As a woman, my boobs are probably the one thing on my body I’m most proud of. I may be a perpetual dieter who can’t seem to find the cure-all for my acne-prone skin, but my boobs? They’re always on point. They are the one thing on my body I don’t have to work for, and by societal standards, they’re considered pretty attractive. Lucky me.
My decision to go bra-less wasn’t about catching the eyes of more men (although that kind of happened). It wasn’t to be cool. I made the decision to fold up my Victoria’s Secret lovelies, the two-cups-bigger push-ups and satiny soft demi’s, the T-shirt bras and trusty cotton staples, because of a comment an 18-year-old boy made while sitting at a table of young women in my college cafeteria.
He said one of our friends had “gross, saggy boobs.” By my take, she had the best boobs out of any of us, a great shape in general. But because she liked her bras without padding, suddenly they were gross. And saggy, of all things. The girl wasn’t even 21.
“Bras serve no actual purpose,” I snapped at him. The rest of the women glared at him, like a pack of angry dogs looking at a cat that has tripped off a ledge and fallen in the yard. “They lift up and squish together our tits just so that men will like them more.”
My closest friend at school urged me to do it. “For all of us,” she had scoffed, but I felt it was my calling, so I did. My time without a bra started that fall, and ended roughly a year later, after I left school to take a job refurbishing cable boxes in a warehouse back in Dallas.
The first few times I stepped out without support, I felt vindicated. I almost hoped someone would stop me to ask: “Are you wearing a bra?” just so I could exclaim, “Hell no! And neither should you, my friend.” Of course no one did, but I’m sure they were thinking it.
I started to notice the issue when it came to fashion. My favorite form-fitting V-necks and button downs were all but un-wearable. They made me look like the stereotype of a really old woman with boobs down to her knees. My “curvy” shape all but disappeared, and there was serious unwanted cleavage showing through the gap in the buttons of my shirts. Tank tops were out of the question.
Much of my wardrobe consisted of heavier fabrics and dresses, shirts with built-in bras, and sweatshirts. Over time however, I came to embrace these changes. I felt free, even when the skin under my boobs was a little sweaty at the end of the day.
Just because I worked in a physical environment, that didn’t stop me from clocking in without a bra, at least not at first. However, I didn’t realize the effect my bralessness had on my co-workers until my sister, whom I worked with, brought it up to me.
“It’s like everybody in here is staring at your boobs,” she said, sounding more than disturbed. Some people seemed to think I just wanted attention by having my boobs flopping everywhere, even when I actually tried to wear clothes that were both comfortable and conservative.
Men hit on me left and right, their eyes all darting from my face to my chest seemingly without their control. I kept my arms crossed over my chest when talking to a few in particular, which didn’t seem to help matters. I started wearing an ugly little jacket every day just to keep things in check.
A guy friend of mine, who is now my boyfriend, joked, “Who knew how many guys were sitting in the break room staring at you out of the corner of their eyes?” The idea both disgusted and terrified me. The last thing I wanted was to become the object of some weird guy’s private lust.
Then there were the rumors. By this point, it was “pretty obvious” to everyone in the building that my guy friend and I had something going on, and when people weren’t congratulating him on the score, they were suggesting that he only wanted me because I was obviously a slut. No grown woman would walk around like that and not want men to notice her.
I had become something of a joke. Men and women both giggled about how they’d caught a glimpse of some side boob when I set something up on a shelf, or how my nipples got hard when the break room was cold. I put all the “sticks and stones” advice I’d ever learned to good use, and let them talk. I had a higher purpose, right?
As women, we wear bras for several reasons, many of which are probably unconscious. They are an exciting symbol of womanhood (remember your first training bra?). They’re soft and feminine. Frankly, they’re pretty. And they make us feel pretty. Not to mention they enhance our assets, regardless of size.
Sometimes we wear them for the illusion, or sometimes we literally wear them for the support.
I stopped wearing a bra to prove a feminist point. And in the end, I my experience at the workplace did: Unfortunately, we still live in a world where women like me need a bra to protect ourselves from harassment and sexism.