Is It Time To Burn The Bra?

October 28, 2020


If you’re one of those women who reaches to unclip your bra clasp as soon as you arrive home, chances are the isolation COVID-19 brought with it was welcome relief for you.

In a world where no one can tell if you are wearing pants or pyjamas during your virtual meeting, not wearing a bra has been a relatively risk-free — and comfortable — choice for many, according to a special ABC report.

“Some women have so thoroughly enjoyed not wearing a bra throughout this time working from home that they are telling clinicians that they are internally debating if they will ever go back to wearing one,” a spokeswoman for Osteopathy Australia told the ABC.

“Anecdotally, some women coming to the clinic share that it can be incredibly difficult finding a bra that works for them.

“This is a valid point — why should women return to wearing something that’s uncomfortable, expensive no matter the price point, and a bit hit and miss with fabric options, lining, underwiring, padding, straps, presentation and long-lasting wear?”

Indeed, if the thought of digging into the bottom of your underwear drawer to find your bra stash again makes you shudder, now might be the time to join ranks with celebrities like Kendall Jenner, and embrace going bra-free.

In 2015, the supermodel and member of the famous reality TV family said that she “really [doesn’t] see what the big deal is with going braless … I think it’s cool and I really just don’t care.

“It’s sexy, it’s comfortable and I’m cool with my breasts. That’s it!”

But while it may be more comfortable, are there any health implications to consider before you stop wearing bras altogether?

The report said that whether or not you like the look of going braless, not wearing a bra has little impact on breast health.

“A bra is an article of clothing, not a medical device,” Dr Amanda Newman from the Jean Hailes Women’s Health Organisation said.

“One can choose to wear a bra or not wear a bra without worrying about whether it’s going to affect breast health.”

Dr Newman said one of the most common questions people had around bra use, was if it caused cancer.

“There’s no link with breast cancer,” she said.

“Wearing a bra doesn’t prevent or expose you to breast cancer. There’s no science to support that.”

In their myth-busting section, Australia’s Cancer Council website also states that “there is no credible research showing a link between wearing, or not wearing, a bra and developing breast cancer”.

So if there is no evidence to link bras and cancer risk, is there any evidence to suggest wearing a bra decreases breast sag?

Again, there is not.

The ABC report said Researchers at the University of Wollongong recently completed a study looking at breast anatomy, which they hope will have far-reaching benefits for fields like cancer treatment, cosmetic surgery, and bra design.

Their findings suggested that the knowledge we have about breasts and what’s known as Cooper’s ligaments — connective tissue in the breast which many believe can stretch and sag if you go without a bra — is far too limited.

“The majority of the information that we hold as gospel about the structural anatomy of the breast was discovered by Sir Astley Cooper in 1840,” dissection technician Katie Gaskin said.

“That’s just not good enough by any scientific standard these days.”

Dr Newman said that the way breasts sat or sagged had more to do with genetics, hormones and weight, than wearing a bra.

“There has been some suggestion that your breasts will become less droopy if you wear a bra, but I don’t think there’s any good evidence for that,” Dr Newman said.

“Breasts are made up mainly of fat and of tissue, there’s not much of anything else.

“Breasts become floppy and saggy as they get older, and there’s a link with hormones. After menopause they become more droopy, during pregnancy they are bigger, during your period they are more tender.”

In fact, a French study spanning 15 years and involving 300 women found that “medically, physiologically, anatomically, the breast does not benefit from being deprived of gravity” — and women who went without bras developed more natural muscle tissue over the long-term.

Before you rid yourself of all your uncomfortable, old bras, there are some caveats to this conversation.

While there may not be any health conditions related to wearing a bra, there could be some musculoskeletal ones, particularly if you wear a larger cup size.

“Women who are wearing a bra size D or above often get back aches, aching shoulders and neck pain, because of the weight of their breasts,” Dr Newman said.

“A good quality bra [should] cater for the size of your breasts and the size of your back.

“If your neck is sore, your upper back, your shoulders, then pay attention to that, and think, ‘Do I need a bra? Does it need replacing?'”

Osteopathy Australia echoed Dr Newman’s advice, and said clinicians “are generally concerned about the strain on the upper back for those large-breasted women who are unsupported”.

“For some women, their bust and cup size simply requires them to wear a bra because their breasts are too heavy or large to be unsupported,” they said.

“It may be worthwhile making an appointment with your osteopath to talk about any pain you are experiencing, your posture and how your breasts may impact that, plus how you can best care for them with the clothing you wear.”

The age of your bra is another factor to consider if you are experiencing pain and discomfort.

“As bras get older they do stretch, they lose their support after they’ve been washed and worn,” Dr Newman said.

“Check that your bra is feeling comfortable, check whether the shoulder straps need adjusting.

“[If your bra] is really floppy and looking more like a singlet, do pay attention.”

However, wearing a bra 100 per cent of the time, regardless of your cup size, is not necessary — if you do go without for periods of time, just keep an eye on whether your back pain increases.

Again, this question comes down to how large your breasts are, whether you have any musculoskeletal pain, and your level of comfort.

If you do regular exercise, some women find a crop top or a fitted singlet can suffice — but if you require more support, Dr Newman advises seeing a trained fitter.

“You might need to go to a specialist bra shop to get the right size, but a trained fitter can find you something that gives you support,” she said.

While not a physical activity, Osteopathy Australia said wearing a bra while working at a desk was something to keep in mind as well.

“Larger busted women may notice that they get upper back or shoulder pain, especially if they work in a job which require long hours at a desk,” their spokeswomen said.

“The reason for this is that larger breasts can weigh a significant amount, which encourages slouching and rolling in of shoulders. This puts strain upper backs and necks, which over time can cause fatigue in those muscles and sometimes pain.”

Osteopathy Australia suggested being fitted for a bra that distributed weight evenly across the shoulders, ribs and back, with an adequate cup size, and keeping an eye on your posture.

Of course, some women choose to wear a bra simply because it makes them feel more confident — a reason Dr Newman said was “totally valid”.

“Many women are more comfortable wearing a bra — it can provide support … and also has aesthetic appeal; they can be pretty or sexy,” she said.

“A bra can give you support, or it can make you feel attractive. It’s not a health issue.

“If you like it for comfort, wear it; if you’re more comfortable without it, go without.”

The most important thing — whether you wear a bra or not — is to pay attention to what is happening with your body.

“Take notice of any symptoms, be aware of what your breasts look like, and if you notice a significance change see your GP,” Dr Newman said.

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