Bras: I Can’t Stand to Wear Them Anymore !

Gabrielle d'Estrées et une de ses sœurs (1594)
Gabrielle d'Estrées et une de ses sœurs (1594)

For those of you who read the feminine press, this affirmation may come at no surprise as it’s becoming more and more popular to stop wearing bras. Many French-speaking bloggers, such as Élodie from Éléonore Bridge or Josiane from Ton Petit Look, did not shy away from telling their stories intimate stories about going braless.

I admired their approach that allowed them to wear skimpy tops or halter dresses with elegance but I felt that I did not apply to my 38C chest. After all, most bra-makers won’t make flimsy triangle bras bigger than 36B. The reason behind that, I used to believe, is because bigger breasts require stronger support in the form of wires: around each breast and often on both side seams.

Although I was dreaming of more freedom, I never had any problem with my bras as it almost seems that the size 38C was based on my own measurements. I easily find brassieres that fit nicely and I have about 20 of them in many different colours and styles. Ever-since I wanted to feel less constricted, I started buying bras with soft cups but I still forbade myself to wear clothing that was not compatible with wearing a bra as I could not fathom going outside without one.

Mes soutiens-gorges
For my bras, I always chose comfort first but that did not prevent them to be equally pretty

Why I stopped wearing bras

When I started having problems with my right arm, it also caused discomfort on my right shoulder blade where bras rest. I did not worry me much because I thought that the pain was caused by the elastic rubbing on my sensitive skin. The tenderness manifested itself mostly in the evening so it was easy to manage by removing my bra after I got back from work.

In January, I ended up having a bad Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) flare-up. I felt shooting pain in my armpit roughly where the wires from the bra end. Having neurogenic and vascular TOS, the flow of blood to my arm was strongly restricted (by 50 %) and the blood that could not circulate pooled at the junction of my arm and torso. Even with the softest touch, this part of my body hurt badly especially and was swollen. I completely stopped wearing bras at home because I did not want to reduce further the blood flow to my arm.

One morning, while I was preparing to go to a medical exam, I tried to get dressed. I wasn’t able to fasten my bra, even to the loosest hooks. Desperate, I pulled harder — I did not want to go outside braless — until I could hook it. My body all squashed up was painful and I looked downright ridiculous with the oedema spilling out of my bra. I tried on a sport bra but the problem was the same.

I could not be late for such a superficial reason so I decide to leave the house without wearing a bra. Bra-free but still modest, I put on a tank top under my shirt as I knew that my physician would ask me to remove my first layer of clothing.

It took a long time for the swelling to go away so all along my medical leave I continued to live, inside and outside my home, without wearing a bra. When it was time to get back to work, I did not want to transgress an implicit social norm by returning without a bra. I tried on all the bras I owned and selected a few that freed the shoulder blades and that had shorter wires.

For the first few days it was going well, but soon the discomfort was back. Hurting from the constriction of my thorax, I went to the bathroom to remove my bra and discreetly hid it in my desk.

Soutien-gorge sans armatures C&A
This bra looks like what my grandmas wear. It does not have any wires and the large shoulder straps allow for a more balanced distribution of weight. (C&A)

Soutien-gorge sans couture de chez C&A
The weight of my breasts rest on the ribbed band of this seamless bra. It frees up the shoulder but the synthetic fabric is too heavy for warmer temperatures. (C&A)

Wanting to maintain a professional appearance, when my shift was over I went to C&A. I chose this store because they have a large selection of bras and they offer band sizes up to 42. I tried on many styles in different sizes. I came to the conclusion that I could not go up a size because it also changed the spacing between the breasts.

Bralette de chez H&M
Light bralette without hooks in the back. (H&M)

Ce soutien-gorge sport est un chouïa trop grand bien qu'il soit à ma taille habituelle. Il offre un soutien très léger et sans douleur. (Decathlon)
This sports bra is ever so slightly big in 38 C. I like its very light support that makes it pain-free. (Decathlon)

Malgré ses airs comfortables, le dos de style nageuse n'est pas du tout adapté au syndrome throraco-brachial car les bretelles écrasent les clavicules. (Decathlon)
It looks comfortable, but it is not if you suffer from TOS. Because of the Y-back it compresses the collarbone area. (Decathlon)

Un volant sur une robe permet de faire passer inaperçu une poitrine libre. (H&M)
A ruffled dress is a great option to disguise constraint-free breasts (H&M)

I ended up buying a seamless bra and one without wires that looked like something my grandma would have worn. They did not look good but at least they were not hurting me. It worked for a few weeks and then the swelling came back.

One day, I was fed up with the growing discomfort caused by my bra. Although I was at work, I went to the bathroom to take it off. Wanting to remain discreet, I rolled it up and hid it under my shirt to return to my desk. As I passed the coffee machine, it fell on the floor. Fortunately, only my female colleagues were enjoying their coffee break at that moment ! To excuse myself, I quickly told them that wearing a bra was too painful and that it was preventing me from concentrating on my work. As you may have guessed, no one was shocked because I was far from being the only woman experiencing discomfort while wearing a bra.

Since this day, I have stopped wearing bras except for yoga classes. When I told this to my mother, she worryingly asked me if I also went to work braless : ” Yes mom, I think there are worst things I could do !” On second thought, it seems more intelligent to transgress a social norm than to be in constant pain, especially if it this affliction may lead to yet another medical leave.

I felt even better about my decision to go bra-free when I read Anticancer: A New Way of Life from David Servan Schreiber because of this quote:

Rudolf Virchow, founder of modern pathology – the science that studies the relationship between the disease and the events that affect the tissues – was a great German doctor. In 1863, he had observed that several patients appeared to have developed cancer at the exact spot where they had been hit, or where a shoe, a working tool, rubbed repeatedly. With a microscope, he noticed the presence of many white cells in cancerous tumors. He then hypothesized that cancer was an attempt to repair an injury that had gone wrong.

Even though contemporary studies have not established a direct link between bras and breast cancer, I can’t stop thinking that the friction caused by wires and constriction around the torso are not the healthiest things for breasts. This is why we should not wear bras at night as it substantially limit lymphatic flow.

At the office and around the city braless

Not wearing a bra has decreased greatly thoracic outlet syndrome pain. I feel that my back is freer and it helps control the swelling around my right armpit. Without constriction, I can adopt a better back and shoulder position. The most positive effect is that I have been able to reduce my pain medication by a third. As sometimes taking an abnormal stance allows you to live a normal life.

La Vierge et l'Enfant de J. Fouquet
Unattainable beauty standards since the 15th century (The virgin et and the cild from J. Fouquet)

Before I stopped wearing bras, I thought that going bra-free would have my breasts flapping all over the place and that it would weight-down my figure as my boobs are not high enough, not round enough and not firm enough. In the end, being bra-free is less apparent than I would have thought. To this day, I have not received any pervy looks or demeaning comments.

Despite my initial reluctance, I have not encountered discomfort due the lack of support, even when I’m racing to catch the metro or running down the stairs. With this new found freedom, my breasts started getting firmer. This effect has been documented in a study which says that wearing bras make pectoral muscles and ligaments lazy.

If I can now wear backless clothing with confidence, I must be wary of transparent and gaping tops. At work, my blouses are often slightly transparent and some have the tendency of gaping between buttons, to prevent any indecent exposure I have bought a few plain cotton tank tops. I buy them at Primark or Kiabi for less than 5 euros, much cheaper than a bra ! I have tried to wear shape-wear tank tops but they are too tight and hurt just like regular bras. If I really have to, I wear a bralette like those I often find at H&M.

In conclusion, not wearing a bra may violate some non-written rule but I cannot accept that we should wear one regardless of its negative effects on our bodies: it’s a victimless crime. And yes, you may see from time to time an erect nipple but I refuse to feel shame for a physiological reaction I have no power over. I still hope that someday I will be able to wear some of the lingerie that used to fit me so well. Worst to worst, I’ll still wear the knickers 😉

Soutiens-gorge, instrument de torture ou accessoire de beauté ?
So what do you think, are bras instruments of torture or accessories to beautify one’s body ?
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