I have not worn a bra for three years now. When I tell women this, they inevitably ask me about the logistics of living life without a bra. How do I contain my boobies?
I don’t. I do what men do: I put on a shirt.
Here’s a little story about how I got here, why this is not revolutionary at all, and why we have all been scammed.
The women in my family are quite petite; you know, the kind who did “I must I must increase my bust” exercises in school. I was not like them. By very early puberty it became apparent to my litany of body-shaming aunts that I was an early-developer. This was a source of tension between my mom and me.
My first memory of this is when I was 11. My brand new breasts had emerged over the summer, and I was dragged off a tennis court by her because I’d “forgotten” to wear a bra. (I hadn’t forgotten, I was pretending. I think she knew this.) I remember not understanding why.
The next memory I have is of watching Bend it Like Beckham, and Keira Knightly fighting with her mom about the kinds of bras she wants to wear (sports, while her mum encourages her towards the push-up section). And in another scene where they’re getting their wedding clothes stitched, and tailor wants to make Jasbinder’s “mosquito-bites look like juicy-juicy mangoes”.
It occurred to me then that bra-wearing is an oppression that mothers and aunties pass onto the next generation by humiliating them, coercing them, and disrespecting their agency. Just like patriarchy. For the bra to survive generation after generation it requires obedience, shame and deference.
This tension with the bra would continue for many years. I went through high school wearing Jockey’s training bras as an uneasy compromise. In college tried Uniqlo’s unwired bras, Marks and Spencers unwired bras, Joe Boxer’s unwired bras, and they all felt some version of bad. When I became an adult I thought it was time to begin wearing lady-like bras once and for all, become a woman like everyone else. And so I did. The big beautiful ones with the wiring from hell.
Till I felt sick. And I was forced to look at the things in my life that were aggravating my pain. I began to see that some days wearing a bra would make things worse, not wearing ones would make things better. As I studied further, I learned that the muscles that curry the burden of the bra, the ones that connect your neck to your shoulder, are also the muscles worst affected by spondylitis. And then when I began yoga, I learned that one major key to wellness is the ability to expand the rib cage, puff out the chest and allow the lungs all the space it can get.
And guess what, here again, bras betray us. They make our rib cages smaller, they cripple our posture by drawing us in. Men are taught to puff their chests, women are told to wear these majestically designed instruments to cage their organs.
So I learnt that bras are unambiguously bad if you have any kind of disease of the joints, or spine. But is there any meaningful way in which they are good?
I’ve done the research. And there is no conclusive proof that there is any benefit to wearing a bra. It doesn’t keep your breasts from sagging, it doesn’t protect the integrity of your boobies. It does deform your skeletal structure.
In short, there are no conclusive pros, but a number of damning cons.
In human history we’ve had all kinds of containment devices for women’s bodies to make them smaller. Like that thing they did where the broke women’s feet and bound them in China. And that other thing where they forced women to wear corsets that deformed their bodies in Europe.
Here’s a fun fact: bras were designed from corsets. In 1898, a woman in France designed the “half-corsette”, and she called it a brasierre. Yes! Your bra is the young, modern daughter of the garment that doesn’t let you breathe!
We managed hundreds of thousands of years of human civilisation without the bra. And yet, woman after woman I talk to asks me how I manage without one.
I think if I scratch the surface of the question what I find is the politics of shame. Human females are the only species in all of life on Earth that retain their breasts through their life. They’re the only species on this magical planet have breasts even when they’re not milking. Anthropologists guess that it’s because our breasts evolved to be a sexual organ. And like with everything else, female sexual exteriors are shamed and told to hide away from plain sight. Go inside you sexual honey traps you!
So when my friends ask me how I manage, I think what they’re asking is how I deal with the shame of my breasts, their overt sexual nature. My breasts that jingle and jangle, and react to cold and warmth, and are alive and a part of me, and on occasion reveal a silhouette from under my clothes.
Here’s what I tell them: I’m a 36 D, and yet, nobody notices and nobody cares. Except my rib cage, spine, shoulders and sense of self which only expand with happiness and pride. Because my body is sovereign and powerful, and I will not voluntarily, obediently, day after day, cripple it.
This article was originally published on Sneha Vakharia’s blog. Read the original here.
Featured image credit: Kristaps Grundsteins/Unsplash