I know living in a house with me when I was a teenager, you had an up-close-and-personal experience of what most girls experience going through puberty. Maybe too personal: Remember sitting up all night with me as I cried that time I had terrible cramps?
You also had a front row seat to the struggles I went through trying to find a bra that fit. First, I was wearing Target bras that were woefully too small, and wore out quickly. Then, I found bras that fit, but I had to shell out close to $200 for two. Working my way through college, I often didn’t have money to buy bras when I needed them, and had to suffer for months with ill-fitting, worn-out contraptions that left me with bruises and sometimes cuts.
Lately, I’ve been working three jobs, and my bra pain has only gotten worse. Because my body is constantly fatigued, it’s difficult for my bruises to heal, and putting on a bra brings almost instant, excruciating pain.
So I stopped wearing bras.
I’ve taken to wearing bathing suit tops or shelf bras. The shape isn’t the same, I don’t look like Betty Page anymore, but I’m also able to concentrate at work.
It’s been a struggle emotionally. I’ve been raised in a world where women’s breasts are portrayed as beautifully sculpted globes that just stay perky through antigravity or something. As a voluptuous woman, I learned to tie my sense of beauty, attractiveness and self worth to my breasts and the way my bra shaped them. Going out of the house in a shelf bra, I’ve felt as if everyone is staring at me and wondering why my breasts are so saggy.
Throughout my whole individual saga, I’ve been thinking about the “bra-burning feminist” stereotype that is so often thrown around to discredit feminists as extremists. I remember you telling me stories, Dad, of the feminists when you were in college who burnt their bras and hit men who opened doors for them.
In fact, feminists as bra-burners is a complete myth, fabricated to discredit the women’s movement. Jennifer Lee, director of the documentary “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation,” explains what she learned about the 1968 Miss America protests in the making of her film:
Bras were just one of the items protestors were encouraged to bring that day that signified how the male-dominated culture was keeping women locked into rigid ideas of beauty, but they weren’t burned. Starting a fire on the boardwalk was illegal, so protestors opted to Playboy magazines and other items in a Freedom Trash Can. Still, the bra-burning image remained—a symbol that was easy to belittle as women focusing on something trivial. Misinformation and myths sometimes serve as placeholders in our memory when facts are not remembered.
“Bra-burning,” or rather, throwing items that represented the oppression women faced into the trash, was a symbolic gesture, an act of defiance and liberation. I too, am trying to liberate myself from a beauty paradigm that has brought me pain and bodily harm, Dad. The more I think about it (and every time I put my bra back on) the more convinced I become that being a bra-burner is being a woman who asserts her right to comfort over rigid beauty standards. (Literally, those underwires are stiff and painful.)
Of course, I support anyone’s right to wear a bra if they want, but I’m also speaking out for the women who don’t want to, who are tired of strapping themselves in every morning, who are sick of tracing the bruises on their ribs. Burn your bras, ladies! Wear what makes you happy!