Elle Ayres on her relationship with her bras, and why they were giving the wrong kind of support…
‘I hate my boobs’ is a statement that floats around many a woman’s fitting room, bedroom and mind. But why, when they’re renowned as one of the best physical features in biology’s repertoire? I’ve had gay men drunkenly ramble about how brilliant they are and an A-sexual tell me that if anything would make them interested in sex it would be tits. Everyone loves boobs but so few women seem to love their boobs. I’m one of them. Whilst wearing a bra might make them look bigger (I even wrote ‘better’ initially then by mistake), smaller, rounder etc. it’s a short term fix to a long term problem. It’s the wrong kind of support.
My boobs are small. Proportionate to the rest of my body they could really do with being bigger. But that’s the luck of the (top) draw. Unless I’m doing sport I don’t really need to wear a bra but that never used to cross my mind because ever since I started wearing a bra I *had* to wear one (heck I used to wear one to bed). I looked at people who didn’t wear a bra as cool but this was underpinned by the assumption that they must have really good boobs. Perky and proportionate, the two Ps. I was only half way there. I didn’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model and that meant I didn’t look good (turns out now that not even VS models look like VS models). I needed to wear a bra because it ‘saved’ my boobs and made them look less bad – I couldn’t go as far as calling them ‘good’: don’t be silly. But now, having grown up a bit and having gone to university things are a little different.
It might sound mundane but one of the key features of my university life is that I don’t really watch TV. No longer am I constantly bombarded with skinny minnies with big bums and huge boobs but impossibly tiny waists. Real or not, we seem to think this is the ideal. Taking a step back from the influence of ‘reality’ TV and not having my consciousness fed by clothing and perfume adverts as a ‘break’ I can see my negative attitude to my body in general, and particularly my boobs, as a product of a media culture obsessed with the female form. The female anatomy is elevated but in such an exclusive and narrow minded fashion that it cultivates an idea whereby women feel marginalised by their bodies and inadequate in their appearance because they don’t fit with the propagated image. I was never ignorant of the media’s power to perpetuate unrealistic body image, in fact I made an effort to be in the know, but I genuinely thought that my disdain towards my body and my boobs were my feelings, not what the media had cultivated within me to feel. Even if there was a cultural transition popularizing small boobs (and not in an androgynous petite Vogue way) I would still want mine to be bigger, I really would – at least, that’s how I used to think.
So I was wearing a bra every day because I was aligning myself with the requirements of a society that expects women to do certain things to make themselves more conventionally attractive. I was so attached to the things that society offers to make me look more like the girls on TV (i.e. a push-up bra) because I was uncomfortable about my body in its natural form. I was uncomfortable because I couldn’t distinguish between what I wanted to look like and what I thought I was expected to look like. I felt let down by my body and my boobs, held back and simultaneously dragged down but also viewed it as foreign to me because it wasn’t the image I wanted staring back at me in the mirror.
And what of double standards? This isn’t new, we all know about #freethenipple campaign and the debacle of Instagram’s policy that says that men’s nipples are appropriate but women’s are not. Women have nipples and it’s really not a big deal; if you can see them through a t-shirt, who cares? I grew up thinking that I needed to wear a bra so that people couldn’t see my them: what if it made people uncomfortable? What if people thought I was trying to attract attention?
Firstly, if seeing a women’s nipple through her top makes you feel uncomfortable that is your problem. Sexualisation to an extent, and definitely in this context, is perception and we need to recognise that this perception has been moulded by patriarchal values. Secondly, not wearing a bra shouldn’t be viewed as making a statement that defines your appearance; yes not wearing one does help to defeat sexism but it’s about whether you want to wear one separate from how society has made you feel about a part of your anatomy. You end up giving the patriarchy the middle finger either way.
Bras should exist for two reasons. 1) For physical support. I have enough friends with double Ds to know you can’t enjoy going on a run without a sports bra. 2) To be taken off. I need not elaborate (we all like a bit of lace). It’s about practicality and comfort. It’s about having fun and feeling sexy (but not, not feeling sexy because you’re not wearing one. Options everyone, options). I can almost guarantee that a large percentage of girls start wearing a bra long before they need to (if they ‘need’ to at all) just because they’ve been born into a western culture that seems to own their bodies, their boobs and tells them they should look a certain way, be a certain shape and hide their nipples.
I used to have to wear a bra 24/7. Now sometimes I wear one and sometimes I don’t. Testament to how boring that sentence is highlights how ridiculous it is that wearing a bra is a cultural conversation. It’s not. It’s a personal conversation, between you and your girls.
Follow Elle on twitter: @AyresElle
Illustration by Nina Goodyer