A Woman's Choice: The Bra

Women’s breasts have been oversexualized throughout history, and it is time we push against the double standards.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Red, nude, black, push-up, lightly lined, wired, wirefree—what is it about a bra that simply entices everyone? It is a piece of fabric worn to support and cover two lumps of fat in the middle of a woman’s chest. Breasts are a natural part of human anatomy, and yet, they have been oversexualized and stigmatized throughout history. If you’re a woman, your breasts’ size and shape matter (especially to the strangers on New York City’s street corners), even if you are wearing a bra. If you choose not to wear a bra, you get called “easy” and slut-shamed for showing the world your nipples.

The prejudice a woman faces for being nude compared to a man is drastic. In 2020, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by three women who were fined by the city for being topless in public. The judges had rejected this notion under the fact that the U.S. Constitution bars nudity from both men and women but a topless male is not considered nude while a woman being topless is. However, society has come a long way since the U.S. Constitution was written. Women now have the right to vote and a voice in the American government. But the naked truth is that women are still not seen equally compared to men, especially when it comes to their bodies.

A major example of a woman's breasts being oversexualized is breastfeeding, a natural biological function that still carries a social stigma in public. Breastfeeding has been scientifically proven to be more beneficial for your child than formula. Though breastfeeding in public has been legalized in all 50 states since 1999, people are still calling the cops on mothers. In 2012, an Applebee's manager called the police after witnessing a young mother breastfeeding her child in a booth. The manager told the mother to breastfeed in the bathroom or leave. When she didn’t leave, the manager called the police, who arrived on the scene to inform the manager that it was perfectly legal and within the mother’s rights to breastfeed her baby in public.

These social stigmas of breastfeeding can also be seen on television. In an episode of “Gilmore Girls,” Luke Danes is ranting to Lorelai Gilmore about how appalled he is by a mother breastfeeding her child in the corner of the diner. He says, “When did that become acceptable? In the old days, a woman would never consider doing that in public. They’d go find a barn or a cave or something. I mean, it’s indecent; this is a diner, not a peep show.” Luke Danes’s comment about a “peep show” indicates that the mother was doing something sexual, which she was not. It also suggests that simply having your breasts out in public gives off sexual suggestions and holds a negative connotation, which it should not.

A majority of these sexist notions stem from our public education system. The dress code system purposely sexualizes female students and sets a precedent for male students to victim blame. The essence of enforcing a dress code is to make the school environment suited for learning, not to degrade young students and compromise their education. Telling female students that their bra straps are on display, thus distracting the male students, only tears down their self-esteem and hinders the discussion of mutual respect between male and female students. It also sends the message that a male student’s comfort is more important than a female student’s—that a female student must do anything in her power to not distract the male student because he is not able to control his emotions and needs.

However, there is hope for the future. More and more students are beginning to fight back against these injustices. For example, Lizzy Martinez, a 17-year-old student at Braden River High School, was forced to put bandages on her nipples to cover the fact that she wasn’t wearing a bra. To spread awareness about this sexist notion, Lizzy started a “bracott,” encouraging girls to go braless and clip bras on their backpacks. Boys also joined in by wearing bandages over their nipples. It gained media attention overnight, showing how powerful student-led movements can be in fighting against sexist dress codes.

Students are not the only ones rebelling against sexism. Celebrities, such as Kendall Jenner and Emma Watson, have begun participating in Free the Nipple, a feminist campaign dedicated to emphasizing a woman’s choice as to how she displays her body. Though some people see these movements as aggressive and immoral, these campaigns are about equality and having a choice. Women no longer want to deal with the societal judgment of their breasts or the pain of having to wear a bra, and that is okay. Wearing a bra is painful sometimes. The constraining straps and underwires can cause soreness in your shoulders, back, neck, chest, and even spine, which is often why many women don’t wear one. When a woman embraces her body and sexuality, she is called a slut. When a woman covers up, she’s called a prude. There is nothing a woman can do to please society. This is why campaigns such as Free the Nipple are important, because they help women around the world embrace themselves and learn to love their bodies.

For so long, women have been conditioned to think that wearing a bra is a must. It is not. Love your body, and do what you feel is right for you, because at the end of the day, it is your choice.