is it okay: to not wear a bra?
Bras happen around the age of ten. While I don’t know what the experience is like for others, for me it was something I was dragged into almost kicking and screaming. In my mind, the ‘b’ word was something taboo, awkward, only to be mentioned on pain of death. One girl with no such restrictions, questioned me in the change rooms about the lack of support for my then non-existent year five chest. I can’t remember what my response was, but whenever I revisit that memory a wave of discomfort washes over me despite over a decade having passed, along with my reasons for being embarrassed.
I held out for as long as possible, making nonsensical arguments and refusing to be attacked with measuring tape until feet were put down and I found myself and a friend being marched into the underwear section of Target by our mums. My friend felt the same way as me, and we spent what felt like the next hour trying to give our mums the slip (underwear pun fun) whilst frozen in horror at the prospect that people might see us and guess why we were there. We left with crop tops, a school-long oath to never speak of this again, and a lifetime subscription to what would become a seemingly essential piece of clothing.
Years have passed, cup sizes have (slightly) increased, and I have at last gotten past my irrational conditioned desire to immediately run and hide anytime anyone has spotted me bra shopping. It’s not something I really think about much anymore, but on reflection, it hasn’t really been an awesome ride. Whilst yes, the ten year old version of myself has been suppressed and I can now say “bra” without wanting to immediately conceal myself in the Lego section, on the most part, good bras are expensive, a pain to buy, and frankly, not even comfortable 100% of the time. I’m curious as to what percentage of my life I’ve spent sliding a strap back onto my shoulder, or trying to surreptitiously adjust a strapless bra, which despite engineering feats will still attempt to migrate with the slightest movement.
So why do we wear them?
Essentially I think it comes down to two things. The first, support, is the most understandable. Sports, old age and larger cup sizes form a good basis for this. However, taking a step back, it could be argued that there is a decent percentage of women who are wearing bras gratuitously; many young girls start out with crop tops, essentially a short cut singlet lacking in any wires of fancy embellishments, which seem to provide more of a transition than support. Similarly, if you are young, or in particular on the smaller end of the spectrum, a well constructed item of clothing can negate the need for additional support.
In these groups, it seems that a bra serves to provide coverage and little else, which brings us to the second reason: maybe bras are just a means to hide nipples. It feels like a bit of a naughty thing even to say – just typing it made me feel a tiny bit like a nine year old who stayed up to sneakily watch Sex and the City. Awkwardness aside though, it seems that women’s nipples are a bit of a hushed thing in our society.
We can have celebrities and models nude but for crossed legs and a strategically draped arm across the middle of their chests appearing on the front of magazines freely visible to all, but in a film, if that arm is moved, the rating immediately rockets up to MA. Topless men however show up time and time again in television commercials, in sports and even children’s cartoons. It’s strange. The only real difference in appearance is that women’s chests have more fat deposits, and it can’t be the fat that offends people – otherwise all dresses would be turtlenecks and bikinis would be replaced with wetsuits.
I’m not suggesting a mass bra burning. They have functions. It just seems that one of them is less about the individual and more about a strange quirk of society. The kind of society which is so irrationally afraid of anatomy that it has to debate if it is indecent exposure for a woman to breastfeed a child in public when, really, that’s what breasts are for.
(Image credit: 1.)