05 Jun 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    Oh, dear. I would’ve LOOKED for a reason to say something rude to those guys. First I would’ve given a dirty look. Then if they didn’t get a clue, I’d have jumped in with some school-teacherly lecture about objectifying women. What can I say? I like drawing attention to myself that way. LOL

    But seriously, it IS disturbing to hear people talk like that. Some guys in my shop talk the same way about women (as if they’re commodity). Sometimes, I give them a dirty look and either they tone it down or every now and then, if I’m in the shop and they’re about to say something offensive, they just say “Earmuffs” to me before saying it (I guess that’s their way of saying “We warned you. LOL).

    In any case, I’m sorry you had to go through hearing that.

  56. Kate responded on 05 Jun 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    Re: cup sizes convo
    I always thought C was average! Like with grading. Now I feel like my breasts are even smaller than I always assumed they were :p

  57. Sarah responded on 05 Jun 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    Actually I think most ready-to-wear clothes are designed for a B cup bust so those of us with C’s or higher tend to struggle with finding things that can be worn in public.

  58. contrary kiwi responded on 05 Jun 2012 at 6:49 pm #

    @Sadie If your bras are moving around or your breasts need adjustment (unless you have pretty big boobs, as it can be hard to find a bra that perfectly contains them – but it is possible!) you should probably be looking at a smaller band size like you said. I never got back pain from my boobs being unsupported but I got rashes from my bra moving left and right when I moved. Doesn’t happen now I’m wearing a smaller band size.

    Remember also that while you and your friend might be wearing the same size, you’re possibly both in the wrong size. That being said, you’re right. A band and cup size can easily be the same and look different on two people.

    @Kate A cup size by itself means nothing at all. A “C” cup means nothing without the number in front of it. A 28C and a 40C are totally different sizes and will look nothing alike. So comparing yourself to anyone else’s cup size isn’t looking at the full story.

    Knowing your correct bra size doesn’t make your boobs any bigger or smaller than they were before, but for a lot of people it helps to be comfortable wearing bras!

  59. morgaine responded on 05 Jun 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    contrary kiwi – “34C is small for breast size and fairly large for ribcage size. Band sizes match your actual underbust measurement, so with most women in order to wear a 34 band you should have a 34 inch underbust. You’d usually have to be at least a US size 12 or 14 to fit a 34 (but there are always exceptions) which while beautiful, is hardly likely to fit into those guys’ ideal of ‘skinny’. A 34C actual breast size is probably about two cup sizes smaller than average (based on a fairly educated guess).”

    I really don’t understand this. At least a 12 or 14 to fit a 34? I think most supermodels are 34 or 36. As for 34C being two cup sizes smaller than average – the average American woman wears a 36C.

    I realize you said there are always exceptions, but I wear a 34C, and most 34C women I know are shaped and sized more or less like me (pictures on my blog). I wouldn’t consider my breasts two cup sizes smaller than average.

  60. contrary kiwi responded on 06 Jun 2012 at 2:02 am #


    Like you said before, you’re coming from the perspective where bra band measurements are given as “underbust measurement” +4 or +5. Like I said before, this is an old industry standard that bra manufacturers and fitters are only just starting to discover is incorrect. Underbust measurement +0 inches is a much better approach to start with, as a bra band needs to be snug in order to be supportive. Think of it like buying a pair of skinny jeans – they need to be bought snug and so do bras.

    I’ve had a look at the photos on your blog and it’s hard to tell properly, but I wouldn’t think you’re a 34C. It’s possible that given your breast shape and ribcage shape you are actually a 34C, but your ribcage looks too small for it to me. To give an example, I’ll post a link to the blog of Georgina Horne, a fabulous blogger who’s a size UK18 in most of her dresses and wears a 34 or 36 band.

    Unfortunately, almost every woman I’ve come across who has given me details about her bra and measurements has been wearing an incorrect bra size. That’s a statement repeated by many professional bra fitters and bra manufacturers, especially in the UK where bra fitting is ahead of the rest of the world. That explains both the supermodels probably wearing a 34 band when many of them should be wearing 24 or 26 bands because of their 23-25 inch waists. It also explains why the average is said to be 36C, because it’s hard to tell a true average when women aren’t aware they’re wearing the wrong size.

    Sorry if I sound mega preachy (and for hijacking your comments, Kate!) but bra fitting is something I’m passionate about since going from loathing them to loving them just because of a change of size and I always want to help educate other women!

  61. Karen responded on 06 Jun 2012 at 10:24 am #

    We are flawed. The young men were not atypical college guys bragging to each other. You were first intimidated then relieved when they turned out to be dorks, how sad. The truth is most women, no matter their age, feel intimidated by and inferior to the “beautiful people”. Something each of us should work on.

  62. Kay responded on 07 Jun 2012 at 2:30 am #

    @contrary kiwi
    I think I love you.

    I felt every emotion with you in this post… I really do avoid situations and tune people out preemptively just so I don’t have to hear stuff like this. Not sure I will ever not care, but maybe I need to be in the situation more to practice not-caring? I dunno.

  63. Zellie responded on 08 Jun 2012 at 8:36 am #

    @contrary kiwi, Please allow for variety of the physical form. I had a 34″ underbust with 24″ waist at 5’7″, 110 pounds for many years. My daughter has 32″ underbust with C cup and looks quite busty, but her waist is not so small. The hardware under the flesh makes a lot of difference.

  64. Melinda responded on 13 Jun 2012 at 6:26 pm #

    Where I grew up, it was (still is) quite common to hear men and boys talking about women this way. “She’s too flat-chested, she’s this, she’s that”, etc. Or “she’s ugly but I would still hit it”. Very disrespectful.

    To the people criticizing Kate for what she said about these guys…I believe it is her way of noting the irony in this situation.

    It wouldn’t be acceptable for a conventionally “hot” guy to objectify/disrespect women either, but there is something funny and kind of sad about 3 immature kids thinking they have a chance with some girl who looks perfect when they themselves fall short of the ideal.

    Essentially, they are blind to their own imperfections. It’s kind of like the morbidly obese bully in high school who told me I was “ugly as f**k”. It hurt my feelings at the time, but looking back, I just consider the source. He wasn’t the most attractive person himself.

    Now there is definitely a possibility that these little boys will grow up and learn to appreciate inner beauty, as well as the diversity of women. I hope they do. And it is possible that they could wind up with a sexy bombshell of a wife or girlfriend someday. I’m sure they would be thrilled about that.

    But if they don’t? Hopefully, they won’t continue to project their skewed notions of beauty onto their potential partners and ruin some poor girl’s self-esteem. You know the type of guy who tells his girlfriend that she isn’t pretty enough or her boobs are too small or her thighs too fat, etc.

  65. Magda responded on 17 Jun 2012 at 1:17 am #

    Aiieee, this bra sizing conversation is making me frustrated on behalf of everyone who is confused or suspects she is wearing the wrong bra (and let’s face it, nearly every girl is).

    Please go to a GOOD BRA SHOP and just get measured! Whether or not they use the addition of inches for the band size, a specialist will find a good bra for you and you can use the size and fit as a template. If you’re used to wearing a larger band size than you need (which most women are), you’ll realize how snug it should actually be.

    I worked at Victoria’s Secret for one short month out of college before quitting after being driven mad by the constant spiraling rearrangement of lace thongs on a table (that shit is HARD to do neatly, and for the love of God, stop reaching for the size you want to be and just grab the size you ARE so as to avoid further mess!) and learned about proper bra fittings, but while they do offer some VERY good quality bras at VS, they don’t cover the needs of many bustier women. On the other hand, many of their bras run quite small (in my opinion), so if you’re feeling insecure about your smaller bust, you can come out of there with a C or D that most women would consider ridiculously optimistic.

    I developed absolutely massive breasts during 6th and 7th grade. Humiliating and heavy and painful. One breast reduction later and some more maturing/weight gain, I’ve been through what feels like every existing cup size. I alter the band of a good number of my bras since a 36 usually offers a better cup shape for my boobies but is loose around my ribcage, but I just invested in a bathing suit from Intimacy that fits like a glove – 34F. I definitely look busty, but I don’t think most people would reckon I’m quite that hefty up top. I’ve got a small waist and a full but not unreasonable bottom. You just never know. See a professional!

  66. Don’t Apologize, You’re Beautiful « TF Body responded on 17 Aug 2012 at 5:00 pm #

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  71. Елисавета responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 9:28 am #

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