OPEN THREAD: Would You Wear A "Diet Bra"?

Oops, hold on, my breasts just texted me with an update about my mood.

Dec 10, 2013 at 12:30pm | Leave a comment

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All this and they couldn't bother to put LASERS in it as well? 

Have you heard about this? Microsoft has developed a smart bra that would ostensibly measure women's stress levels and alert them when they're upset or anxious, so they know not to emotionally overeat!

THAT'S RIGHT! The actual intended purpose of a bra designed to measure stress in women is to TELL THEM NOT TO EAT. It's little wonder that the media coverage of this reveal went directly to calling it Microsoft's "diet bra," even though that's probably not the most accurate way to go about it, as the vernacular "diet" implies an overall restriction of calories, and this bra is not really about making women eat less all the time, but just when they're STRESSED.

Researchers have been designing new kinds of ways to help anxious overeaters reduce [their] habit, or at least make them aware of when it’s happening. Along with stress apps for the smartphone and bracelets with special sensors, engineers and designers at Microsoft Research recently invented a stress-busting bra made with special material that monitors the wearers moods and helps to regulate stress eating.

"It’s mostly women who are emotional overeaters, and it turns out that a bra is perfect for measuring EKG (electrocardiogram)," said Mary Czerwinski, a cognitive psychologist and senior researcher in visualization and interaction at Microsoft. "We tried to do the same thing for men's underwear but it was too far away (from the heart)."

Given the willingness many humans have shown lately for wearing devices to track how many steps they take and whether their sleep has been objectively restful, this was probably bound to happen. And it turns out a bra is an excellent garment for gathering data; Microsoft's prototype measures heart rate and respiration via an EKG sensor in the side band, and also skin conductance and overall movement, which it uses to suss out the wearer's mood and send that info to an app on their phone.

So I guess if you felt like eating something, you would check your phone to see if it was cool to do so.

UNSURPRISINGLY, I have problems with this. While a bra that alerts you when you're stressed could be intended to teach you to recognize the signs yourself, on your own, it's unlikely that it would universally function that way -- let's be real, odds are good that many women who used this hypothetical bra would simply come to rely on it over their own awareness of their moods and bodies. Because frankly, it's easier to let technology feel for us sometimes, am I right?

I mean, I feel this way about Google on occasion. Years ago, I had to remember stuff INSIDE MY HEAD, because if I was sharing a plate of southwestern eggrolls at Chili's on a Tuesday night and found myself arguing about whether Vanessa Williams actually guest-starred as Dax's ex-girlfriend on "Deep Space Nine," I had only my WITS to defend my assertions, whereas now I can just look it up and get all the details from the internet and poof, argument over.

I'm hardly a Luddite, but part of me (the old part) misses having to use my brain for this stuff.

Similarly, I think that IF emotional overeating is a problem for an individual person, a bra that sends push alerts to your phone to let you know how freaking stressed you are is hardly likely to be a relaxing experience. Also that it's probably more productive to learn to recognize the signs of anxiety and strong emotions in yourself using your own sensory input, to develop helpful coping strategies, and to maintain that awareness, because stress ITSELF is a huge health risk, with some pretty scary consequences far beyond whatever might happen if you eat three slices of pie for dinner once in awhile.

Even the concept of stress-eating is not an exact science, as not everyone responds to stress in the same way. Gudrun Sproesser, a German postdoc student, recently published a study analyzing whether "emotional eating" is necessarily bad behavior that invariably leads to weight gain, and found that people who eat more when stressed tend to eat less when relaxed, and other people do the opposite -- basically, in the end, things balance out: 

"The message should be that people shouldn’t people think too much about their eating," said Sproesser. "If they feel like eating in a positive situation, they should; if it’s negative, they probably will compensate for that."

Love that German pragmatism.

Anyway, you're unlikely to see Microsoft's smart bra in a store near you anytime soon -- one significant limitation of the design is that the batteries only last about four hours before needing to be recharged, and apparently test subjects have to remove the bra in order to charge it, meaning they spent a lot of time hanging out in bathrooms, tits unharnessed, while their lingerie was juicing up (one of Microsoft's researchers refers to them as "brave," which, uh, I think might be overstating things a tiny bit). 

Still, though -- would you wear a smart bra?