I stopped wearing bras about three years ago.
It was my junior year of high school. It wasn’t a style decision or a feminist decision. It wasn’t really a decision at all. I just got tired of waiting all day to finally take something off my body that didn’t have to be there in the first place.
I’d take my bra off from under my shirt the second I walked through the door after school. I’d throw my backpack down, pull my arm through my sleeve, undo the clasp and feel the wire wrapped tight around my rib cage release. The straps that pulled down my shoulders would slacken, and my boobs would fall to the sides instead of being tugged upward and to the center.
Soon, I started taking it off once I got in my car in the school parking lot. I didn’t see the reason for waiting until I got all the way home.
And then one morning, I just didn’t put it on at all. I really didn’t think about it. That is, until I actually got to school and saw people around me thinking about it. Boys looked at me like I had just told them some dirty secret — except, they were the only ones in on it. And girls looked at me as though, by unknowingly telling that secret, our secret, I’d violated some kind of unspoken contract we had.
I’ve never been slut-shamed more than when I’m not wearing a bra — and by women, too.
“Wow, I just would never feel comfortable exposing myself like that. Good for you, though.”
“Free the nipple for sure, but I just would never be OK with other people seeing my nipples. Good for you, though.”
“I have a boyfriend, so I couldn’t do that. Good for you, though.”
The thing that bothers me the most though isn’t the passive aggressiveness or the projected internalized misogyny: It’s the idea that I’m doing it for men. The same men who shame me for it. The men who use it as an excuse to call after me on the street and who take it as an invitation for crude remarks, as if I’m trying to please them.
Not wearing a bra has been sexualized to the point where people have forgotten that it’s just part of a woman’s natural state of being. Women can’t exist without being labeled a whore for doing so. They must be asking for attention, male attention.
I don’t wear a bra because I don’t want to. And if I do want to — if I want cleavage that day, or my shirt is a little see-through or I’m about to get my period and my boobs are sore — I do wear one.
I wouldn’t say that not wearing a bra is a feminist act. Wearing what you want to wear is a feminist act. And if you come home and feel relieved and excited to take that thing off, I’d ask, why are you putting it on in the first place?
But I know why. It’s the same reason my mom made me wear a bra to my Harvard interview.
I had my pantsuit on, ready to walk out the door, when she stopped me. She told me I had to wear a bra. She said not wearing a bra was unprofessional and that people wouldn’t respect me if I didn’t wear one. Just like they wouldn’t respect me if I didn’t wear heels or put my hair up.
I wanted to tell her the guy in the Harvard sweater across the table from me probably had bigger boobs than I did — that, above all, presenting yourself as a woman is what’s considered unprofessional. If they couldn’t respect me because I wasn’t wearing a bra, wasn’t whatever respect I would have earned from them in spite of me being a woman?
But just like the rest of the world, I didn’t want to have that conversation and neither did my mom. So I put on the bra and went to the interview.
It reminded me of all the other times I’d done that. Like most girls, I was told I had to start wearing a bra at age 12 — a training bra, it was called. And it did train me, in a way. It got me used to the discomfort of wearing a bra every day of my life, and, more importantly, it prepared me for the many aches and pains women go through just to exist in this world.
So I don’t really wear bras anymore. Maybe that makes me a whore, or unprofessional or gross. But if that’s what you really think, then I was already all of those things to you. I’m not about to endure years of discomfort just so you can pretend otherwise.
Helen D’Orazio writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected]