And I almost went twenty-one years without realising that it is perfectly acceptable nocturnal behaviour. Honestly, I am still in shock. Of the opinion that bras are corset-like monstrosities, designed by demonic capitalists who just want to see the world suffer, I assumed that everyone else rips off the undergarment at the first chance they get. The notion that some people might enjoy, or actually prefer, wrapping their breasts in cotton, lace, satiny stuff and wires perplexes me to the very core.
Of course, this existential crisis of lingerie comes at the perfect time. Midterms are just around the corner and I keep gazing quizzically down at my boobs in the library. But despite my impressive efforts at procrastination, I maintain there is a question to be asked: Why do I continue to wear something that makes me physically uncomfortable? Actually, why does anyone? For what purpose does the bra even exist.
After some extensive research of Google, the people I know well enough to ask about their bra-wearing sensibilities (and a few that I probably don’t), I came up with the following list of rationale:
Comfort was the number one reason cited for wearing a bra but was also the number one reason this whole thing started. As previously mentioned I do not find bras comfortable. The relief I gain from peeling mine off at the end of the day is practically orgasmic. Bras are the enemy. However, I won’t continue to use this space to preach my personal agenda, instead, let’s look at this differently. In the depths of the internet exists the Citrus Scale which matches cup sizes to fruits. Scale not to scale:
Typically if you own a pair of oranges or above, bras are more necessary for support because pain and discomfort are likely to be experienced without one. Additionally active sports can be horribly painful for the entire fruit bowl. A jiggle from a jog is anti-pleasant. Though even some kumquats insist they are more comfortable with their breasts wrapped up in cotton and this is probably more of a question of habit: women who are used to wearing bras are likely to feel more self-conscious without them.
However, the myth that every owner of a bosom needs support is, well, a myth. Dr. Susan of Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book, one of the most esteemed boob books, confirmed “…wearing a bra… has no medical necessity whatsoever.” To put it in perspective women were once told that corsets support their stomach muscles…
We’ve all got them, but god forbid a crazed individual should see a protruding nipple when it gets a bit nippy. Actually, who are we kidding? That kind of sight could send anyone into a frenzy, causing even the seemingly sane to thrust themselves at the unexpected and braless. The indecency of it all.
Except I do feel obliged to mention that nipples tend to protrude outwards in their natural state. If yours don’t, then you’ve got bigger issues than the overwhelming rule of the patriarchy. Trust me. #freethenipple.
There’s this weird contrast in the sexual nature of bras. On the one hand, the garment is used to protect one’s modesty, as previously mentioned. But on the other they are used to accentuate sexuality. There’s a certain sense of empowerment that couples the selection of a beautiful bra. And personally, if I’m going to spend money on some unnecessarily lacey piece of material, with confusing panels and parts, someone better be seeing it.
This disconnect is likely to illustrate a societal one. Women, you are sexualised. (But don’t be too sexualised. That’s slutty.)
SAGGING, SLAPPING AND SWEATING.
The three s’ are especially frightening and bras do seem like an appropriate precaution. However, the jury is out on whether sculpting your breasts upwards does actually stop gravity from taking its course. Some say something complicated about tissue and elasticity that means bras are good and others say something complicated about tissue and elasticity that means bras are bad. Actually, they are probably irrelevant to eventual sagginess. Sorry ladies.
Except during my search on Google, I saw one woman’s account of living in a hot climate with boobs. She exclaimed how the horrible heat of the southern states prompts sweat to collect underneath her breasts, causing them to slap painfully against the skin. Coming from England, the concept of the weather being too hot is not one I regularly grapple with, but I fully understand the premise. This is a clear case of bras make life more comfortable. A few friends confirmed.
This wasn’t usually listed as a reason, but the history of bras indicates, like other clothing, the kind of lingerie a person wears correlates with culture. It makes sense that as social perceptions of what the ideal female body shape changes, so will the bras they wear. In the U.S., at least, this is very evident. In the 1920s, it was the fashion to flatten the breasts as per the Flapper era. In the 1940s and 1950s, the bullet bra (that fantastic cone-shaped thing that I suggest needs a comeback) was at the height of popularity. In the 1960s, it was all about the kumquats before the 1990s started to lust for oranges again. Make your mind up, men.
Ok so if we push away the idea that bras are worn for comfort, what do we have left? Aesthetics and societal pressure. This is starting to sound like something a feminist would not be very happy with.
In fact, some feminists haven’t been happy for a while. In the 1960s and 1970s, the argument that the bra shapes women’s bodies to male expectations began to be formed. In 1970, the bra-burning movement was initiated, an occurrence I am frequently reminded of when declaring myself as a feminist. (Because apparently it’s all fine and dandy until you torch your underwear.) In reality most women didn’t actually burn their bras, many just decided not to wear them in protest.
In the 1980s, a bunch of feminists took the opinion that women without bras shock and anger men because men think that they own breasts and so it should be them who gets to remove the bra. They said that bras serve as barriers to the touch and that young girls are indoctrinated into wearing them, training bras being basically unnecessary for anything else. If you think about it, do twelve-year-olds really need to be trained to wear clothes? I know there can be some tricky clasps, but it seems a little much.
Lately, I haven’t seen so much literature or heat surrounding the topic of bras. Feminism is gaining real potential and real momentum the ole burning bras bit seems a little trivial in the face of HeForShe and #freekesha.
Except is it? Because despite the fact I have managed to trash all of the justifications for wearing a bra, I’m still suffering (not quite) in silence. Honestly, I think the motivation is societal: I was told to wear one and I always have. And I’ll probably continue to do so.
A few people I questioned tried to tell me that I was looking too deeply into the issue, that you can find evidence of patriarchal power in anything if you look hard enough. And whilst it’s true I once saw someone argue that toasters are sexist, a method of perpetuation is belittlement and denial. Really the most important thing to remember is that a person has a choice: Should they wear a bra or not? That choice should be theirs and only theirs. If you genuinely find wearing a bra to bed more comfortable, or you are empowered by your choice of lingerie, or you are a terribly unfortunate sufferer of sweating and slapping, then I won’t dispute your decision. No one should. Maybe just think about it when you get dressed in the morning. Are you saying bravo or bra-no?
This article was written by Steph Bailey. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Steph Bailey