Bras have become such an fundamental part of women's wardrobes that most women never even consider not wearing one. Many women are therefore very surprised to learn that the modern brassiere is quite a recent invention, dating only to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Originally developed as a replacement for the corset, the bra quickly became the dominant female undergarment, and the social pressure to wear one can begin as young as 6 or 8 for some girls, years before the breasts actually begin to develop. Women who go out in public without a bra are often subjected to ridicule, and in some cases may have disciplinary action taken against them at school or work.
In the face of such powerful social pressure to wear a bra, the only women who go bra free must be crazy feminists and rebellious teenagers, right?
The Comfort Issue
Although I do consider myself a feminist, I'm not a particularly radical one, and I didn't qualify as a rebellious teenager even when I was a teenager! I was a good girl who got good grades, dressed modestly, and married my college sweetheart, the first man I'd ever kissed, let alone %$@&@#$#.
For me, going bra free is first and foremost about comfort. I HATE bras. In my family, they're known as "trotting harnesses" and with considerable justification, in my opinion. All those straps and hooks and wires... They're worse than harnesses in fact - at least horses' harnesses are padded!
As a teenager, I conceded defeat enough to wear the lightest and most comfortable sport-type bras I could find when I left the house, but I was still irritated by the inevitable itchy, sweaty strap marks left behind on my shoulders and under my breasts when I actually attempted to use my "sports" bras for sports.
In college, I experienced my first lacy, padded, underwire bra when I needed one to go with a certain dress. It was hate at first wear. I still have the horrible thing buried somewhere in the bottom of my underwear drawer and take it out about twice a year to wear my dress to the opera, but it made me truly sympathize for the first time with the women who actually burned their bras back in the 60's and 70's. Every time I wear the thing I dream of ripping it off and setting it alight as soon as I get home!
In college, when some larger breasted friends (I'm a 36B) noticed my tendency to hang around the dorm bra free, they winced and clutched at their chests at the very idea. When I became pregnant a few years into my marriage, I understood the impulse for the first time. My breasts became tender and engorged enough that I really felt the need for a bra for the first time in my life. Still, I went to three different stores before I finally found a nursing bra I could stand - nearly all nursing bras, it turns out, have the dreaded underwire and there was no way I was going to wear underwire day in and day out for the more than two years total I spent pregnant and then nursing.
Within a month after weaning, I tossed those nursing bras in my underwear drawer and have scarcely worn a bra since. My breasts have never been happier, or felt better!
The Health Issue
Which brings me to the second reason I choose to go bra free as often as respectably possible: I just don't quite trust bras to be the best choice for my boobs.
Although mainstream doctors generally poop-pooh supposed links between bras and breast cancer, it's also undeniably true that the same century that has seen an explosion in bra use has also seen an explosion in cancer rates. Now, correlation does not imply causation, but it does make you want to investigate a little more deeply.
What I found wasn't damning, but it was suspicious. Some studies have indeed found a correlation between bra use, breast cancer, and fibrocystic breast disease, a common precursor of breast cancer.
There are two main theories about why bras might lead to increased risk of breast cancer:
- Bras keep the breasts at artificially high temperatures. Tight pants are known to increase the risk of testicular cancer and other health problems in men because they raise the temperature of the testicles a few degrees higher than normal. Some scientists believe that bras might cause a similar effect for women's breasts.
- Bras can restrict lymph flow in your breasts. Lymph glands play an important role in draining toxins away from the breasts, and some scientists believe that bras interfere with this function, raising toxin levels in breast tissues and contributing to an increased risk of developing fibrocystic breast disease and breast cancer.
Both of these issues need to be studied in more depth before we will know for sure if bras play a role in breast cancer. However, as a bra-hater with breast cancer on both sides of my family, I did not feel the need to take chances.
Two myths related to breast health:
But don't bras prevent sagging?
Actually, no. Sagging is caused by the proportion of fat in the breast and bras, at most, hide sagging breasts. They do not cure or prevent them.
In fact, in some cases they may actually make sagging worse! Breasts are supported by ligaments, which can atrophy from disuse. If you wear a bra constantly, you will probably find that your breasts sag when you take it off simply because the ligaments are too weak to hold them up without artificial assistance. Fortunately, however, this is not irreversible. If you stop wearing a bra, you will probably find that the ligaments will strengthen and your breasts will become naturally perkier again within a few weeks or months.
You said yourself that you're a puny little 36B. My DDs need a bra to support them!
Maybe, and maybe not. Some large-breasted women find that going without a bra is genuinely painful. Others find that they actually experience less breast pain when they make the switch to a bra free lifestyle. Many also find that back and shoulder pain is reduced when they stop trying to support their breasts with thin little straps digging into their shoulders.
The only way to find out which group you belong to is to experiment. One study of large breasted women found that, after going bra free for two weeks, 79% decided to go bra free permanently because it rendered them symptom free!
Even Dr. Susan Love, who has publicly spoken out against the theory that bras cause breast cancer, states emphatically in her book, Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book, that "wearing a bra... has no medical necessity whatsoever."
Going Bra Free Without Feeling Like A National Geographic Model
Personally, I work at home and don't have to worry about a dress code, so I get by 90% of the time with loose fitting t-shirts or snug-fitting, dark colored tank tops. I wear bras only for more formal occasions.
My mother, who works at a garden center, likes to wear cotton camisoles under her uniform. I have also been known to steal my husband's sleeveless undershirts.
In more formal work environments, layering with jackets or vests can be a helpful option for those with stricter dress codes.
One More Reason To Go Bra Free
I'm not, but there is one radical notion that I do support.
I believe that women have the right to dress and groom their bodies in the way that makes themselves feel happiest, most comfortable, and most beautiful.
If you consider how strong and pervasive the social pressure on women to conform to society's standards of beauty is, it's hard not to see the choice to go bra free as radical. By going bra free, I am reclaiming my right to do what feels best and healthiest for MY body.