On Bras: Bras Off
Though in possession of a certain kind of beauty, I am a relatively androgynous human. Even the fact that I wanted to disclaim shows you the 1st of many indications of the embedded policing oppression in my thoughts. He-she though I may look from a lot of angles, my breasts remain a C-cup (This is the 2nd indication: that my self-identification dissects me and tags my measurements like a broiler chicken.) And simply because I have this chest, our culture demands I hide or reshape it to fit an invented standard.
I take serious issue with the social necessity of the bra, the corset of our era. That they offer support, is a myth.
They are a temporary brace, a cast society makes women feel like heathens or animals for not strapping into. Cut shoulder flesh, raw ribcage, staple-shaped hickeys left behind on my spine. For me, someone who’s never owned more than 5 bras at a time, mostly sports bras, my body never got used to the feeling. So, when other women complain that they are “uncomfortable” in their bras, I tend to think they are lying, putting on the brave face women have to wear constantly (especially when we’re talking about female things, don’t even get me started on “it’s just my period…”) or they have become so inseparably adjusted to the burden that they quite literally must shoulder. I tend to think this because I don’t experience discomfort in bras, I feel pain.
There is a trending notion (one I don’t wholly disagree with) that humans, especially “western” (a term that has never not seemed arbitrary), have gone too far in the lazy, selfish pursuit of comfort, and so we have the no-pain-no-gain blowback. Self-discipline. Dedication. p-9ox.
In this I see an inconsistency. Weight-lifting culture and ideology as applies to my female body? First of all, physical training is something you choose for yourself, whether your motivation is vanity or health: I am guilty of both and so I do not pretend to judge (#3 → because exactly how am I guilty, what is my crime?). When I choose to wear a bra, I am doing it for you. Not me. If you lift weights because you want to appear a certain way to other people, this is not the same as what I do when I wear a bra. Bras artificially shape the breast into something else. Something not-quite-but-almost (if-we-were-plastic) breastlike. When you go to the gym, your body no matter — how much you improve it — can only ever look like your body. I am socially unacceptable when I go anywhere with my breasts looking like my breasts. Some “tips and tricks on how to go braless!” articles warn against certain situations where you will still have to hide your breasts: job interviews, for one. I see this as so backwards I almost don’t have words for it. (Seriously — do men have an equivalent? It’s not the penis. I have a vagina. That is the parallel there. Don’t pretend otherwise, it’s asinine.)
The major no-pain-no-gain inconsistency is in the reliance on this brace to do the work for women. Generations who have placed an underwire cast over their most obvious femaleness create twofold detriment with every dressing:
1. You are teaching the tissues responsible for keeping breasts up and attached that they are obsolete. Vestigial. Fired. Replaced by a $75 coat hanger wrapped in synthetics. And lace. You know. So women feel secretly sexy.
Because women are not encouraged to feel openly sexy, our power must come from somewhere deep inside, hidden, closed within folds and private. It’s not about keeping us safe from rape, because clearly that is not working. It’s about keeping it locked.
2. You are teaching the world that you agree that the shape of your breasts is wrong, and that you are tacitly compliant to the aesthetic needs of others. Maybe you do agree. Maybe you think boobs are weird dangly chest baubles. I don’t really care. Because I think that is the socially imposed idea that keeps women a smaller, more muted presence than their male counterparts.
I’ve read the argument that bras make women feel more confident. Myth. Women make themselves feel more confident. If the bra is your tool, I commend your effort and counter that it is misplaced. I argue that the most body-positive confidence comes from pleasure at the body’s real shape.
I’ve heard that large-breasted women cannot go without the support that bras offer, that without they suffer soreness or pain. Again, as a decently endowed woman, I say, we trained them to do that. All bras are training bras. Switching to the braless lifestyle (#4 → I have to specify “braless” when it’s really just the reversion back to the body’s natural state) might be uncomfortable, might even be painful. Maybe it’s not plausible for our generation of women who have been told to wear bras since before our breasts developed. But, to get theoretical, soon evolution will take over. The need for bras will become a permanent impediment. That aaahhhh feeling of threading your bra out through your shirtsleeve at the end of the day will no longer be relieving.
Or, the opposite evolutionary track: the rise of breast cancer among bra-wearing women will leave natural women as the major progenitors (okay, yeah, I realize there isn’t the science to back this up, SORRY).
Listen, I too, admit wanting to secure my boobs for things like yoga and working out. Yeah, I don’t want to get hit in the chin and feel their weight yanking my skin up and down. I typically wear layers of tank tops or a sports bra for this. But I reiterate, other than this reason — which is only an hour out of my day — I wear bras purely due to social pressure. And it is not an inexpensive social norm to adhere to. I’m pretty cheap, so I balk when I see bras over $20. But a quick trip around a VS, and the average price is something like $60 before tax (not to mention shipping if you’re brave enough not to have a proper fitting where a stranger assigns you the correct number and letter grade for your bust).
I don’t want to prescribe a way of living for other women. I just wish the over-sexualizing of and the overreacting to my chest could disappear. That bras could be an actual choice, not a requirement.
I don’t even lay the blame on men (though, it’s not hard to imagine men are partly responsible for the perpetuation of oppressive female beauty standards). The inventor of the modern bra was a woman. And before that, women have been strapping boobs up down and around for ages, I am told (by the google machine).
My first experience of bodyshaming was by a girl. A friend. We were ten. She looked at my chest, snickered, and told me that I “really should be wearing a bra.” According to whom? Who was I hurting? What was I revealing, except that I have a female body?
My central thesis is this: that your problem with: me, braless is your problem with: me, woman. It’s simple. I’m not even asking to be topless, though you can imagine #freethenipple has my absolute support.
This issue is a gender one, not a sexual one. The trolling argument that breasts need to be cloistered away because they are pornographic is ludicrous. My breasts are sexual in the way that all of me can be and ought to be sexual. We don’t make coitus with our breasts and our vaginas and then — the end. Boring. There are erogenous zones on my ears, but my ears don’t flop. It’s my softness you have a problem with. My fluidity. My inherent, unavoidable, just-below-eye-level-but-still-quite-visible womanness.
So, finally: do men have a culturally restricting equivalent? I asked a man. The answer of course, is: of course not. Men going topless without a second thought is the most obvious proof. Men have nipples, they just don’t have purposeful nipples. Why does this distinction make mine private? I am a child-free as well as bra-free woman, so my nips are pretty useless too. But because I have girl nipples (which, only if I were to fill up my lady womb with a little human sapling and then squeeze it out my woman vagina and eventually maybe feed it with said girl nips, only then would they be fulfilling their biological purpose), that’s what makes them offensive to your eyes?
I argue that what you don’t like when you see my bralessness, on some level, is my unapologetic admission that I am female. That’s your problem. And I will no longer accept it as mine.
My hair is short. My hips narrow. My shoulders broad. But it’s my undeniable womanness you freak the F out about. I finally, after 27 years of passively pretty-much-not-wearing-bras-anyway call bullshit on your double standard. And I know I am not alone. Frankly, the reason I have never successfully become a blogger or essayist is that I am crippled by the possibility that I might write as if I am the only one thinking these things and for the very first time. That my opinion is invalidated by its unoriginality. But I’m over it. I’m ready to unite. I’m ready to form a start-up with designers and manufacturers to make tops that are affordable and bra-free friendly. (Am I the only one who’s tired of layering in hot weather? Who doesn’t want to have to show my stomach in a crop top or a tight fitting tank? Who thinks tops with built-in bras are not the only solution, and might be part of the problem?) I’m ready to walk proudly, naturally braless and suffer through catcalls and weird looks because I get those anyway and something has got to shift.
Ladies, gentleman, if you feel you need the bra, I can’t change your mind. But know that it is your choice, and largely an aesthetic one. I won’t argue about your back pain, bad posture, or the evils of sagging. But I do ask that you stop looking at me like I have aliens trying to escape out from under my shirt. It is not obscene, it is not immodest. Seriously. They’re. Just. Boobs.