There exist a mixture of opinions when it comes to going out braless in public. On the one hand, you might feel like something out of a Free People catalogue — all messy-haired and gilded-eyed, lying around in meadows and riding rickety bikes in your lace dresses and dusty boots.
On the other hand, you might accidentally swing a left and miss that daisy-haired fantasy, feeling instead like a walking siren, completely convinced that every man, woman, and child is staring at your areolas. Your boobs are probably taking advantage of this break from prison and acting accordingly, bouncing around whichever way they like, running wild as you're trying your best to cross the street without getting knocked out in the face by one of them.
I have little tangerine boobs, so I always thought I was Team No Bra. I could often get away with it as long as a brisk wind didn’t blow through and give away my little secret. During the winter, I can count on one hand how many times I root through my delicates drawer, and I go sneakily naked during the summer if the material of a dress is thick enough.
However, I’ve never ventured outside of my safety zones and into something flimsy and delicate, completely aware that my nips are right there. But why was I nervous about doing that? What was the worst that could happen? Curious over my frazzlement, I decided to wear sheer and go braless for a day to test my boundaries. This is how it went down.
Ah, the safe confines of your own bathroom. The first stages of so many regrets start here because you’re somewhere cozy and non-judgmental, surrounded by your shampoo bottles and glasses of wine. There I was, putting on the finishing touches to my lipstick: Hair up, sheer shirt on, and nips out.
At this point, I felt completely blasé about the whole thing. My shirt was the type of sheer you only notice when flash is involved, so you could barely see I had nothing but skin underneath. I shifted to the side, hoping to see some sort of femme fatale silhouette, and wasn’t sure if I was relieved or disappointed that I stayed looking as flat-chested as I did when I was 12. The curse of the tangerines. Shrugging, I turned off the lights and went out.
This is where that Free People attitude comes in. I felt like a babe. I was just waiting for the wind to come through so I could move my head all slow-motion-like like a Pantene commercial. I was doing something so unlike myself and because of it, I felt... bold. Like I just met a more interesting, more adventurous version of myself — one who wore deep red lipstick and smoked cigarettes, ready to do whatever. Who knew what could happen tonight? Maybe I’d somehow find myself singing in a jazz bar at 3 a.m., center stage, gin and tonic in my hand.
Keep in mind this was the thought process when I was stationary. As in, standing in front of my building, not yet walking towards the train. You can see where this is going.
Making The First Moves
Oh, no. Oh no, oh no, oh no, no, no, no. Apparently — even if you have small boobs — they still fall into a nice bounce. I knew this. But when you have a thick sweater on, you don’t care what kind of party is happening underneath because no one else can see it. But here, well, it looks like everyone was invited to the fiesta.
I felt complete panic. I felt myself break into a blush as I quickly tried to figure out how to cross my arms in a way that would hide some of this cheeky misbehavior. The only way that worked was to cross them like a mummy or a straitjacket… and that was obviously a no-go. I was just going to have to do it. I was going to have to square my shoulders, lift my chin, and fake it until I made it. Sure, I was going to have a Level Four Panic Attack on the inside, but on the outside I was going be as cool and bohemian as Sienna Miller circa 2009. I could do this.
There I was, trying to own my bounce, nearly convincing myself this wasn’t as big of a deal as I was making it when the wind blew. It blew and plastered my baggy shirt tight against my body, accenting the ladies. I felt my cheeks grow hot again. I’m pretty sure I had the beginning of stress splotches creeping up my neck like a giveaway. How in the hell is anyone bohemian? How do they deal with this?
Oh my god, wait, am I a prude? Ew, did my all-girls school background rub off? Sister Katherine got to me?! OK, one crisis at a time.
Desperately Wanting My Bra Back
At this point, I was equal parts missing my bras and equal parts bewildered by my discomfort. I wanted to keep going so I could shake off this self-conscious feeling. I was a mess of swinging emotions: I wished I had an emergency brassiere packed in my purse; I wanted to square my shoulders and own the way my body was moving; I wanted to hunch over and somehow convince physics to stop picking on me.
I was convinced everyone noticed my lack of undergarments and was staring, even though deep down I knew it was a big city and no one looked at each other. Like, ever. And on top of that, a nipple wasn’t going to start a riot. As I was having that conversation in my head, I was having a second conversation with myself where I was pretty sure I could use two Band-Aids as a makeshift bra. Madness. My brain had officially broken.
Slowly Embracing My Bra-Free Ensemble
Once I got to the bar, I was a mess. I was frazzled, self-conscious, and the color of a sunburn from my stress blushes, but still, oddly enough, feeling pretty hot. With all those fire alarm feelings, there also was a rational, quiet side of me that felt unapologetic about being a woman.
I like boobs. I like the way they look. I like how soft and delicate their curves are and I think they're a natural, pretty thing. So what if someone in a different mind frame notices and leers at me? That’s what all the stress centered around, after all. I didn’t want my body to be taken out of context. I didn’t want it to be turned into something to be stared at rather than quietly respected. Accepted. But by feeling embarrassed, I was standing with the leering side rather than my own. This I knew, and that was part of why I was refusing to give up with the evening's experiment.
Despite all my freak-outs along the way, though, once I found my friends and settled into a nice chat, all those worries vanished. I forgot I was sans bra, I forgot you could kind of see my nips if the lights hit my shirt just right, and I forgot I was supposed to feel flustered. No one commented or made me feel awkward. No one glanced for just a little-too-long. I realized the discomfort I had been feeling was all conjured up in my head. Although I can't say if the same would be true for women with larger ta-tas than my own, I can say that stepping outside my comfort zone reminded me that the things we fear are never as bad IRL as they are in our heads.
In the end: No bra, no problem.
Images: Marlen Komar