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Breaking Societal Norms: My Week Without Bras

Breasts. Many females have them, yet society sees them as taboo or something that needs to be covered up. That is where the invention of the bra came into play. Modern feminists see the bra as an article of clothing that works to oppress women rather than liberate them. The invention of the bra can be traced back to fourteenth century Greece where they were used to cover the breasts of female athletes. Later they were used to hide the breasts of women during the Roman empire as large breasts were considered indecent. As time went on, bras adapted to the needs of women, but somehow became part of the societal norms meant to regulate the lives of females. By the 1960s and 70s, females were rejecting the idea of bras that conform breasts to fit a certain shape or size. Women began wearing sheer, padless bras or no bras at all. Also, the 1960s birthed the movement of “bra-burning feminism,” where protesting women would throw away or burn bras to symbolize their fight to end female oppression. For many years bras represented the persecution that females faced on a daily basis. Today, even though women have worked tirelessly to free their breasts from oppression, living a bra-free lifestyle is still not accepted by most.

As an experiment in breaking down social norms, I decided to not wear a bra for a week (Monday thru Friday) and record my findings. On Monday, I started off the week by going completely braless and wearing a semi-loose fitting sweater for the day. This being the first time since I was 13-years-old that I had not worn a bra, my boobs were, physically, very uncomfortable. I went through my daily routine and noticed throughout the day that people were not staring directly at my chest when I would come into contact with them like I assumed they would. Truthfully, I looked at my chest that day more than others. I felt embarrased and even a little ashamed knowing that people could possibly see the outline of my breasts. This thought allowed me to pose the question: Why did I feel this way, even though most people probably could not tell I was braless?

The second and third days of going braless were far better than the first because I felt less self-conscious about not having a bra on. After going through my entire day, which consisted of going to three classes and a mandatory sorority event, it seemed as if no one noticed or even cared that I was wearing a bra. The same thing happened on Wednesday. Once again, no one noticed or cared. By the end of the third day of this experiment, I wondered if maybe the people I had been associating with were just extremely progressive and did not care or they all are just hiding their discomfort like I was.

On the fourth day, Thursday, I realized that what I wore mattered in terms of whether or not people would look at my chest. If I wore a tighter or light colored shirt, then it would be very clear that I was not wearing a bra. This was very different from Monday when I wore a loose fitting sweater and the only one who was looking at my chest was me. At this point in the week, I no longer worried about whether or not individuals could see my breasts, which lifted a huge weight off of my shoulders. It was as if by removing bras from the equation, I somehow felt more confident about my body and free to break this coveted societal norm.

Friday was the fifth and final day of my week-without-bras. By Friday, I no longer tried to wear different clothes as a way to see if people noticed, I wore what made me feel comfortable and confident. Rather than dreading not wearing a bra, I felt somewhat exhilarated to not have to wear one. That day I went to my three classes, per usual, and I felt that the more self-assured I became in my ability to not wear a bra, the less people were likely to notice. After this week’s long experiment, I have come to the conclusion that individuals tend to stare at things they see as wrong or different from their usual way of life. Personally, I am more likely to notice things like if someone is not wearing a bra or if a person is wearing shorts in the dead of winter since they are extremely different from how I would do things. But different does not mean wrong and that is where our society has made a number of fatal mistakes.

Not wearing a bra has shown me that our society rejects individuals or entities that they feel could have the potential to harm their way of life. American civilization is one that fears the unknown so much that it has created a set of generalized norms to distinguish a somewhat stable and homogeneous society for individuals to adapt to. Any person who decides to act contradictory to these normalized practices is automatically seen as an “other,” and someone who threatens society’s norms is immediately seen as the enemy. Over time, as people’s views on certain issues have become more inclusive and progressive, their likelihood to see these so-called “others” or “threats” as dangerous to their way of life has decreased. There are still many, however, who will feel threatened and try to suppress individuals who seek change.

In my opinion, a woman does not need to wear a bra to assert her femininity, but society would argue otherwise. Although, my experiment did not yield the results I thought it would–which is that I would get countless glares directed at my breasts – I still believe that our society at large sees bras as a necessity for women. My mother used to tell me if I did not wear a bra then I would suffer from extreme back pain, people might look at me differently and many other issues that would affect me later in life. Hearing such things as an awkward 13-year-old instilled a fear in me that is still prevalent in my life today. Now I know that my mother was not trying to scare me with numerous facts about why it is important to wear bras, but she was simply teaching me what her mother had taught her – that women must wear bras. 

This raises a much larger question about our society and its need to oppress women in as many ways as possible. Throughout the week, I began to ask myself: Why are women “required” to wear bras when men do not have any sort of clothing equivalent? Also, I realized that the kinds of bras being sold to women have changed as their roles in society transformed them from powerful maternal hunters and gatherers to reserved, domestic housewives. I am a firm believer in comfort, both physically and emotionally, which is why I feel that bras are something women need to reclaim as they did with “bra-burning feminism” in the 60s. With that being said, some women need bras in order to feel comfortable about their bodies, so to those women, I would say wear clothes that make you feel radiant and bold. Personally, I have given up on using bras with underwire in them as they cause me immense amounts of discomfort, but I am not opposed to wearing bralettes or padless bras. Contrary to societal beliefs, bras are simply another oppressive measure created by patriarchal figures throughout history to enslave women in society’s countless and pointless social norms. If there was ever a time for this pattern to be broken, then I believe it needs to start with the reconstruction of what individuals view as “normal” in a very institutionalized society.

PC: 1,2,3

Julia Whitman

American '22

Hey I'm Julia and I am currently a freshman at American University! As of right now, I am undecided in the College of Arts & Sciences, but I love science and also gender studies. I am from the suburban town of Westfield, NJ, but I am a city girl at heart and can't wait to spend the next four years in DC!
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