No bras were actually burned in the making of feminism. This mythology surfaced during the Women’s Liberation Movement when women rebelled against suffocating beauty standards. Female protestors at the Miss America beauty pageant in 1968 threw bras, mops, girdles, pots and pans, and Playboy magazines—items they called “instruments of female torture”—into a trashcan, but they were not burned. A New York Post story on the protest included a reference to bra-burning as a way to link the movement to war protestors burning draft cards. Bra-burning signifies a declaration against a male-dominated culture that locked women into rigid ideas of beauty.
Bitch magazine cofounder Andi Zeisler reminds us in Feminism and Pop Culture that today’s bras are nothing like the ones those women rallied against in 1968: “Bras, girdles, and—oof—nylon hose were both restrictive and compulsory for women in professional settings, and dumping these underpinnings really was a tangible act of defiance.”
Coquettish lace, frilly bows, neon colors and patterns, padding, lack of circulation, discomfort—the modern bra still sucks.
Let’s be honest—wearing a bra can be a pain in the bust, with underwire, straps, and hooks. So it’s no wonder going braless can feel as freeing as slipping out of a pair of stilettos after a long day, or better yet, running naked through a field of wildflowers in Big Sur, or skinny dipping in the ocean on a warm summer night—oh, the glory!
But the trend of going sans bra off the runway and out of your pajamas raises its own set of issues. Letting the girls loose may be easier for women with smaller breasts than for those who are larger chested, and you may feel awkwardly exposed at a family brunch, or in a professional setting.
This poses a question—what’s more uncomfortable? Granting your breasts movement and circulation by also revealing their natural shape and form? Or buckling them into a harness? Locking them into a boob-cage?
Professor Jean-Davis Rouillon, researcher at the University Hospital of Besançon in France, studied 330 female volunteers ages 18 to 35 and concluded, “medically, physiologically and anatomically breasts gained no benefit from the support of bras.”
In fact, bras could actually be harmful in terms of posture and muscle tone. But, he notes, his research was preliminary and not based on a representative sample of women yet.
Rouillon was inspired by the discovery that no previous study had looked at the medical effects of the bra. No previous study? Most women wear these contraptions day in and day out. How do we know they’re safe for our bodies?
“If a woman begins wearing a bra from the moment breasts appear, the suspension muscles don’t work correctly, and tissues slacken,” says Rouillon—so wearing a bra might actually weaken the natural muscles meant to hold up breasts, thus contributing to sagging.
That’s not all—many researchers and physicians now agree that wearing a tight-fitting bra can cut off lymphatic drainage. The lymph system is a network of thin-walled veins that drain and remove toxins. Bras constrict these important vessels (especially in the underarm area) preventing excretion. This can lead to the build-up of toxins in the breasts—yikes!
Wearing a bra or letting your breasts go unfettered is a choice every woman is free to make. Though research confirming the detrimental nature of bras is still incomplete—one thing is certain—so is evidence that bras prevent sagging, or better yet, do anything beneficial for your body. So why are we still wearing these “instruments of female torture?” Try letting your breasts move, jiggle, and detoxify. It’s incredibly liberating. Wear a bra for shorter amounts of time, or find a less restrictive bra.
At the end of the day, the message is clear—always be kind to your body, in all of its natural fleshy splendor.