I don’t remember buying my first bra. I remember everyone else slowly getting bras, and me decrying them, and refusing, partly because I was an incredibly contrary child, and partly because I was scared of growing up and my body changing. A bra suggested shame. You must hide away these markers of womanhood – no one should see them.
I remember seeing an older girls boobs and wondering when mine would start to look like one unit – when will they get big enough to make the t-shirt stretch? Rather than two strange little lumps sitting on my chest.
I remember my mum coming home from work and joyously removing her bra. I remember it being an occasion of great joy, being able to free your breasts from the pockets they were confined in all day.
I remember the girls I would get changed in beach huts with, us all desperately trying to hide our bodies, putting bikini tops on over bras and fiddling about undoing various things, so that bare skin was never exposed.
I don’t remember when I stopped wearing a bra. I think I saw a video on Facebook about the damage it can actually cause. Shoulders and back problems and badly fitting bras. I saw a series of photos of the imprint that clothing leaves on us after we take it off, and marvelled at the fact that we put these tight-fitting things on our bodies to the point where they leave a mark. I bought some bralets, which are lacy and sexy and make me feel great. Sometimes I wear them, if my boobs hurt or my top’s a bit see through. Most of the time I don’t. Most of the time I don’t wear anything under my top. It is so comfy. I love my boobs a lot more, now I see their normal shape on a regular basis. I love it when they’re a weird shape and pointy and wonky. It feels real. Like they’re real parts of me. I’m not scared of them anymore.
I get changed in front of my friends and care a whole lot less about my body. When my friend MJ asked me to take part in a topless photo shoot, I did it. I think I did it because I’d stopped wearing a bra. I feel a lot more comfortable with my boobs, and in turn, my whole body.
I asked fellow Anthem writer Sophy to look into the history of women’s underwear for me. This is what she got:
Throughout history, some form of garment has always been used to mould, shape and support women’s breasts. In Ancient Greece and Rome, large breasts were seen as unattractive, comical even, so women wore bands of cloth that flattened their chests. By the 14th and 15th centuries, the corset was used to push up the breasts and create cleavage, which was desired as it was seen as a symbol of wealth and elitism. We can thank the Victorian feminists and doctors that ousted the corset due to health concerns over constraining women’s bodies.
The growth of flappers in the 1920s saw androgynous styles of bras that aimed to minimise curves. On the other hand the 1930s created a complete reversal of this, with the invention of cup sizes and the underwired bra (that created a curvier look) meant that women were categorised in terms of the size of their breasts.
The metal shortages of WW2 ended the popularity of the corset (thank god) and the 1940s and 50s cubist movements inspired the pointed bosom and “bullet bras” that are so iconic of the post WW2 era. The feminist movements of the 1960s introduced comfy bralets/crop tops. Sports bras weren’t invented until the 1970s and the 1990s created the wonder bra and cleavage enhancing bras. The shape of bras and how they mould breasts have changed with the political and social trends of the time.
Bras are a commodity. An optional commodity. The growth of consumerism throughout the 19th Century (and especially so since after WW2 with booming economies and the growth of young people with disposable income) meant that the purpose of bras shifted even more so from functionality to fashion. And how do you sell something? Make people feel bad about themselves.
Your boobs are too small. “Look we’ve invented a two size up bra”
Your boobs aren’t perky enough. “Look, we’ve developed a cleavage enhancing bra”
Your body isn’t sexy enough on its own. “Look we’ve got a pretty lacy sexy bra set that will fix that”
Since ancient times, boobs have been manipulated, squashed and shaped to suit certain types of fashion trends. Like Sian, although I haven’t stopped wearing a bra (who knows maybe one day I’ll convert), I have started to wear bralets a lot more and my god it’s so much comfier. My boobs can take pretty much the shape they want – not the shape that current fashion trends have dictated.
Recently American high school student Kaitlyn Juvik got sent home from school because teachers were concerned that her not wearing a bra under her black t-shirt was distracting, and inappropriate. Yup. A girl turned away from education, because she wasn’t wearing something under her clothes.
Kaitlyn Juvik consequently set up No Bra No Problem, an online community fighting against this institutionalised sexism, which has garnered support around the world. And good on her, because how dare anyone decide what we should wear under our clothes.
Boobs are boobs. They’re fatty lumps on our fronts, that we’ve evolved in order to feed children. Isn’t that great? Isn’t that amazing, that our bodies have developed in this way so that we can feed newborn babies? And isn’t it mind-boggling that what we do with them, even under our clothes, is questioned and put in the media?
I got 99 problems but a bra ain’t one anymore.
Words by Sian Brett and Sophy Edmunds
Images Courtesy of Walt Disney, Ellamae Cieslik and MJ Ashton, Retro You, and Kaitlyn Juvik via Metro.co.uk