Is it time to burn the bra? Do women really need it? We take a look - PART II
From a young age there is pressure to have perky breasts, during hormonal changes, maternity and exercise there is added pressure on the breast tissue.
As for how often an unsupported breast will bounce, in periods of prolonged activity it’s staggering. According to Dr Deirdre McGhee, an APA sports physiotherapist and researcher from Breast Research Australia, a 60-minute run can lead to 10,000 breast bounces. That’s a lot of movement and stress on the body.
Then there are other reasons why wearing a bra can be of benefit. Bras lift and support the breast tissue which, for larger-busted women, can also help to prevent backache. Aesthetically, wearing a bra also gives a cleaner line to clothes and, by camouflaging the nipples, they give women more freedom to wear what they want.
As for those claims about bras leading to cancer, they are quickly and deftly nipped in the bud by Kathy Chapman, director of cancer programs at Cancer Council NSW. She says there’s no credible research showing a link between wearing (or not wearing) a bra and developing breast cancer. “There have been claims in the past that underwire bras cause breast cancer by obstructing the lymph flow; however, there is no scientific evidence to support this,” she says.
So what about the idea that not wearing a bra builds up natural muscle to prevent sagging? According to the experts, the reverse is true. Dr Paul Belt, a consultant plastic, reconstructive and cosmetic surgeon, says bras offer support — and not wearing one may lead to droopier breasts. “The more you can support the bust the better, particularly if you have large breasts,” he says.
Dr Belt adds that breasts having a lot less bounce and a lot more droop as women get older is simply a normal part of getting older. “The Coopers ligaments, fibrous bands that run through the breasts, stretch and that causes drooping of the breasts as women age,” he says. Just how much breasts will droop is influenced by several factors: “Whether you’ve had children, have breastfed, weight fluctuations, oral contraceptives, menopause — all of these things can affect the shape and volume of the breast.”
What about the old wives’ tale that advocates wearing a bra to bed to make breasts a little perkier? According to Dr Belt, “There is anecdotal and circumstantial evidence that there may be a benefit for large-busted women — lying down doesn’t have the same effect as gravity standing up, but the breasts still move, so the skin and the fibrous elements within the breast will be stretched,” says Dr Belt.
Dr Belt also advocates finding the right bra to do the job: “Bras definitely need to fit properly or you risk damaging the skin.”
Sizing it up
One of the reasons underwire sticks up and into the ribs and straps dig into the shoulders or under the bust is that most women don’t wear the right-size bra. In fact, a survey by Triumph International in 2013 that involved over 10,000 women showed a staggering 76 per cent were wearing the wrong size.
One of the reasons for this is they’d never had a bra properly fitted, with around 66 per cent of women buying bras online or in stores that don’t offer a bra fitting service.
"Wearing a bra ... will knock four kilos off your appearance and, in a microsecond, you’ll stand and sit up a whole lot straighter."
So, if you’ve never had a bra professionally fitted, there’s good reason to. If you choose not to, at the very least Dr McGhee advises to always try on bras before you buy. “Bra companies don’t standardise their bra sizes so, even if the bra is made by the same manufacturer, you may be a 14C in a certain style of bra and a 16D in another, meaning you always need to try a bra on for size.”
When choosing a bra, many women also opt for vanity over comfort. “Most women who think they look good in a certain bra will still choose that bra even if it doesn’t fit properly and it isn’t very comfortable,” she says.
How to find the perfect bra
Author of The Bra Book, Jene Luciani, has a few gems to share:
- Wear or bring a thin t-shirt so you can see what each bra looks like under the sheerest of circumstances.
- Don’t be afraid to put the bra on and face yourself with a critical eye. If you see any gaps, spillage, digging in or other signs of a poor fit, it’s not the right bra. Turn around and look at the back band as well.
- Be aware of your body type so you know what bras to look for. If you are more of a top-heavy “apple”, you’ll probably be looking for fuller-coverage bras, not demi-cups.
- Don’t get stuck in a size rut. Write down the date of your visit and plan another six months to a year later. Our sizes fluctuate due to weight gain, hormonal changes, ageing and other life changes, so it’s important to get fitted at least once a year.
Tips for treating your bra kindly
Do you know how long you’re supposed to hang on to a bra? One year? Perhaps two? Dr McGhee says the average woman hangs on to a bra well past its use-by date. “Bra companies will generally guarantee a bra for 25 washes,” she says. “Most women, on average, tend to keep a bra for two years.”
What are the telltale signs your bra is no longer giving you the support it’s designed to? “The elasticity is failing, the material is wrinkled or worn in the cups or the band or, when you move your arms, the band slides up and down your trunk, even when adjusted to the tightest clip,” says Dr McGee.
You don’t need to wash an everyday bra every time you wear it; however, if you’ve played sport or have sweated, it needs to go into the wash, as the sweat will eat away at the elasticity.
To wash a bra, gently hand-wash or place it inside a garment bag, with the hooks done up. Don’t ever hang it on the clothes line — drape it over.
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.