Illustration by Alisa Santikarn for Varsity

The first lesson I received upon joining a feminist society at school was that bras were never really burned. Our most vocal member (the term ‘leader’ just seemed inappropriate at the time) related how bras only ever caught fire by accident as part of a ‘Freedom Trash Can’ at a Pageant Protest in 1968. I remember their evident fear of appearing radical and diverging from a central, widely-appealing ideal. It struck me as being more harmful than the label itself. As I’ve started caring less about acquiring such a misappropriated ‘radical’ repute, I find myself shifting towards abandoning my bras to a dark corner of my closet, where I imagine they’ll eventually wither away under a little mound of dust. And I would gladly see them go up in smoke, as I’ve discovered a braless existence to be infinitely more enjoyable than any other.

Whether it’s a t-shirt, a triangle, a plunge, or any other, a bra is always - in my experience - somewhat disagreeable. I’m told time and time again that I simply need to find the ‘right bra’, as if I’m Bridget Jones, needlessly cynical and about to stumble into the perfect cups any minute. I’ve searched far and wide for such a soulmate. I’ve tried those without padding, without wires, and without straps. Yet I’ve never managed to escape the necessary transfer of a hefty load to an unhappy pair of shoulders or ribs, neither of which appreciate the extra weight, and even express their dissatisfaction in back pain and blisters every now and then.

More realistic representations of the body beneath seem beautiful in their honesty

To claim this is the experience of every woman or that it’s even always mine would be ludicrous, especially as its so dependent on individual activity and anatomy. Were it not for my largely sedentary lifestyle incorporating only occasional sprints (for which an arm across the chest usually works just as well), I’m sure I’d have an entirely different outlook.

But without denying the experiences of others, one example of discomfort alone ought to negate the social norm. It proves that there are some who don’t lovingly cherish their brassieres. Of course I’m not quite selfish enough to believe I should never shoulder discomfort for a broader social benefit, but to endure such discomfort just to humour what is essentially an irrational fear of female nipples seems an unfair trade.

Even taking comfort out of the equation, I prefer the look without. The moulded cup ideal achieved through bras seems to me almost as archaic as the tiny waist ideal achieved through corsets. Both were once aspirational, but abstractly (and painfully) so. Whose idea was it that a breast ought to be a perfectly formed cup-shape in the first place? Without a bra, the natural shape of a breast is far from the obvious choice for a beaker of sorts. More realistic representations of the body beneath seem beautiful in their honesty, but also in the real value they give in compliments. My Swedish blood may of course be seeping into my thoughts such an appreciation of all things nude, but having reflected on the matter for a little while, it’s a conviction that’s become unshakeable.

And that ought to be the point. This isn’t a tentative ‘perhaps.’ It’s my firm belief that I look better without them. In fact, if I learnt anything from a prolonged are-girls’-skirts-too-short debate at school, it’s an appreciation of the ease with which such discussions can entitle male students to openly stare at and discuss the disruption posed by girls’ legs, and the ease with which girls can dissolve into this narrative where the interests of men are the primary concern. If we don’t decide for ourselves, it will be decided for us.

The little-acknowledged truth in this ‘distraction’ argument though is that interest predates distraction. The romantically interested brain is relentless and will busy itself with a subject within a radius of multiple miles. Just the knowledge that a potential squeeze is in the same densely populated room is enough to send any romantically interested brain into a frenzy, bra or no-bra. Without interest, the changing of social norms poses only a short term distraction, and so what? Bronze must have shocked the stone age. Such is history. At some point intelligence prevails and improves, and humanity moves on.


Mountain View

‘Beauty is pain’: questioning my relationship with my body hair

This is usually the point at which I get accused of advocating a double standard. I’m often asked how might I feel surrounded by men in cycling shorts. But the parallel is weak. Were it a social norm for men to squash their genitalia into a moulded cup, exposing and even pushing up the top half, but never alluding to the real shape, then I’d be inclined to listen a little more carefully. That being said, I’m sure the shift from tight trousers around town to cycling shorts wouldn’t take too much getting used to anyway.

So while my lifestyle remains largely desk-bound, I will start to toss unendurable undergarments aside. And while I would never advocate a blind adoption of my ideals, I do hope others will similarly question such a norm that I would deem archaic. It’s always easier to absorb what is customary rather than think of a different way for ourselves. And it’s always easier to giggle rather than confront uncomfortable situations. Still, to let someone else dictate your experience is to disappear. And such a disappearance simply to soothe those anxiously quivering at the prospect of a natural breast shape is an injustice no woman deserves.

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