Bras, the Burkas of the Western World

My breasts are small. My nipples are large. These facts will be important later in this story. About 12 years ago, I did a brief, fun, memorable modeling stint for sporty women’s clothing catalog Title Nine – this fact is my disclosure.

Last night, I browsed through Title Nine’s latest catalog and got myself wrapped around the axle (again) about boobs. I was checking out bras, when I read about a bra called The Deuce, “light molding keeps the gals in shape and the headlights low.” Infuriated, I posted the following on Facebook ‘My nipples are not headlights and I will not keep them low.’ A discussion ensued. When I found myself commenting a treatise on breasts, it was determined enough incredulity for a blog post. Words and phrases in “quotes” are Title Nine’s.

Of course, I’ll start with nipples, given mine. We have a cultural aversion to nipples, treating them as if they are so dirty, profane, and obscene that not only should they be hidden from sight, but we should not speak their indecent name. I have felt pressured into hiding my large nipples much of my adult life. About a year ago, during an epiphany in the mirror with a clinging yellow shirt, I tossed out all of my undy bras and extracted the padded inserts (“removable modesty padding”) from my yoga tops. As a small breasted, large nippled yoga teacher, I admit I was uncomfortable standing in front of my class the first time without monoculturally-shaped modesty pads, knowing my immodest nipples were naughtily erect. But “the gals” and I prevailed. To hell with the nipple haters! No more burkas for my boobs.

Behind every nipple is a boob and in some cases, a large one, as my bustier friends have reminded me. Acknowledging that I am small breasted, I understand that larger breasts feel better with the support a bra gives. But consider that bras are a very modern invention. Prior to bras and other containment contraptions, women’s breasts were wild and free. Feral breasts (those that have never been held captive by bras) have a better opportunity to develop the capacity to hold their own weight without harmful impacts on other body parts. As a young, wild pair of breasts develop, ideally the natural movements of a the girl’s upper body would develop intrinsic and extrinsic breast-supporting fascial, ligamentous and muscular structures with appropriate strength and yield to allow her breasts to move naturally with ease. I say ideally, because most developing girls do not engage in anywhere near enough natural upper body movement to develop these tissues. Natural movements are those that would occur if we had to complete our essential activities of living without any modern convenience – performing the tasks that our bodies evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to do like walk, climb, hunt, drag, dig, gather, build shelter, and squat to birth, bathroom, cook, and rest. Our early ancestors used their upper bodies to dig, push, pull, hang, climb, throw spears, make tools, lift, and carry their few possessions, including their children. Imagine using your body to do/make everything you need to survive in this world! That’s what our bodies evolved to do. Our boobs evolved to support themselves.

Can you just stop wearing a bra altogether? A cups, yes! Larger than A cup, take heed. An analogy may help. Imagine there was a bra for your head that supported it on your neck from the time of your birth until you were 20 years old. For 20 years, you never had to use the supporting ligaments, musculature, and bones of your cervical spine, shoulders, chest, etc. to keep your head in place. At 20, the head bra is removed and suddenly you are required to hold your head up with tissues that have never carried the loads that a bobbing, weaving, shucking & jiving head produces. Trouble.

This is the state of our breasts. We put brathotics on as little girls as soon as our “teacakes” start to form, training our tissues to be nonfunctional. We band, strap, seam, wire, lift, separate, compress, and pad them throughout development, never allowing our suspensory ligaments to bear the weight of our breasts and the loads they produce while moving. Consequently, when we move in ways that cause them to swing or bounce, our weak, underused tissues can’t support us and it is uncomfortable or even painful, so we band, strap, seam, wire, separate, compress, and pad them even more.

If you are not strong enough to hang from a bar for several minutes, pull or push up your own body weight multiple times, or carry your heavy book bag with your arms for several miles, then your breasts and their support system are not strong enough to carry the loads produced. You would benefit your whole body health by building the breast system via large daily doses of varied load producing movements of your shoulder girdle to include pushing, pulling, reaching, lifting, hanging, carrying, climbing, crawling, pressing up, pulling up, dipping down, etc. You can achieve many of these movements and loads by simply walking with a healthy arm swing, gardening and yard work using basic hand tools, and playing on a good jungle gym set in your local park.

If, after improving the health of your breasts and their support system, you choose to move toward wild breasts, do so slowly and in stages. If you wear the strongest support like Title Nine’s “Booby Trap,” then ramp down to the next most supportive. Put your bra on later in the morning, and take it off earlier in the evening. Remove it when your loads are less – eating dinner, watching TV, and sleeping. It could take months or even years to transition out of your brathotics, so take your time and do the necessary work.

Back to Title Nine and other producers of fashion and health material for women: please stop referring to breasts as “the gals,” “the girls,” “teacakes,” “cabbages” and other ridiculous names. Stick to the B words – breasts, boobs, or bosom. And furthermore, healthy breasts with a functional breast support system (your own tissues) would never need to be “contained,” “controlled,” “conquered,” “molded,” “locked down,” or “kept in place.”

Title Nine

Namaste, Michele, who credits my teacher, biomechanist Katy Bowman, for my understanding of boob loads.