Taking off my Bra

April 27, 2024

You call it braless; I call it brafree.

You’d think men would know how to take off bras given how often they’d like to see what’s underneath them.

“You put this thing on every day?”

“Yes.” He was still struggling.

“Can’t imagine why. Why?”

The two Long Islands settling in my stomach didn’t dizzy me as much as his question. I grasped at a response, seizing for a reason I confined my body daily, perspiring more at a lack of feminist explanation for intuitively covering my chest than at the impressively toned body yearning for mine. Thin hands slowly slid lace down my shoulders in typical sultry fashion. I didn’t notice. Unease spilled into my cervix, following warm hands tracing down my stomach. Hungry eyes tried to capture mine, but I was fixed on the black cage sliding off cream sheets. My bra fell to the ground, and I never picked it up again.

You call it braless; I call it brafree.

Strutting around streets with pronounced nipples catches the attention of non-wearers and wearers alike. What is to them one-fourth of a second is enough for me to notice. I know you looked, I know you’re wondering, so let me tell you why I took it off and why it bothers you.

Women — a term I use inclusive of all bra-wearers as this is discursively treated as a woman’s issue — pull straps to their shoulders every morning without a second thought. Wire and fabric fight gravity daily, and they may win from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m, but what’s the first thing women do when they come home? While the garment can support and comfort, I wondered if we weren’t entirely honest with ourselves about a bra’s helpfulness, and if it takes away more than it gives. Tossing out my variety pack forced me to face why I had worn them at all.

For a night out, push-ups were a must. For a few hours of piercing underboob pain, you can look one cup size bigger!

If I wore a strapless top, strapless or stick-ons rounded my girls out. That skin pinching and pulling is silicone adhesive, but at least you look all-natural!

To treat myself, a bralette was a decent choice. Instead of not wearing a bra, you can buy one for $30 that makes you look like you aren’t wearing one!

When I described my daily chest and back pain, women creatively informed me that I was “just wearing the wrong type of bra.” Maybe, or maybe I was just wearing a bra for the wrong reasons. It imitates a wearable testimony of self-respect. Without a bra, I transform watchers into witnesses of my shamelessness. With one, I trade letting my body breathe for satiating eyes that aren’t mine.

My first brafree weeks were not all that freeing. Without cloth to fabricate a plump look, my tear-drop breasts revealed their true shape through summertime tank tops. Now looking back at vacation pictures, I see a normal chest. But at that moment, worry caved into my diaphragm. Shame brewed inside my rib cage, spreading to fingertips that inched towards a jacket even under a stifling sun. I consciously fought the urge to reach for a bra at all times of the day.

Reward revealed itself soon thereafter. The skin between my shoulder blades had been cinched in by bra strap lines. As the marks faded, so did my chronic back pain. (I guess it wasn’t chronic after all.) Even breathing felt different, as if I could inhale more oxygen under an unconfined chest. As my breasts relaxed, so did I.

I had covered or cleavaged for others, and when my breasts changed, so did their gaze. Bras may be for the male gaze, but it wasn’t theirs that bothered me. Their pupils quickly surveyed my chest, and I brushed off any remnant of self-consciousness just as fast.

Women were different. Unblinking eyes fell below mine and returned a witting expression asking, Did you forget, or do you really think you look good? The female gaze pierced my chest far more uncomfortably than any bra ever did, momentarily making me want to race to my protective covers decomposing in dirt, brushing off filth so I could purge myself of my own.

But there is nothing dirty about my natural breasts. What is more real, cleaner even, than wandering the world with an unfabricated body? Still, her eyes questioned me. All day, women practice keeping their bodies upright, a bra supporting pronounced posture. Take it off, and see our backs curl into question marks. They ask me why I took it off but not why they put it on.

So I asked. Scouring the streets of Austin, I approached over 30 women — students clinically overcaffeinated, professionals taken aback by my candor, mothers who looked like they needed a break  — willing to entertain a five-minute conversation. Do you wear a bra, and why or why not? Wearers rushed to words like “comfort” and “security.” Elaborate please, and they spoke of “social norms'' and “the public.”

Half of the public women referred to are owners of breasts themselves, and their bodies protrude flesh and nipples just the same, even if in different shapes, colors, and directions. But this isn’t the public they inexplicitly named.

It is men we fear to inadvertently insult or invite with free-flowing breasts. And instead of challenging the norms that challenge our bodies, we battle each other. They stare at my breasts in distaste as a continuation of the checks and balances we keep one another accountable with, adding to the list of crossing legs, traveling in groups, and crawling home by dark. It is, effectively, protection through condemnation.

Some women rationalize my brafreeness as lazy ignorance. But I have studied their judgment under harsh lighting, and they stare at their own reflection in my eyes. To some women, I’m playpretending prostitute, hoping to flaunt and deceptively capture the attention of her, her competitors, or worse, the men we compete for. A woman’s sexuality amplifies when her bust does, and although mine seems smaller without a bra, she reddens at my perceived threat. Is it me she fears or herself?

Patriarchy seeps into the world’s every fabric, including the one women wear on their chests. I embodied my liberation by undressing my body — an act of silent disobedience. I had worn a bra to obey unwritten rules, but I am the author of my body no matter how it’s read.

Flora can rise after ash, as can a woman after being torched by her own. Must women find themselves scorched by my brafreeness, I welcome their screams into winds that trail my smooth back. I hope they can look at it and imagine the same for themselves.

Women should continue to wear bras if that’s what they want. I will continue to not because that’s what I want. My brafreeness caused my breasts to shrink, which came with both increased comfort and criticism. I am privileged and marginalized differently from two bra sizes ago, so I recognize that liberation looks and feels different across different bodies. All I wish is for us to turn wearing a bra from a subconscious act into a conscious decision. You have the autonomy to make the choice, even if it’s different from mine.

Me? I carry myself as naturally as I came into this world, and I intend to leave it just the same. 

Layout: Jaycee Jamison
Photographer: Adalae Simpao
Stylist: Divya Konkimalla & Cynthia Lira
Set Stylist: Ashley Nguyen
HMUA: Dakota Evans
Model: Tanya Velazquez

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