Wearing a Bra Should Be a Personal Choice and Not a Social Norm – Here’s Why

Editor’s Note: Although women’s bodies, clothing choices, etc are constantly policied, they aren’t the only ones with breasts, nor are all people with breasts women. Bra-policing also affects trans, nonbinary, genderqueer, and intersex people with breasts. It also impacts disabled folks for whom bras aren’t an option – whether due to pain, sensory issues, and other reasons.

When someone makes a comment about breasts – be it a compliment, an insult, or anything in between – they’re not just talking about freestanding mounds of flesh and tissue.

Breasts, contrary to popular behavior, are attached to people.

And those people are impacted by the comments, more often than not, in disempowering ways.

Sadly, the apparel industry, coupled with mis-education and irrational social pressures, has been figuratively severing breasts from the bodies of girls and women for years. Even seemingly empowering conversations like women’s right to breastfeed are rooted in the isolation and policing of people’s breasts.

Because we folks with breasts are treated like we’re less important than our breasts – which get all kinds of attention – the scrutiny of our breast often sends so many of us down paths of self-judgment, body image issues and damaged self-esteemed.

And along with the attention comes false information about how to take care of that particular aspect of our bodies.

Our breasts – comprised mainly of fat with a mix of glandular and fibrous tissue – are inextricably linked with both youth and beauty in our society. It’s a safe generalization that many women wear bras with the intention of preserving the shape of their breasts and/or to stop them from sagging. Women are expected to fight sagging breasts right into old age (the only time it’s even somewhat acceptable).

To be clear, I can only speak from the perspective of a cisgender woman who has the luxuries of a cancer-free body and the emotional space to consider the comfort of my breasts. There are many people who are battling life-threatening issues such as breast cancer, poverty, and other real concerns and may have a completely different perspective on breasts and bra’s.

For me, this is about awareness and decision-making based on my view of empowerment – and my desire to present viable alternatives to women and girls who encounter toxic messages about breasts.

Moreover, girls are taught that part of their self-esteem should be based on how their bodies look.

Girls with smaller breasts are often teased in school, and later encouraged to compensate by wearing padded bras and tight-fitting shirts, or do breast-lifting exercises so their breasts appear bigger. Girls with bigger breasts are often sexualized, or made to feel somehow inappropriate if they don’t dress in ways that cover all of their breasts.

The attention can lead girls to feel overly conscious about the size and appearance of their breast, especially when other socially frowned upon traits like stretch marks, large nipples, protruding nipples, or hair growth are part of our breasts’ reality.

None of these focal points factor in the needs of the girl herself: her physical comfort, her right to be treated as a person and not a sexual object, or the general policing of her breasts – including the incredibly ridiculous, nonetheless ongoing debate about covering our nipples.

So my dears, each day, when you wake up and start preparing to interact with your world, I encourage you to consciously decide whether you want to put an extra step between your body and your shirt or dress.

How are your breasts most comfortable? Do you prefer to wear a bra? If not, it seems it should be easy to just not wear one, right?

Wellll if we’re being honest with each other – and we are – we know that most of us are a little (or a lot) self-conscious about our breasts. Part of why we wear bras has to do with how the world sees that part of our bodies.

These worries and concerns are worth exploring because anywhere in our life that external influences override our conscious personal decisions is an opportunity for to lose our self in someone else’s definition of right and good.  

So much of how we treat ourselves comes from how we perceive ourselves, so our relationship with our entire body matters.

Heck, even something as natural as nipples gets vilified.

I’ve heard nipples described as gross, unattractive, or tacky, yet they are a natural body part for all mammals. Think about how absurd it is that parts of our bodies are labeled as gross and other parts are labeled as fine.

Those notions are wrong and harmful, and if we allow society to tell us what is good and right (or bad and gross) about our bodies, we risk becoming victims of the belief that we are somehow less worthy, respectable, lovable, or beautiful.

Medically speaking, there is no generally accepted notion that bras are necessary.

Unfortunately, the decision to wear a bra or not is often convoluted with mixed messages from the medical and apparel industries, but it should actually only reflect personal preference and life style needs.

There are so many myths and rumors about the need for bras, and most of them are based on what people prefer to see, not what’s most comfortable for a girl or woman.

Because of that, this article is not meant to take a stance on whether a girl or woman should wear a bra, but instead offers insights and information on ways to support our breasts and our right to choose how we want to dress our chests.

Whether women need bras is debatable to some, but what’s clear to me is the need to shift the conversation from a focus on bras to a focus on our actual breasts.

Since breasts are not solely for aesthetic or sexual purposes, let’s shift the dialogue to things a woman can really use, like professional opinions on the correlation between breast size and the need for a bra, our individual lifestyle needs, and our own personal feelings about our bodies.

Exploring these aspects is one way to make an informed choice on how to support our own needs for comfort and empowering decision-making around our own bodies.

Acknowledging the Medical Perspectives

To many, growing breasts are recognized as a part of the ushering in of womanhood, and most people who develop breast in Western society today are encouraged to start wearing training bras the moment their breast buds begin to protrude.

Suddenly that girl is noticeably different from the boys and some of the other girls around her, and thus begins the possibility of falling victim to myths and unfounded arguments around the care of her new breasts.

While there’s no proven or even generally accepted medical reasons why breasts do or don’t require bras, there are three perspectives worth recognizing.

1. Back Pain 

Women with larger breasts can experience back pain from the weight of their breasts, and often find relief and support in bras.

Also, extreme discomfort and restricted movement could be a regular part of life for active and/or athletic women were it not for bras and sports bras.

2. Breast Cancer

Another reality of breast-life is the scare of breast cancer.

Ongoing dialogue around the link between bras and breast cancer have lead to no proven correlation.

But others see a link between bras, fibrocystic disease and breast cancer, and warn women against wearing bras daily.

3. Sleeping in a Bra

Some of us hear from the elder women in our families that we should sleep in our bras to keep our breasts firm. Others tell us that sleeping in bras can be harmful.

Yet, associate professor of surgery and director of the Breast Cancer Surgery Multidisciplinary Fellowship at NYU Langone Medical Center, Amber Guth, M.D. told HuffPo Style “there is certainly no evidence that sleeping in bras is either helpful or harmful.”

Like you, I recognize the contradictions, and sought to find the bottom line of all this bra or no-bra talk. Essentially, here’s what you need to remember:

  • There is no proof that wearing a bra causes cancer.
  • There is no proof that going braless causes cancer.
  • There is no generally accepted medical reason that breasts are healthier or more protected in any way by bras.

It may be worthwhile to have a conversation with your doctor to further explore your specific needs.

But as you can see, generally speaking, breast care and comfort is more important than the standard multi-point checklist for how to choose a good bra.

Let’s talk more about how to keep comfortable breasts and make informed, empowered choices, instead of limiting ourselves to the opinions and assertions of everyone else.

2 Questions to Help Us Explore Our Personal Preferences

Because we now recognize breasts, instead of bras, to be our focus, I want to start with discussing convenience and comfort for ourselves as breast owners.

More specifically, I offer two questions you can explore for clarity and confidence in your choices.

Question #1:  What would happen if my breasts were bra-free more often?

For many women, including women with bigger breasts, going braless is a viable option.

When you walk around at home without a bra, do you get back pain or any other physical discomfort? If not, then wearing your bra might be more about habit and social pressure than you think.

This question is important because it gives us a chance to find answers based on our experiences, not just fashion industry representatives who want to sell more bras.

If you want to test that theory, try out any of this personal experiment:

Go to the grocery store with a comfortable outfit and no bra. Odds are you won’t need to run and you won’t be doing heavy physical activity, so breast movement will be minimal. Pay attention to your own thoughts and feelings about being braless.

It’s often easier to pay attention to how others see us than it is to pay attention to how we see ourselves – which is okay! You get to care about how you are perceived and how you feel.

Other women have done this and learned some interesting things. For example, Kristin Chirico went breast + shirt only for a week and realized on day three that she was her only “punisher” and that she had more choices than she had originally thought possible for comfortable, bra-free options.

Comic artist Alli Kirkham offered a brilliant depiction of how society polices what women wear. Her artwork tells the story of how we are judged through people’s experiences, which doesn’t always have anything to do with our intentions when we get dressed.

I see that as a powerful reason to reclaim our relationships with our bodies by making choices based on us, not on the ones who will judge us no matter what.

Question #2: What can I do if I’m okay with breast coverage, but not bra discomfort?

While a section on alternative bra-type apparel can seem contrary to the rest of this article, it isn’t.

It isn’t because this is not about making a woman or girl feel bad about being okay with wearing a bra. Instead, it’s about feeling good in our bodies, and wearing things that bring comfort and convenience to our bodies.

It’s also about making a choice based on personal needs, instead of the very real social pressure to have a smooth, seamless look to our chest areas.

Spread the word: Breasts are beautiful. Nipples are natural. Breast size is irrelevant. And comfort is Queen.  

That said, no one but you should decide what’s best.

If you get comfort, support, or simply personal joy from decorating your breasts with comfortable fabrics, then exploring your options for what might feel most comfortable for you on any given day can be fun and empowering, even sexy.

Here are some pointers in that direction:

1. Know the Best Bra Size for Your Breasts

Here’s an online bra size calculator that shows you how to measure your band and bust to get what should be your most comfortable bra size. You can also get measured by women in the know at many department stores and bra specialty shops.

Also, recognize that a good bra shouldn’t just be the right cup size, but also should not hurt.  If you have large breasts and experience discomfort or pain with your bra, try wearing one with a thicker shoulder strap, or covered hooks.

2. Ditch the Wired Comfort-Stealers 

Traditional wired bras can cut into our skin leaving us with welts, scars, and serious discomfort! Can you imagine a boy or man in your life feeling that he had to wrap a wire around his chest to be somehow acceptable? Yeah, me neither!

If underwires have been unkind to your body, let’s skip that torture altogether by looking into these comfort-focused alternatives:

  • Thin cotton bralets, as Ragini Nag Rao discovered, offer a good alternative to wired bras that can gouge into the sides of women’s bodies and cause bruises, scars, and pain.
  • Stick on nipple and breast coverings are made of either silicone or foam, and may be more comfortable than traditional strap and hook bras. Breathable surgical tape is a commonly used nipple coverage solution, too.
  • Fitted camisoles/tank tops made of elastic materials. Try buying them one size smaller than your regular size and wear them alone or under loose fitting shirts for comfort, sweat control, nipple coverage, or plain ole’ personal preference.

3. No Need to Sing Kumb(r)aya in Unison – Do What Feels Good for You

Whether you connect with the idea of the ongoing pursuit of perk when it comes to your breasts, or you’re ready to trade in your can’t wait to get my bra off ritual for alternatives whenever you want, making a conscious choice can help build overall self-confidence and repair emotional damage around how our bodies are viewed by society.

The way I see, I don’t need anyone’s professional opinion on the look of my breasts anymore than I need a professional opinion on how to wear my hair.

If we’re talking health, I’ll take professional perspectives into consideration. If we’re talking aesthetics though, I don’t want the world rummaging through my bra and panty drawer telling me what to do make my body look any particular way.

Do you?  

When it comes to breast comfort and care, if a bra makes you feel good then rock it!  And if you want a no-bra life shift, test it out and see how you feel.  At any rate, you’ve got options for bras, no bras, or other means of breast support and comfort.

Akilah S. Richards is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a six-time author, digital content writer, and lifestyle coach who writes passionately about self-expression, womanhood, modern feminism, location independence and the unschooling lifestyle. Connect with Akilah on InstagramTumblr, or her #radicalselfie e-home, radicalselfie.comRead her articles.