Burning the brassiere: One woman’s struggle for comfort and women’s liberation

Dear Dad,

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.
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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.

Mostly.

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.

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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!

Love,
Victoria

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6 thoughts on “Burning the brassiere: One woman’s struggle for comfort and women’s liberation

  1. I’m lucky these days — I spend most of most days at home and “comfortable.” Trying to find bras that fit is discouraging. Many times I’ve found a style that works, managed to buy 2 or 3 or 4, and then when needing new ones, found that style is no longer made. Because most of my life is bra-optional these days, the ones I have should last longer. But they won’t last forever. And I’ve seen enough women my age and older who DON’T wear bras in public but SHOULD, I’ll never be in that camp.

    In the meantime for you, don’t apologize for wearing the comfort forms, or none at all when you can get away with it. Enjoy buying a well-fitting bra or 2 when you can find them and can afford it. Make them last longer by using a lingerie bag for the washer and not putting them in the dryer.

    I got no other advice than that…

    I’ve been enjoying reading your blog since I started following recently. You have a wonderful direct, but compassionate way of putting these ideas into words.

    • Thanks for following and responding, Melanie! I don’t know that I’m comfortable with saying anyone should wear a bra. That’s part of my reason for this post: I struggle with societal ideas of how women should appear. I feel at once that I should look a certain way, and yet those constraints hurt me. Just as I don’t think Frida Kahlo should have plucked her eyebrows, or that women without flat stomachs shouldn’t wear tank tops. Unfortunately, women with large breasts, or older women with aging breasts, are told they need to present themselves a certain way. I think we need to examine those ideas and why we have them.

      I’m really glad you enjoy the voice of this blog. It helps that I write to my dad. I think our relationship shows through in these letters.

      • I get your point. I guess my discomfort has more to do with a general sense of modesty than I problem with body image. I don’t really want to see anyone naked, other than myself and my husband. Not men or women, young or old. Those women, old or young, slim or heavy, “perky” or saggy, who choose not to wear bras are simply more naked than I would like to see. And I would feel the same way about men’s physical presentation.

        We won’t always agree 100%, you and I. But as I said, I do enjoy your writing and am glad to have found you.

      • I completely understand that. I was uncomfortable when one of my grandmothers told me she decided years ago not to wear a bra. She’s over seventy, and I confess, I felt she was dressing inappropriately. For myself, I’m working to learn just to not look if it makes me uncomfortable. She’s happy now, and that makes me happy. It’s a bit of an inspiration.

        And I’m coming to terms with the fact that, even among feminists (or perhaps ESPECIALLY among feminists), it’s impossible to have complete consensus. I’m really loving the conversations I’ve been having lately, though, with people who have differing viewpoints. Listening, considering, responding are all so much fun! And we learn from each other. 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing your bra saga! I am also fascinated by the exchange you and Melanie are having in the comments — especially since I am both someone who has had experiences similar to yours (injuries from ill-fitting garments) and a woman who belongs to many of the categories that seem to mandate bras at all times (age, weight, bust size, etc). I too often feel the pull to declare myself “too naked” when I clothe myself for greater comfort; recently I have begun challenging myself to move beyond that internalized voice, which seems not fully my own. Thanks for the conversation!

    • Thanks for reading and sharing, Alice! Honestly, this is the most naked I’ve ever felt when writing a blog post, haha. Wasn’t sure how my friends and acquaintances would take hearing about my underwear, especially in a not-attractive way.

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