Is it time to burn the bra? Do women really need it? We take a look
Feminity is often defined by a woman’s breasts. Popular imagery portrays the breast in many forms: a voluptuous Renaissance woman in repose, an infant contentedly suckling a mother's breast or a buxom celebrity sporting breasts with a little surgical tweaking.
Throughout the history of womankind, breasts have been a hot topic — they’re celebrated, envied, adored and sometimes mocked. They’ve even inspired creativity. Legend has it that the curved champagne flute was modelled on a famous breast: that of Queen of France, Marie Antoinette.
And, love yours or loathe them, there’s no getting around the fact that, if you have a pair, they’re yours for life.
So what does the ideal breast look like? Fashionistas all over the world will extol the virtues of the perfect pair. According to most marketing gurus, the ideal breast is round and super perky. But the reality is very different. Breasts are a bit like noses — they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, from petite to bountiful, gravity-defying to droopy. Some are a little lopsided. No matter what shape or size, all breasts are normal and beautiful, just like the rest of you!
Lending a helping hand
There have been some ingenious devices designed over the years to enhance and support the bust. The Minoan women in Greek history around 2000 BCE wore garments that uplifted the breasts and left them exposed.
Going braless exercises your right to freedom of choice. In an age where personal freedoms are few, it’s liberating and deliciously empowering to have the freedom to choose.
In the Middle Ages, middle- and upper-class women wore stiff linen under the bodices of their outfits to bind and flatten the breasts. Then, in the 1800s, women were subjected to the corset: heavily boned instruments that lifted the bust up and squeezed the ribs to define the waistline. It’s no surprise that these contraptions caused numerous health issues, including restricting the organs, and affected breathing and digestion.
Mary Phelps Jacob, a New York socialite, liberated women from the corset in around 1914 after stitching together a couple of handkerchiefs and a long pink ribbon to fashion the world’s first-ever brassiere.
With World War I in full swing a few years later, and corsets no longer favoured by many, Valerie Steel, author of The Corset: A Cultural History, writes that the extra 28,000 tonnes of steel that would have gone into corsets was enough to build two battleships.
The first padded bra was introduced in the 1950s, the first sports bra came into being in the 1970s and, in the 1980s, cultural icons like Madonna introduced a bemused generation to the pointy cup or cone bra.
You’d think that was pretty hard to top but, a few short years ago, clever Slovenian manufacturers introduced the smart memory bra: when your body temperature rises, your bust gets a perky little lift. What will they think of next?
What do bras really do?
For many women, the best part of wearing a bra is the sense of relief they feel when they finally wrestle it off their body at the end of a long day. The truth is, the wrong kind of bra, or the wrong-sized bra, can indeed feel like a torturous instrument. So why do we bother wearing them, anyway?
It’s a good question, particularly when you consider the claim that wearing a bra may even be hazardous to your health. A few years ago, a French sports doctor named Jean-Denis Rouillon declared war on the bra. Bras served no purpose, he said; at worst, bras were harmful to the muscles that support the breasts, and not wearing one allowed women to develop more muscle tissue, so breasts drooped less with age.
Then there are the authors of the 1995 book Dressed to Kill, Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer, who claim a link between bras and breast cancer.
Is there any truth in any of this? Are we really better off letting the girls swing free? That, it seems, depends on who you ask.
Unshackle your bosom
There’s no getting around the fact that, in summer, bras can be uncomfortable, sweaty contraptions that can poke, prod and dig into the flesh.
While many women happily whip off their bras in the privacy of their own homes, go braless in public and you open yourself to ridicule and unwanted opinion: comments like, “You’re going to have saggy boobs” or “You’re brave — I’d hate people to see my nipples.”
Going braless exercises your right to freedom of choice. In an age where personal freedoms are few, it’s liberating and deliciously empowering to have the freedom to choose. After all, it’s your body.
If you’re more a middle-ground kind of gal and would like to unshackle your boobs but still feel a little coy, you can protect your modesty with silk or silicone nipple covers, or you can tape your nipples.
Benefits of the bra
In a sea of A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H (and some double-digit cups), many women are confused when it comes to bra shopping. There are demi-cup, balconette, bandeau, contour, convertible, full cup, racer back, maternity, push-up, plunge, t-shirt, shelf, mastectomy, sports, and adhesive bras.
There are bras to minimise the bust, bras to make the bust overflow the cups that contain it, bras to support bouncing boobs during exercise, and more.
Regardless of your personal feelings on bras, wearing one does have a plus side. Ask Jene Luciani, author of The Bra Book, about the benefits of wearing a bra and she’ll tell you it will knock four kilos off your appearance and, in a microsecond, you’ll stand and sit up a whole lot straighter (because women who are braless tend to stoop to unconsciously try to cover their breasts).
Bras prevent the breasts moving up and down, and any associated discomfort. During physical exercise, breasts move in a three-dimensional sinusoidal motion, creating something called breast bounce. According to bra manufacturer Berlei, even petite 10A breasts can move up to 4cm from where they started. A 12B can bounce as much as 8cm while jogging, and a DD can move to 18cm.
Written by the amazing Carrol Baker
Carrol Baker is an award-winning freelance journalist who is a passionate advocate of natural health and wellness. She writes for lifestyle and healthy-living magazines across Australia and internationally.