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Why wear a bra?

Over 90% of North American women wear a bra, many without ever asking why. This article talks about different reasons women give for wearing a bra. Interestingly, bra wearing is not a necessity for most women for their breasts' sake; it is worn for cultural reasons.

A brief history of bras

Before 1900s, there is very little evidence of garments that could be considered bras. In ancient history, there are mentions of a strip of cloth tied under the breasts to support and to reveal them, or strip of cloth tied around the breasts to flatten them.

The corset became popular starting in the 1500s, and its one function was to lift and shape breasts upward. The modern bra with its two separate cups was gradually developed from the corset in the early 20th century, in an attempt to manufacture a more comfortable underwear piece.

Today, the bra has "evolved" from simple underwear into an actual sexual garment that emphasizes the sexual nature of breasts. This can be readily seen, for example, by the terminology used to advertise bras: enticing, hot, ravishing, seducing, etc. It is no wonder feminists symbolically threw their bras into the trash in the 60s. Even today, going braless is sometimes connected with feminism.

Do you or your breasts really feel more comfortable with or without bras?

This would depend, first of all, on the breast size, and secondly, on the woman's habits. Very large and heavy-breasted women usually need to wear bras for support, and they feel pain and discomfort if they don't wear bras.

Women with small-to-medium size breasts, if they are used to wearing bras, probably feel a little uncomfortable without them. However, this is more a psychological issue and a question of habit: women tend to feel awkward or self-conscious without bras if they are used to wearing them. In fact, when a person gets used to automatically wearing bras, it's possible to not even notice or pay any attention to the slight discomfort from bras.

Thinking about it, can you sense any discomfort and/or tightness from your bra? When you take your bra off, do you feel something similar to the feeling when you have eaten your belly full at a restaurant, and you loosen your belt a little? Can you possibly even see little red marks on your skin after taking bra off? If you answer yes to these questions, your breasts may be trying to tell you something!

Bras and breast cancer risk

Bra-wearing has been linked to breast cancer in a study done by Sidney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer. They found, for example, that women who wore a bra 24 hours a day had a 113-fold increase in breast cancer incidence compared to women who wore bra less than 12 hours daily! They suggest that bras exert enough pressure to the breast and surrounding areas to inhibit the flow of lymph, which then causes toxins and other waste material to remain in the breasts instead of being flushed out.

Now, this effect may be due to the fact that most women just wear the wrong size bra that is too tight somewhere. No one has done any studies investigating the link between breast cancer and how well the woman's bra fits. Either way, for your breast health's sake it is better to avoid wearing bras whenever possible, and for those occasions when you do need one, get well-fitting bras.

So why do women wear a bra?

"Because breasts need to be supported."

This is largely a myth: "

M. Love, M.D in her "Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book". This is similar to the myth that women supposedly need corsets to support their stomach muscles.

wearing a bra

has no medical necessity whatsoever", says Susan

Now, large-breasted women may need the support from bras. Jogging and other active sports may be painful even for medium-breasted ladies. This is, however, an individual thing, so do what is comfortable for you.

In one study, large-breasted women removed the weight of breasts from their shoulders for two weeks, either by going braless or by wearing a strapless bra. Only one woman chose a strapless bra and all the others went braless. The researchers monitored the women for muscle pain and tenderness. Seventy-nine percent of patients decided to remove breast weight from the shoulder permanently because it rendered them symptom free! (Ryan, EL, Pectoral girdle myalgia in women: a 5-year study in a clinical setting. Clin J Pain. 2000 Dec;16(4):298-303.

If you need or want to wear a bra, find one that is fitting. Be especially careful about the underwires and side panels, because if the fit is not just right, the underwire can poke into the breast tissue, and the side panels can create extra pressure and tightness. Consider getting fitted right with a professional fitter. Also, give your breasts "free time". Take your bra off whenever you can, such as at home. At the very least do not wear it to sleep.

Also, while bras do give breasts support, they do not ultimately prevent your breasts from sagging. Gravity will eventually take its effect. There is actually some evidence that bras can even increase sagging. One possible reason for that is that the breast has ligaments, and since other bodily ligaments can atrophy when not in use, the same might happen to the breast ligaments under the constant artificial support from the bra, resulting in increased

sagginess. Another possible reason for bra-wearing increasing sagginess is IF a woman wears an ill-fitting bra, which may force some of the breast tissue to "migrate", resulting in differently shaped breasts than otherwise.

"Because I feel immoral or indecent without bras." This is actually a strange contrast to the sexual nature of bras. While many women accentuate the sexuality of their breasts with bras, equally many or more feel that bras are sort of a necessary "modest covering" for breasts.

Is morality really dependent upon the type of underwear you wear? Women who feel this way have often been made to believe that their breasts are "dirty" body parts that need "tucked away" from sight; and bras become the means of doing so.

Considering breasts as baby feeders, and realizing that breasts do NOT have to be considered a special sexual body part (such as genitals) can liberate these women from a mental "bondage" that says breasts are "immoral, obscene, or indecent" in themselves.

"Just a note to those who've commented before that bras give the female body a cleaner look. After I came across this site, that too was my first thought (and I am someone who has refused to wear bras for most of my life). However, as soon as I had that thought, I caught myself. Of course I (and some of you) think that - that's what our society has taught us. It has taught us that there is something a bit disgusting or wrong about breasts that aren't bound. When this kind of thinking has been pumped into you since day 1, it's obviously very difficult to overcome. I hope that someday we as a society will realize just how silly it is to believe that breasts must be bound to be beautiful or normal. It is just as silly as the old Chinese tradition of binding Chinese women's feet in order to make them beautiful." Renee

"Because everybody does so or in other words the unspoken rules of society so dictate." This is a common reason for wearing bras, and in many situations we women do have to comfort to the modern society's dress code.

"I need to wear bras for my job since it's the dress code."

This might be; however those ladies who would rather not wear one for whatever reason, still have some options even at workplace:

1. Try a camisole/vest . A good camisole made out of elastic material will give some support to your breasts so they don't bounce around, and you will probably be surprised how little people notice. Companies that require bras may not have a policy that defines what a bra is. Some cropped camisoles look very much like bras. Some camisoles even have adjustable straps like a bra. Basically, if it looks professional, it should be OK.

2. Try some other alternative for bra, such as bra cups worn inside the clothing.

3. Try change the company's policy. I am not guaranteeing this will work; however in some situations it might be a viable option.

"Because I hate the thought of my breasts sagging so much." Bras provide support for the breasts and keep breasts from sagging while you wear them. This is often considered to be the "norm" or the dress code for professionals or otherwise. Some of us may also find discomfort in the sweat that collects under sagging breasts.

But dress code aside, I hope women will realize how normal sagging is. We get so brainwashed by the media images of young perky breasts that we no longer know what is normal. In reality it is perfectly NORMAL for adult breasts to be hanging in a lower, relaxed position. Check our gallery for pictures of normal breasts.

Also, it is good to realize that bras do not ultimately prevent your breasts from sagging. Gravity will eventually take its effect, sooner or later. Two scientific studies have even shown that wearing a bra causes the breasts to sag more.

"A mistaken popular belief maintains that wearing a bra strengthens your breasts and prevents their eventual sagging. But you sag because of the proportion of fat and tissue in your breasts, and no bra changes that." Susan M. Love, M.D. in her "Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book."

Discomform from sweat and 'slapping':

"I, myself, experience discomfort from NOT wearing a bra, due to the way in which sweat collects under my breasts (I live in Dixie), and how my breasts slap painfully against the skin underneath when I move quickly. In fact, due to the fact that I am not a very restfull sleeper, I usually wear a comfortable sports bra to bed." Abi Bell

If you suffer with a sweat rash under the breasts, one idea is to apply a good medicated body powder (not talc) after you have washed every day. One visitor suggested Lanacane as a good one. Then there is also a product called Swoobies that is designed to absorb the moisture (sweat) between the bra and breasts.

"Because I want to give the illusion of a larger breast size." This especially happens among teenagers who are very self-conscious if their breasts end up on the smaller end of the scale. Small-breasted and flat-chested women often pad their bras or perhaps use other means to fill up the bra cup, such as silicone breast enhancers.

If the society wouldn't have such a craze about large breasts being better, these girls and women wouldn't need to feel so self-conscious about this issue!

"Because they jump up and down while I exercise and do sports." Sports bras can be extremely helpful in reducing breast bouncing while running or doing other types of active sports. In fact, the bouncing during jogging, for example, can actually damage the ligaments inside the breasts. Slight movement of breasts is probably just helpful, because movement of breasts aids the lymph flow. You need to judge the situation based on the type of activity.

"Because I am breastfeeding and I need to wear nursing bras." Nursing moms (or pregnant women) are indeed told to buy nursing bras and wear them. There is no medical necessity to wear nursing bras either. Of course nursing bras is a handy way to hide the leaking of breast milk, and maybe you want to wear one in order to avoid society's pressure.

However be careful because wearing a nursing bra may cause breast engorgement or sore breasts. It might be safer just place a towel under you during the night to catch the leakage, and not worry about breast milk spots on your T-shirts at home, where you can easily go brafree. We got a comment from one experienced mom whose engorgement troubles were over when she quit wearing a bra:

"I stumbled on your site trying to find some information about the link between breast cancer and breastfeeding. I breastfed my four kids all for an extended time. The youngest is six so it has been a while I found something that really helped me with my babies. You know how they tell you that you need to wear a bra when you are beginning to breastfeed? I would wake up after finally getting some sleep with a huge bra-shaped engorged breast. With my last two children I decided to go braless during those times and just let the breasts drip. It was very effective for me for treating and preventing engorgement. I think the movement of the breasts also probably helped keep them from getting hard. The bras I ended up wearing the most during those nursing years were some old thin sports bras that my sister had handed off to me. It did elicit some comments ("You need a new bra") but it was probably more natural than those other nursing bras that didn't work well for me."

So should I wear one or not?

The choice to wear or not to wear a bra is yours. Many women are very used to wearing bras, and feel uncomfortable in public without them. Social occasions may require you to wear one.

Bra wearing is not going to kill you (or 'kill' your breasts) if you follow the simple guideline of giving your breasts free time as much as you can - at home, while sleeping. And, if you wear one, remember to always wear a good fitting bra. It should not leave marks on your shoulders or under your breasts, or feel tight. Find a professional bra fitter. Or order custom-made ones. Don't sacrifice your breast health to fashion.

Some bra alternatives

There are many healthy alternatives for dressing brafree (some women prefer the positive term "brafree" rather than "braless" because they say women don't really need to wear bras).

1. Camisoles are inexpensive, and there is a huge variety at many department stores with variety of fabrics and weights, from silk to cotton. Some have straps similar to those of a bra, with adjustable clasps, so others may assume that a bra is being worn or that there is a bra under the camisole. You can find thin and/or cropped camis for summer.

2. Men's singlet undershirts, also called A-shirts, sleeveless undershirts, etc. They are inexpensive and comfortable.

3. Vests, similar to those of a man's 3-piece suit, over a blouse at work to hide breast outline or movement.

4. Shirts with pockets over both breasts; extra fabric layer conceals.

5. New alternatives include tops with two layers in front and one in back.

6. Loosely fitted tops.

7. Bra tops are supportive and shaping due to a careful cut and stretch cotton/lycra.

8. Leotards work as a bra alternative. The leotard usually has lining like a bust panel which is where the "bra" help comes in.

9. Or simply wear no undergarment depending on weather, confidence, self image, and nature of overgarment.

10. NuBra is just two adhesive cups that you place on your breasts. They keep the nipple from showing through clothing, if that is a concern.

11. A similar concept is the Bust Free Bra Cups. They have two cups that cling to the material of the fitting shirt or dress you wear.

12. Breast Rest is a comfort and support system - or a bra alternative - that allows the breast freedom and light support. Sleep with your chest supported without confining and compressing breasts.

13. While technically a bra, ZeeBraz is an interesting new kind of bra - developed to allow a woman the freedom to breathe and move and to allow the breasts to be supported in their natural position without being constricted.