So I finally went public. It may seem like that’s obvious, but I’m not talking about confessing my braless behavior to all of cyber world. I’m talking about going au natural at the New Years Party in my hometown this year.
Let’s take it from the (crop)top.
After high school, I left America for the first time in my life and after more than three years abroad, it doesn’t appear that I’ll be home any time soon. Yes, of course I’ve been back a few times to see friends and family, but by a few I mean a handful, and by a handful, I mean you can really count the times on one hand. Two fingers to be precise.
Now I’m from a small American suburb where I’ve been lucky enough to still have friends from third grade. We all went to middle school and high school together, and while many of us have scattered off to the universities of our state and beyond, we’ve always come back to our town and reunited on breaks and for holidays. This is such a magical time, especially because it’s only my second time home since leaving for Europe and starting a new life filled with wild and wonderful people. People who are totally open to nudism, agnosticism, and *gasp* universal health insurance. But that’s also why coming home from Europe is not only magical, but also crazy intimidating.
I’ve been a closeted bare-breaster (yes, I did coin the term) since I was 16. Only my closest friends knew about it and their reactions were far from supportive. Many of them outright said “Ew!”, “What about your nipples!?” and warned me about imminent saggy boobs. So I lived in a state of subconscious shame, where I’d leave the bra in the basket, but layer shirt upon shirt and a scarf overtop to hide the notorious nipples. I could be a feminist, but I didn’t need to be indecent. Ha!
Well, then a year later, doors opened and I moved to Germany. Germany, where people go to saunas butt naked – girls, boys, men, women, grannies, and grampies – all together! Germany, where its neighbor, France, is famous as the land of braless babes (not necessarily true, but not necessarily unfounded). Germany, where I’ve now lived for more than three years and worn a bra only a few times, and by a few I mean a handful and by a handful, I mean, well, you get the picture. But unlike my American correspondents, friends in Europe have accepted my decision by noticing, and then immediately going right back to life. Actually, I met a lot of women across the puddle who laugh and admit they also don’t wear bras, and then we high five.
But now I’m back in the States for a few weeks, during this magical time of reunification with long lost peers and pastime buddies, and it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. In a land where the term “body shame” seems like a household name, I couldn’t help but feel a bit anxious. While Europe gave me confidence, the United States is unnerving me with rapid pace. So I jumped in headfirst and made a splash – I did not wear a bra to the New Years Reunion party.
Dressed in a black lace long sleeve crop top and a high-waisted skirt, I looked on as my best friends begged me to wear a bra. “Don’t you care that people can tell?” “What about your nipples?” And it was in these moments that I realized so much about my feminist journey. All of their fears are within themselves, not factual or concrete. There’s plenty of evidence that bras don’t provide any health benefits to women. On the contrary, women are likely to be wearing the wrong size which is actually causing them more harm than good. And please, show me data to support the bra = perky-boob-theory, because I’ve found none, while a 15 year study did find that women who did not wear bras had perkier boobs than their bra-wearing counterparts. But also, and perhaps most importantly, there have even been studies that have found associations between bras and breast cancer.
Just think about it: Bras hold your boobs in all day – no breathing, no sagging – and depending on what kind of bra you’re wearing, your boobs are locked in some weird unnatural position for hours on end. This is the reason why I personally stopped wearing a bra. Since I’m writing an article on it, of course I’m giving a bit of elaboration, but during my normal life, when people ask me why I don’t wear bras, my usual response is, “Everytime I ever wore a bra, I had a bad day.” And it’s true. I’d get home, take my bra off, and my entire chest would feel such relief that I realized I’d spent the whole day in a state of unnecessary physical stress. That’s a bad day, and it’s not even that bad compared to the frantic phone call I received from a girlfriend with a strange lump in her breast that turned out to be a swollen gland from, you guessed it, her bra. Her doctor said she’s not alone. So the idea of putting one on to hide my nipples in case someone at the party glimpses down at my chest for long enough to realize that their inability to see the outline of my bra is not because of their poor eyesight, but because, in fact, I’m not wearing a bra not only seemed like a terrible reason to wear a bra, but exposed the absolute ludicrousness of social bra culture.
I stood my ground (but without a gun). “I don’t care,” and then in honor of the newly-released film, I told them, “Free the nipple.”
I held my head high as we entered the party. I spent the night in a wave of people from my past. I spent the night hugging, catching up, drinking, kissing, dancing, laughing, and surrounded by so much love. My nipples weren’t distracting, or offensive, or hypersexualized by anyone. I felt that everyone saw me in my entirety, and no one objectified my breasts from my body due to their bralessness.
The next day, I took all of the bras I had brought with me out of my suitcase and gave them away to my friends like movie tickets. No need for them to lie in my drawer for another year or ten. And although this may be seen as perpetuating the problem, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and this allowed an awesome dialogue to take place where I could share my views with my friends openly. They got a bra and a new perspective, and I got closer to the true feminist me.
There’s still a long way to go, but if one girl in one group in one town in America can see change in motion, things may be headed away from body-shame, and closer to body acceptance. And that’s something I can embrace anywhere in the world.
On a final note, if anyone is interested in learning more about braless culture, I’d recommend http://www.brafree.org where you can checkout their FAQ page. Peace y’all.