In January this year I stopped wearing a bra.
What led me to do this? First my work as a birth worker tends to make me question things and to develop the knowledge that our bodies are actually quite well designed. Second I read some blogs posts on the topic (like this one), as well as discussing it with body workers and women who had already taken that step. So the idea was in my head for a while, but I didn’t quite dare to take the plunge (pun intended ;-)).
What stopped me? Mostly it was vanity: I thought my body shape looked better with my padded, wired bra. I was also worried about comfort: my bra size was a 34 DD so not particularly small either.
Early in January, after reading a couple of published articles on the topic, I asked a group of doulas on Facebook and the reply thread was fascinating: I discovered that many of my friends had already either switched to soft, stretchy bras, or stopped wearing them altogether. And they were much happier for it.
The same week I asked my osteopath what he thought of them, and his answer was very clear: he said that they stopped the muscles and ligaments of the chest from working properly, and that if he ever had a daughter he would do everything he could to stop her from wearing one. That was the last argument I needed to hear.
I did my usual scientific due diligence, and I found a few papers. One study in particular, showed that in women with pectoral pain, the pain disappeared when women stopped wearing bras for 2 weeks. And of course there was the recent and infamous, press unleashing, French study showing that breasts sag less when women wear no bras. Professor Rouillon who conducted the study said : “Medically, physiologically, anatomically – breasts gain no benefit from being denied gravity. On the contrary, they get saggier with a bra”. A Japanese study showed similar results in the 1990s.
My internet search also led me to the “bra free” website, which has a very interesting FAQ section.
What the FAQ above says makes a lot of sense to me: breasts, like any other tissue in the body, need movement. Movement pumps fluids, like blood and lymph, around, hence assisting local immune health, optimal hormonal circulation, and removal of toxins.
This blog has an interesting review of the research, including link to a couple of studies showing that in large breasted women, removing the bra cured them of their shoulder/back pain.
To quote Rocio Alarcon, who taught me the closing the bones postpartum massage, “the only time when you don’t move, is when you’re dead”. Rocio explained that movement of energy and fluids is essential to health, and she taught me, amongst many other things, a breast health lymphatic massage technique using a rebozo.
So what happened when I stopped wearing a bra?
I didn’t go completely cold turkey-I first transitioned to soft stretchy bras for a while. Intuitively it felt like transitioning to nothing was probably not the best idea. I wanted to give my muscles and ligaments some time to adapt. But even then I noticed something very interesting : within a couple of weeks, my breasts no longer ached when I bounced up and down or ran after my kids. I also noticed that my back felt freer and more “open” if that makes sense.
Yes I know some of you will say, I can’t take off my bra, my breasts ache when I run after the bus as it is-and for some of us, it might be true. But, as shown in my experience and the published study above, it can make a world of difference to your comfort. How will you know for sure if you haven’t tried? After all you only need to give it a couple of weeks trial.
The bouncing was a strange sensation-previously encased in wired cups, my breast just weren’t used to it. I remember giving a friend a closing the bones massage, shortly after making the change, and a part of the massage includes a rather strong hip jiggling, and I was surprised by the sensation of my own breasts jiggling too. But I soon got used to the new sensations that not wearing a bra gave me. It became my new normal.
All the soft bras I had found were made from synthetic material which didn’t feel good on my skin. After searching high and low for soft, comfy, natural fibres alternatives to soft stretchy bras, I stumbled upon a yoga website that sold bamboo tank tops with a soft shelf bras and transitioned to these.
The other interesting thing was been that nobody seems to noticed that I was no longer wearing a bra. So much for the shape and vanity thing. That was obviously all in my head!.
A few weeks into my experiment, I attended my first bra-free birth as a doula. It felt so much more comfortable not to wear a bra whilst supporting a woman through her birth! So much less restrictive! I remembered being at a long birth before and being uncomfortable staying for hours and hours in my wired bra. I was very grateful for the increased comfort.
Now nearly 6 months on, the warmer days are upon us, I have discovered that even the soft stretchy shelf vest can feel hot and sweaty when the temperature rises, so depending on the weather I wear mostly vests with no shelf, or just a plain top with nothing underneath. It feels great. I’m not feeling self conscious about it either. There is no way I am ever going back to bra wearing.
My breasts feel better and healthier than when I was wearing a bra. And no they haven’t sagged either.
The weird thing about mind shifting and change of perspective, is that now I go to a shop and look at bras, and I think they are very weird contraptions indeed. I also think, as many other things in our culture, that it is odd that we never question things. When girls start to grow breasts, we take them to the shop to get fitted, and few of us seem to stop and think : Do I really need this? Also the feminist in me questions why our culture thinks that an unnaturally pointed breast is considered the most aesthetically pleasing shape…I do hope to instil this questioning mind into my daughter as she grows.
An update (October 2017)
I stopped wearing a bra in January 2016, so nearly 2 years ago. I slowly moved away from wearing soft crop tops and for the last 6 months or so I have only worn vests under my tops. I am fascinated by the difference it has made to my comfort and breast health. For instance, I can now comfortably jump up and down and run without any discomfort whatsoever. I feel that my breasts are slightly perkier (which is no mean feat considering I am 47 and a DD cup). The other day I went for a run (something I hadn’t done for over a year) and put on a sports bra because I still thought I had to, and I was shocked by how much it restricted my breathing and how uncomfortable it is.
What I didn’t expect was the change in mindset that would follow my bra-less adventure. When I’m in the changing room at the gym I look at everybody else wearing a bra and it feels weird. I’ve come to really consider the bra as something abnormal. I have had many very interesting conversations with women about it and found that many are tempted to follow once we’ve broached the subject. I’ve also found that many like the idea but are worried about their boobs being too big/too saggy, or that their nipples will show. Those concerns are really demonstrative of our patriarchal, judgemental society, where women are expected to be sexy but somewhat also demure. I had such concerns about my shape prior to ditching the bra (I worried that my figure wouldn’t look as good), but interestingly I noticed that people cannot tell whether or not I’m wearing a bra, and in fact often very surprised when I tell them that I do not.
Recently I made a joke about this topic on facebook by saying “Imagine for a minute if men were told they had to wear a testicle bra, because if they didn’t, their scrotums would be unsupported, and would hurt and sag. And all men wore a balls bra, a contraption that had straps going up their shoulders. There would be lots of shops selling them. There would be famous old fashioned brands, like cross your balls, and fashionable, edgy ones with state of the art fabrics. Men could go to specialist shops to get fitted by experienced balls bra fitters. There would be underwired, padded versions, to give their scrotum that uplifted, more prominent look. Of course the balls bras would be hot, uncomfortable, but if a man decided to go without, he would be labelled as a hippy, a meninist, get told that he would get saggy balls, and that he shouldn’t complain if he attracted too much unwanted female attention, what with his natural shape showing off like that….
A second update (August 2018)
It’s now been 2.5 years since I ditched the bra. I’ve embraced it so much now that the idea of wearing a bra feels extremely odd. The other day I went for my morning run and realised I’d left the soft stretchy bra I normally use for running in my bedroom. To avoid waking up my husband (I go running at 6 am and he isn’t a morning person), I thought I’d give running bra-less a go. And surprisingly it was totally fine, something I would have thought impossible in my bra-wearing past.
It’s been very hot lately and I find the lack of bra also incredibly more comfy in this heat-no tight, hot band of damp fabric underneath my boobs.
But it’s been so long I am starting to forget what it feels like.