A woman walks outside not wearing a bra.
That sounds like the start of a joke, right? Well, last week this woman did just that.
It was a hot, July morning and I wanted to wear my long, flowery maxi dress with a small gap in the back which would normally reveal a bra strap. The pattern also lends itself to covering the nips so I decided, bugger it, I won’t wear a bra! I felt liberated, I felt bad-ass and I felt ready to conquer the world. That is, until I stepped outside my front door.
I am a relatively confident woman who normally wears what I like and doesn’t pay much attention to what people think about it. However, this morning was different. I immediately felt that people were staring at me. I was walking to work along the side of the road and could consciously feel myself finding reasons to put my arms in front of my chest; scratching my nose, putting my hair behind my ears, playing with my nails. I kept asking myself what the hell I was doing, but I just couldn’t stop trying to cover my bra-less breasts.
It was a weird sensation. No one said anything, I wasn’t honked at or wolf-whistled but I felt vulnerable. It sounds ridiculous typing this but that’s the exact reason I am doing so.
Why do I, a happy 25 year old woman, feel uncomfortable not wearing a bra in public? Why did I feel that I was being gawked at and judged? I should point out that it is highly unlikely you could tell The Girls were foot-loose and fancy free but by not wearing a bra I felt like I may as well have been walking around topless and wearing a large neon arrow pointing to my chest with word ‘TITS’ emblazoned on it.
Why do some women feel like they are being a bit indecent when not wearing a bra in public spaces?
I think I can pin point the moment in my childhood, because I was definitely still a child, when I started to feel self-conscious about my breasts. It was the last week of the summer term of year 7. I was 11 years old, a few weeks away from my 12th birthday. It was a day that filled me with anticipation and dread… it was a non-school uniform day (DUM DUM DUMMM).
We were going on a school trip to the local theatre. I was wearing a pair of shorts and a summery t-shirt. I was not wearing a bra because I wasn’t aware that I needed one. To clarify, I definitely didn’t have anything there that needed support but I think I had asked my mum to help me buy some of those little white crop tops to wear for P&E, just in case. On this day however, I wasn’t wearing said crop top because it was bloody hot.
As we were waiting by the school steps, I leant down to speak to some pals who were sat on the floor. A ‘friend’ suddenly remarked ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you, I can see your boobs when you do that, you should be wearing a bra!’
My 11 year old self lost her mind, I remember feeling absolutely mortified. I felt completely and utterly stupid and spent the rest of the day worrying that my boobs were on show. Spoiler: they weren’t.
I found myself crossing my arms, pulling my already high neck t shirt even higher and, when sitting crossed legged on the floor, purposely bringing my knees up in front of me to prevent even the slightest chance of someone seeing that I wasn’t wearing a bra.
From that day onward, for a very long time, I never felt comfortable going anywhere not wearing a bra.
Girls can be mean, especially almost pubescent females but if the girl’s desired intent was to embarrass me it certainly did that. If her desired intent was to make me feel indecent and bad, it certainly did that too. It was to exclude me from the group well, I definitely remained quiet and distant for the rest of the day.
All the things my eleven year old self did on that day, I found myself doing on the commute to work last week. In both instances, there was no need to feel self-conscious or as if I was doing something wrong. The societal norm for women is to wear a bra. Of course, bras a very handy at the best of times. I am eternally grateful that M&S’s finest keep Thelma and Louise well supported and firmly in place. I certainly don’t have the biggest boobs in the world but on most occasions would choose to wear a bra instead of not wearing one because it helps me feel more confident.
I am in no way bashing bras as I know they can be life-changing in so many ways. I guess what I feel a little bit strange about is that I intrinsically and immediately felt wrong for not conforming to my normal attire for work; good shoes, smart dress, neat hair, brassiere. I was making myself feel like I should have to apologise for having boobs that may or may not be slightly visible through a patterned dress and I now know that that is not right.
There’s quite a few hashtags on social media which are now encouraging women to go bra-less more often, like #freethenip and Chidera Eggerue’s brilliant #saggyboobsmatter campaign. I need to start practicing what I preach a little bit more and take greater ownership of these here boobies.
I need to continue to work with my own my brain and start thinking better of my breasts. It’s time I gave The Girls credit where it is due because they have done some awesome things and will continue to do even more incredible things. If bra-free is what I feel like being that day, then why the hell not?
My euphoria of running around the house not wearing a bra or on holiday taking my bra off when I arrive in the hotel room and not putting it back on for a whole week is really quite a special feeling. There is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to feel like that walking down the street. I would hazard a guess that the first thing loads of us do when we get in from work is take the bra off and let the boobs loose? It is arguably the greatest feeling in the world.
It is great to wear a bra and it is great to not wear one. I am just as much of a strong, independent woman whether you can see my nipples through my top or not and I need to remember that.
So keep an eye out for this woman; next time you see her she may or may not be wearing a bra, she certainly won’t be covering her chest anxiously and if anyone, including herself, dare tell her she should be covering her wonderful breasts, she will be telling them to do one!