Uncage the BeastsOn women tossing their bras to the wind
24 September 2018
Boobs. Throughout my childhood, society taught me to believe they defined a woman’s sex appeal and a big part of her worth. They were everywhere; on posters, in films and magazines. All the boys talked about them. And they all pretty much looked the same.
Today, I’m witnessing a growing number of women tired of adhering to other people’s expectations and the general social norm. Campaigns and conversation have given women the confidence to ignore the imposed beauty standards around their bodies. The catwalk trends and celebrity styles have rung in the braless trend with a loud bang. Now an increased amount of women wanting to feel comfortable and just be themselves are leaving the house au natural without caging up in a wire frame. All of a sudden, I see all kinds of breasts shown off proudly. For those who don’t rely on extra support and see no use for a bra the time has finally come to uncage the beasts!
The beasts… a body part that is so essential to maintaining life has been notoriously overly sexualised in such a way that public breastfeeding is still a polarising topic and the #freethenipple campaign has triggered a long-lasting and heated debate in big parts of the Western world. Breasts are often considered detached from the rest and many a time seems to hold more worth than the woman as a whole. Breasts are used to advertise anything from sealants to pet food, indicating their significance in a capitalist culture. Chopping off the head of the woman whose boobs are being externalised (á la Tom Ford For Men) shows theirs too. Like the rest of the female body, the female bosom is no stranger to scrutiny and is expected to look a certain way. Throughout history, women have been expected to adapt to the contemporary beauty norms to stay on top: androgynous one decade, voluptuous the other, and of course instruments were needed to create the illusions of those shapes!
After breast bands, ties, and a multitude of corsets, variations of the bra emerged. Although Herminie Cadolle’s descendants claim still one century later that the young feminist “freed women” by inventing the first bra, this “instrument of female torture” was one of the constricting items heavily under attack during the Women’s Liberation Movement of the late 1960s. (Remember the myth of the burning bras?) This rejection of the garment came after the bullet bra and push-up bra had their breakthroughs in society and promoted the idea that women’s bodies were, as second-wave feminist Ann Leslie puts it, “spectacles for patriarchal society and men’s consumption.” Clothing to her “has always to a certain extent […] been a way of corralling women […],” and she renounced the idea of adhering: “I certainly do not have to wear bras that look like bomb casings, I don’t have to strap myself into Playtex.”
Even after the Women’s Liberation had shaken up parts of Western society, it continued on judging (especially) women based on how their bodies look. To this day, girls with larger breasts are often sexualised from an early age on, while girls with smaller sizes are encouraged, (or rather, socially pressured), into wearing padded bras or wanting implants. There was a time when it was difficult to find any agreeable bra that did not add 2-3 cup sizes to my front. What message was made clear? Guess we’d better fake it ‘till we make it.
Now it is important to spell out that women with large breasts rely on certain bras to avoid pain and to reduce discomfort. These can provide neck and back stabilisation and support the connective tissue and are therefore a significant and marvellous addition to these women’s wardrobes. The production of appealing bras for larger busts is also relatively new and still in short supply. I remember many friends complaining about their awfully expensive great-grandma bras because it was impossible to find anything else. ‘So what do you want?!,’ I find myself asking. It seems it is only culturally accepted to have a very specific size range.
Still, most women wear bras because of societal expectations and enforced beauty standards. The fact that boobs are more often sisters then twins, which is another fact we’re somehow kept in the dark about, makes many women feel self-conscious. Society has expectations of a set of identical boobs that many can’t comply with. Actually, most women can’t comply with. A bra helps hide this “flaw” and give society what it wants. Society puts out the message that wearing a bra can also help you achieve a ‘graceful look,’ as with a bra ‘your outfits fit well.’ I wonder what exactly this means. You can also enhance your cleavage as ‘you don’t have any other way to show [it].’ I guess that’s legit if we want to avoid getting the old duct tape out. Or joining the 1,5 million people worldwide getting breast implants. Or ‘designer nipples.’ Oh yes, that’s a thing.
Body positivity campaigns and a widespread rejection of social norms are giving many women the confidence in rocking their universe-given magnificence and owning their body, no matter the sizes, perkiness (or lack thereof), shapes, and colours of their parts. But women still feel intense pressure of every inch and nip of their body to adhere to the aesthetic allures of our time.
Whether with designed boobs or not, mainstream Berlin has finally been hit. Many women are following the braless trend, relieved to finally being able to have that ‘coming home and taking off bra’ sensation all day long. After living in Berlin for just about my whole life I am not going to lie and say I have always felt safe and always felt free; safer and freer than in probably even most places on Earth. But still, there have been days that I decided against wearing something skin-tight because only one more glare was missing for me to start a fight. Some days I don’t do so well with casual sexism, so the thought of going out braless was unthinkable to me for the longest time. Freedom was the feeling many women I spoke to used in connection with bralessness. Freedom, to me, was the thought of going out and not being bothered. I was under the impression a bra could reduce the chance of that happening. Like my bra was a solid shield between my intimacy and the world, blocking out the negative vibes, stares and glares. But who am I to deny the assessments so many bra-free queens had expressed? I flung the thing off, went out and damn did it feel good!
Walking through the streets feeling my breasts against my white t-shirt was the most exhilarating experience I have had since I went swimming naked that time last summer. Something about the experienced nudity feels powerful. I was disregarding the cultural standards, I was leaving people guessing, I was owning my body just the way it is. And I was proud! By doing away with a garment that I was told all my life is a should I uncaged the beasts and let go of so much at once – my unease, my standards and I felt the thrill of femininity come over me. I let the girls roam free. Finally.
It’s magical that the female energy I had received in talking about ditching the bra, as well as the various shapes and sizes I started witnessing with the rise of the trend, gave me the confidence I needed to give me a taste of the bra-free life. Today, women are lifting each other higher and higher by inspiring and encouraging each other to boldly embrace themselves and their bodies. By ignoring societal standards as well as we can, and by ruthlessly being ourselves, we have the power to disrupt current patterns and to change the way we as women are conventionally perceived. Whether we decide to wear bras for our own well-being or we toss them to the wind, it is completely up to us. The wonderful thing is that we have a choice.
Uncaging the beasts – even if for just a couple of hours – can have a wickedly empowering effect on yourself. Once you set your own (often unrealistic) expectations of what you should look like aside and you stand true to who you are and what you have, one huge step has already been made.
If this is your day to day you already know. For everyone else; I encourage you to try it. And always remember: all boobs are beautiful, including yours!