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Your Bra may not be Your Friend


“Go Wireless” is surging as a campaign in the world of advertisements, via social media and television. If you suspect that it may be a crusade of the Tech Industry, you are wrong. This “Go Wireless” media-drive is a new push for women to ditch underwire bras for a softer and less structured version. But as women of a certain age, we’ve ‘been there, done that.’ Many of us entered our early adulthood in the sixties and seventies in time to ditch the corsets and girdles shaped with wires and bones sturdy enough to stand on their own. We’ve been through all adaptations of the bra: back-closing; front-closing; pull-on; back-support; no support; half-cup; full cup; long-line; padded; strapless; push-up; racer-back; and bandeau. We’ve tried the wonder bra, the cone-spiral-shaped bra, the t-shirt bra, the sweater bra, the convertible bra, the bralette, the sports bra, and the under-wire bra remake. We were the ready market for the “I can’t believe it’s a bra” bra. Regardless of all efforts made by bra manufacturers and the fashion industry, there is no such thing as a comfortable bra. We may get excited about the idea when we see the ads, fall for the hype, and spend a small fortune on the bra that will change our lives. We are believers for the first five minutes. Until the familiar discomfort sets in.


Women have had an ongoing love-hate relationship with the Bra


Women have had an ongoing love-hate relationship with this piece of undergarment called a bra. As preteens we couldn’t wait to get our first bra. Girls know instinctively that a bra fulfills two opposing sexist purposes. It shields your budding breasts and nipples from the eyes of eager boys and lustful men. And it also graduates you into a young woman with cleavage, desirable to the same eager boys and lustful men. If you were not generously endowed, there was a padded bra to the rescue. After the excitement of my first bra, I soon found it to be the most uncomfortable piece of clothing in existence. I ditched it whenever I could get away with not wearing one. As a practical and studious girl who also played sports and had no interest in boys at that time, I turned the questionable disadvantage of being small-chested into an advantage of being unnoticeable when I did not wear a bra. When I entered adulthood, social expectations made me wear one to work and to church. I wore one underneath my wedding dress, during the second half of pregnancy, and for the months when I breastfed. At social events I went without one. Home is the place of comfort with still no need for a bra when I’m in my house.


Which brings us to the Covid-19 pandemic discovery by women who had the privilege of working from home, and those who were forced to stay home when their workplaces closed. Regardless of bust size, women shared the news – they uncovered the freedom and blissful comfort of not having to wear a bra at home. Suddenly, the bra became one of the symbols of oppressive workplace expectations. A tongue-in-cheek observation now circulating around the employment marketplace is that some of the worker-shortages may be due to women not wanting to return to work because they will be forced to wear a bra. A recent episode of the TV game-show Family Feud, included the jackpot question, “Which item of clothing do women hate wearing the most?” No surprise – the top answer was “A bra” which was drawn from an actual survey of women.


No single country owns the design of the modern Bra


Historical accounts vary about the emergence of the bra as we know it. No single country owns its design. Several cultural belief systems, combined with patriarchal controls and women’s own needs, gave rise to the notion that women must manage the bounciness of their breasts. Contrarily, this depends on what is needed from women at specific times. Breasts need to be perky, plump, and peep out of clothing if sexual titillation is the order of the day. On the other hand, breasts need to be covered modestly when you are a mother or wet nurse breastfeeding an infant. And definitely, breasts need to be tied down when they belong to women who provide manual labor where such an appendage can get in the way. Through the centuries, women across all cultures used bands of fabric to manage their breasts until the fashion industry took hold of under-garment commerce in the 19th century. The rest, as they say, is history. The global lingerie retail market raked in close to 40 billion dollars in 2021 expected to reach 70 billion in the next five years (theguardian.com; prnewswire.com; statista.com; today.com). More than half of this revenue – 56%, comes from the sale of bras, with the rest of the pack filled in by panties, briefs and nightwear. Sport-bras are considered Active-wear and are omitted from this accounting of Lingerie; by themselves they dominate their separate market with sales of 43 billion dollars globally in 2021, expected to reach 95 billion by 2027 (brand essence research.com). Bras on the whole are unnecessarily expensive, but there is no motivation to make them cheaper.


A Powerful Bra Industry Exists


Science has occasionally studied the question, “Are bras necessary?” Researchers in Australia, England, Europe and the US (Medical News Today.com) have explored what the effects are from wearing a bra vs not wearing a bra. They looked at certain ailments such as back, neck and shoulder pain, and breast sagging, and also at the more serious issue of breast cancer. They’ve compared the impact of small breasts vs large breasts. So far, they have avoided making conclusive statements that point to benefits of wearing a bra vs not wearing one, except cultural, social, and psychological. They acknowledge some negative impact from the improper fit and structure of bras being too tight or too loose, or wrong size, or cups misaligned, or bands and underwires resting on the wrong spot on your body; or bruising from straps and buckles digging into shoulders or around your torso; elasticized elements too tight across the chest or digs from underwires poking out. Back, neck and shoulder pain, researchers claim, may arise from poor posture and slouching because of self-consciousness about large breasts, and not from the large breasts themselves. Some cosmetic surgeons who perform breast reductions make claims to the contrary. Those who perform breast enlargement promote the social and psychological benefits to their clients. Of course, such procedures are the surgeons’ bread-and-butter, but are also well documented as having serious after-effects for patients.


But there is more to it than that. All women know the audible sound of relief we emit whenever we take off a bra. Back in 1992, American novelist Terry McMillan released her bestseller, “Waiting to Exhale.” Detached from the story line, the title always conjures up in my mind the daily ritual of “waiting to exhale” after a few hours of bra-wearing. Finally, we could breathe. So far, studies have been reluctant to examine the impact on women’s health long-term. For example, what if you spend most of the day not being able to breathe easily for hours on end, on account of the bra you are wearing? Scientists admit that a bra that’s too slack causes problems. Nonetheless, a bra isn’t a bra unless it hugs the body. We are frustrated by the blame-worthy messaging that a visit to an expert bra-fitter will solve the problems. We’re egged on to buy each new design with the promise of comfort and a perfect fit. Yet to be fulfilled.


More studies are needed on the impact of bra-wearing on women’s Health


Despite the power of the global Bra industry, there are a few medical experts who urge more extensive study of the effects of bra-wearing on women’s health. It’s possible that both you and your physician may be searching in the wrong places for clues for a mystery illness. The answer may be with your bra (Medical News Today.com; Women’s Health magazine, 2021). These experts remind us that there are many major organs and bodily systems that lie just beneath the surface within our chest cavity and upper abdominal cavity, where bras can do the most silent damage. Organs such as the Lungs, Heart, Liver, Stomach and Esophagus, and the crisscrossing channels such as the Bile, Cardiovascular, Digestive, Lymphatic, and Respiratory systems. All needing to work non-restrictively to keep us alive and healthy and to rid our bodies of toxins. As we get older and our organs and systems weaken, and our skin gets thinner, garments that create consistent pressure and constriction such as a bra, can take a toll. The same impact can happen in the lower abdomen, legs and extremities due to regular wearing of tights and leggings. Men, for example have been warned to stay away from tight jeans. As a woman of a certain age, you should also take personal responsibility for observing what impacts your health even if your primary-care physician tends towards the pharmaceutical route in response to a complaint. Pay attention to the type of relief you may enjoy when you remove your bra – Are you breathing easier? Is your acid reflux and heartburn less annoying if you eat while wearing a bra vs braless? Do you feel compression under your bra, at the site of your diaphragm and across your back, that’s causing severe discomfort, interfering with digesting food, or with breathing? Observation is at the center of good science and improved health. Your own observations too.


While you are at it, if you find a genuinely comfortable bra that does not get in the way of breathing, relaxing or digesting food, one that doesn’t roll up, or tie you down, or cause difficulty to put on or take off, definitely spread the word. We would all appreciate a bra that is our friend and not our enemy. That is if you feel you must wear one.

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