This past week, my Introduction to Women and Gender Studies professor gave us a very interesting assignment: to purposefully reject a common norm of our gender that we do not already reject and report the results, both how we felt and how others reacted to the experiment.
When given this assignment, I was a little stumped on what I should do. I already don’t wear that much makeup. I shave, but I don’t mind walking around a little stubbly. I just couldn’t think of anything regarding my femininity that I could so obviously change that people might react to it. Then it dawned on me. There is one aspect of my femininity that I have always been self-conscious about and have always tried to present as socially acceptably as possible: my boobs. Many girls can go without a bra for a day and feel completely comfortable, even confident, but since my bust is on the larger size, I am always incredibly worried about sagging and looking anything but as young and youthful as I am and am expected to be. Even when wearing a bra, I am constantly readjusting my boobs and tightening my bra straps so that I can stay as lifted as possible. For all the benefits my bras give to me in terms of support so that I don’t get intense back pain, it sometimes is more of a pain to have to hike my chest high above where it would naturally be. At the end of a long day, and sometimes in the middle of one, all I want to do is be free from the shackles that bind me, literally. However, I have never once been brave enough to go braless with even the most supportive shirt or dress; I am much more afraid of looking less than perfectly feminine than I am of having red marks on my back and shoulders from my uncomfortable bra.
Going into this experiment, I was slightly terrified of what the results could be; I was worried about people’s stares, worried about what people might say, and mostly worried about how I would look to people. In the class of people in which I was carrying out the experiment, I had only told a few close friends what I would be doing.
Much to my surprise, when I walked into class braless, more self-conscious about my appearance than I had been in a very long time, no one could even tell. The friends I had told what I would be doing did not even realize that I was currently carrying out the experiment, and the rest of the class did not look at me any differently. The only person who was uncomfortable with the situation or hyperaware of how my body looked was me.
For years, I have been terrified to let people see me without a bra. Even when I’m in pajamas, I’ll cross my arms so people can’t see my prematurely sagging chest. I’ll even wear a bra to bed when sleeping over at other people’s houses, something that is very uncomfortable to do and is not great for my body. So, when I sat through that hour of class—one in which I had to stand up and sing, with everyone’s eyes on me—and no one looked at me a bit differently, it gave me a renewed sense of confidence in my body. I don’t think I’m going to walk around without a bra now all the time because as I said before, it does save me from a lot of back issues. But, I am no longer afraid of people’s reactions to my appearance, and I feel more ownership over my body and how it makes me feel about myself. I am sure there will still be people out there who think it is unbecoming of a lady to walk around braless, but I know now that I can be comfortable in what I’m wearing and confident at the same time. I am very grateful to my professor and to this assignment for helping me realize that.