Today I would like to talk about something that is both deeply personally and yet is also an issue that effects the entire human race. The issue is the paradox of the female mammary organs, otherwise known as Breasts. There are three different things I would like to explore, the Women’s Rights movement in the 80s, the current ‘Free the Nipple’ campaign and the controversial topic of breastfeeding in public.
Since I was a teenager, I have worn bras, underwired, sports etc., even a corset on occasion. There was no thought of not wearing a bra, particular if like me, you are of generous proportions. It was seen as essential a piece of one’s clothing as underwear was and the only acceptable time that you didn’t have to wear a bra was in bed at night.
We are conditioned to believe that not to wear a bra is ‘letting things hang loose’ and that it is offensive to others and suggests to men, that we are ‘easy’. There is a pressure to conceal the female breast, to constrain it and keep it under control. The lingerie industry has grown rich on these myths and ideologies.
In the 1980s, the women’s right movement started and brought all of this ideology into question for the first time. The bra became for some, a symbol of oppression and restraint, of lack of freedom, of inequality and injustice. There were many complex and important issues like equal pay for equal work, equal opportunities for men and women, the right to paid maternity leave, the issue of the glass ceiling…during this time and still today.
To bring matters to a more personal understanding, I have had acute chronic asthma and costro choroiditis [inflammation of the rib cage joints] for 25 years in January and now Fibromyalgia as well. I have had pneumonia several times, pleurisy and hundreds of chest infections. All of this of course means I have been in constant pain with my chest the better part of a quarter of a century.
I have tried wearing less tight bras, no wire, light support and maternity bras, spending a small fortune on lingerie over the years on something that has only brought me pain and suffering. After ending up in hospital 3 weeks before my wedding in June, I re-evaluated everything. Suddenly it didn’t make sense to me to keep wearing a bra at all, why was I doing this to myself? So I stopped wearing any type of bra.
My family and friends and co-workers of course noticed and in the first few weeks I felt terribly self-conscious. I was in considerable discomfort as my breasts, free to move for the first time ever, became inflamed, the blood vessels contracting and swelling, the skin sensitive and sore. My breasts became almost translucent, the blue veins and tiny blood vessels clearly seen underneath the skin. I was conscious of people staring and wore scarves and vest tops under dresses to act as layers so that if I grew cold, people would not be aware of my nipples contracting.
I researched the effects of not wearing a bra and found that although it is rare, those women who didn’t wear bras, had less incidence of breast cancer, less back pain and stronger chest muscles. After a month or two, my body adjusted and all the discomfort disappeared. I noticed that the ligaments and muscles surrounding my breast tissue grew stronger, my skin calmed down, the veins were less pronounced and instead of bouncing around, my breasts were now being held in place by my own muscles. They have acquired a natural perkiness and instead of being a source of torment, anxiety, expense and pain, they have now become part of me. Before they were merely unruly parts of the female body, now they have become integrated and for the first time ever, I feel whole, complete and happy with who I am. Crucially, the pain in my chest has drastically decreased leading to a much improved quality of life.
I didn’t expect the wonderful feeling of freedom, of authenticity and grounding that not wearing a bra has brought to me. Through the process of accepting my body for what it is, a new sense of self has arisen. I feel more confident, more able to be real and true to myself and to others. Not wearing a bra has in many ways revolutionised my life and I recommend it to all.
On a practical side note, depending on your society’s norms, you may need to experiment with layers and change what type of clothes you wear. It can take a bit of time but be patient with yourself and just think, no more worrying about bra straps being seen, no handwashing lingerie in cold water so it doesn’t shrink, no more hours spent searching for something that will actually fit…You will be richer for it in so many ways.
There is in the last year, a new movement sweeping across America and Europe, as far as my own country Ireland, this is the ‘Free the Nipple’ Movement. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_the_Nipple_(campaign)
Their argument is that if men are allowed to take off their tops in public, why can’t women? There is nothing seen as sexual, controversial or disturbing about men’s nipples but for some strange reason, women’s nipples are both sexual in nature and a food source for babies. There is the idea that children will be scarred and traumatised if they catch a glimpse of a naked breast [even though they were probably breastfed as a baby], that the only reason women would want to go topless is to arouse and attract men. Other women have been known to perpetuate this myth by putting down any woman who wears low cut clothes or shows a bit of skin.
Across the planet, it is considered unacceptable for women to show their nipples and yet nobody can tell me why a female mammary organ is such a shocking sight. People talk about modesty, shame, sexual desire, the idea that the only person who should see a women’s nipple is her baby, her partner or her doctor but maybe all these ideologies are what is holding women back from obtaining equality in the 21st century. What do you think?
This leads me to my last topic, breast feeding in public. Doctors and nurses in hospital recommend all new mothers breast feed for at least the first three months, ideally for the first three years, as it is good for both the baby’s health and the health of that of the mother. However by six months, in the western world, almost all women stop breast feeding. It is seen as too much trouble, particularly if one has gone back to work, as undesirable, unattractive and to continue breasting finding a child until 2 or 3 years of age, is seeing as downright odd. This, despite all the medical evidence that a child that is breast fed until they are three years of age, is healthier, stronger, has less allergies and develop quicker than those who were weaned at 3months.
Breast feeding is very much a personal decision and of course some mothers may not be able to due to mastitis and other conditions but why is something so natural, seen as so controversial and shocking when done in public?
I was in my doctor’s waiting room the other day and a lady came in with a ten day old baby. It was just ourselves at first and I didn’t blink an eyelash when she very calmly pulled up her top and fed her baby. Although it was only the second time in my life seeing someone do this, I know it’s just a part of life, so we continued chatting. Several more people joined us in the waiting room and I noticed, the man beside me rudely staring at the lady’s breasts while another women looked everywhere but at the mother, radiating disapproval. I felt angry on the mother’s behalf and continued to talk of everyday things with her to show my acceptance and support.
Since then I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it and research and know that if I’m blessed enough to have a child of my own, I shall do everything in my power to breast feed them until they are at least 3 years old, as a mother’s milk is the best source of nourishment a child could ever have.
I would like to finish for now with a link to a really interesting article on the subject and a quote from that article:
‘Out and proud.
In the UK and the US, large groups of angry breastfeeders have recently taken to descending upon shops and other facilities where nursing mothers have been rebuffed and holding mass feed-ins, their babies clamped defiantly to their chests.
It’s rather a thrilling sight, but one-off protests like these don’t really change anything.
The only way we’re going to get over our pathetic hang-ups about this most natural of activities is for nursing women not to hide away – as though implicitly acknowledging that they’re doing something grubby and shameful, and possibly even borderline indecent – but to be out and proud, every day, answering to nothing and nobody but the immediate needs of their baby.
Perhaps that’s when we’ll realise that it’s the rubber-necking prudes, not mothers providing their children with the ideal food, who have the real problem.’