I Stopped Wearing Bras That Made My Boobs Look Bigger & Here's What Happened

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I never realized how uncomfortable I was wearing underwire, molded cup bras — until one day, I was. Maybe it was the fact that I needed a new bra, or that I knew in a few weeks I'd be visiting the nudist resort Hedonism II, where I planned to go topless as much as possible. But one day, after editing an article about a writer who switched to bralettes, suddenly, I couldn't take an hour more. After 15 years of strategic shaping and underwire, I could only feel the band oh-so-subtly cutting into my ribcage, constricting my breathing; the underwire pushing my boobs up higher, leaving a faint dent in my skin; the cups I didn't even fill out fully rubbing on my nipples. It felt itchy; it felt like lying and being constrained. I had to go shopping.

At the boutique store Only Hearts, I tried on my first bralettes since fifth grade. (I'd made the switch to underwire and padding by middle school. It was clear the more developed girls were the ones the boys liked, and I started wearing push-up X-bras immediately; you pulled a string in the middle to squeeze your boobs closer together, and voila, instant cleavage.) Looking in the mirror, I felt flat, like a failure. I couldn't go out in the world like this; everyone would know I'd been lying, and even if they didn't, even my own partner couldn't think this was cute. He'd suddenly be with a flat woman, in public. I felt, not for the first time, lacking and unacceptable.

It was a rainy day, and I was the only one there besides a shopkeeper and a guy who'd come in to flirt with her. She was telling him how women undergo a second puberty in their 20s, how their breasts and hips change again.

"No, that's not true," he told her. "That's not a thing."

I came out of the dressing room, and spoke authoritatively. "Yes, it is true. Women's bodies change again in their 20s. Sometimes their breasts get smaller, and their hips get wider. More of a child-birthing body." It had happened to me, anyway.

"See!" She hit him playfully. Perhaps it was because the bralette was so comfortable, or because it was on sale, or because I was simply tired of appeasing my idea of what men wanted, at the cost of my comfort — but whatever it was, I bought my first bralette, on sale for $22, and wore it all the way home. It felt like having a secret; the really good kind. These are my breasts, unaccentuated, actually comfortable.

I pretty much stopped wearing underwire bras or padded bras that day, and here's what's happened since.

1. I Began To Genuinely Like My Little Boobs

When I first started wearing the bralette to work, I felt like I'd finally be found out for the fraud I am. She's been lying to us all these years! We thought she was a full B, but she's really just a small B! I took baby steps. First, I only wore loose shirts with breast pockets. Then, dark tee-shirts. No meetings about it were held, and as I kept feeling more and more comfortable every day, I found I just couldn't bring myself to strap myself into underwire — or really, any bra I could feel at all — for other people's benefit.

That little decision not to compromise my own comfort for other people's assumed benefit (looking at rounder, more socially-acceptable boobs?) started each of my days off on an empowering, and vastly different note. I felt comfortable when I walked out the door, comfortable when I walked into my office, and gradually confident that my breasts were perfectly acceptable without any accentuation. Sure, the bralette held them in place more than going braless — but that genuinely felt like my preference, most days. My desire was not to have to think about my boobs unless I wanted to — I didn't have to think about them flopping uncomfortably when I walked, or to think about them in my bra.

2. I Regularly Forgot To Take My Bra Off When I Got Home

Like most women, one of the first things I always did when I got home was take off my bra. It was just normal — it never occurred to me that there was anything weird about that. That was, until I started wearing bralettes and would often be home for hours before I even remembered I was still wearing a bra. That's how comfortable they are — it's just like wearing a soft cotton shirt, without any tightness whatsoever.

3. I Stopped Being Able To Tolerate Underwire

I didn't really realize how uncomfortable I was in my bras until I felt the total absence of discomfort. Without anything restricting my ribcage or digging into me, I could breathe more freely throughout the day. Occasionally, I would test my old bra, just to see if I was imagining it — nope. I could now feel all the places where my bra rubbed, left marks, restricted my breathing, or even annoyed me simply by being noticeably present. I put them on the curb.

With bralettes or no bra, that feeling was totally gone. I could breathe freely, and my skin was never even a little irritated. I was almost angry at myself that I'd waited this long to feel totally comfortable in the outside world, simply because I thought my boobs were too small on their own in public.

4. I Felt Sexier All Day Long

Going from containing my boobs in cups to only having soft cotton graze my nipples felt more than just comfortable — it felt sexy. Maybe I got more light nipple stimulation throughout the day, or maybe I just liked being able to see my nipples through my shirt when I got cold. Maybe it was the sort of unabashed newfound sexuality to wearing a bralette or going braless: Yeah, these are my boobs. What ya gonna do about it?

More than that, I think the reason I felt sexier is that being comfortable really is sexy. The more comfortable I am in my clothing, the sexier I feel. Because I could breathe better, and I was feeling more love and acceptance for my boobs as a result of going wireless, it makes sense that I also felt better in my body.

5. I Began Experimenting With Going Braless In Public

A few weeks after I'd switched to bralettes, I attended the nudist resort Hedonism. It was there that I not only began being comfortable swimming and sunbathing naked, but also found myself completely ditching my bra. What was the point? I felt sexy as hell, and I'll never forget the moment I decided to go to dinner with nothing but a blue tank top on. The next night, I wore a tight black dress, sans bra, and was amazed to find I actually thought I looked cute and kind of athletic with my small, flattened bust. The voice that had always been in my head telling me to "fix those" was starting to fade away and be replaced by a new voice that said, "Sexy is comfortable. Sexy is unique. Have I mentioned you're looking sexy?"

When I had to go home, I was so upset that I even refused to wear a bra under my tee shirt — a true statement to myself, since it was neither tight enough to hold them in place, nor loose enough for them not to be visible. The adjustment back to the world of the clothed was more painful than I expected — and continuing to occasionally go braless was my rebellion. It was my way of bringing that feeling back home — and it worked. I've still regularly been wearing certain outfits without a bra, and it feels brave and fierce.

6. I Felt Like More Of A Chic, Grown-Ass Woman

It was a combination of factors: the maturity of deciding I would accept my body as is; having to buy nicer, new bralettes; the newfound feeling of (vaguely French?) sophistication that comes from having little boobs/going braless/not giving AF; feeling more comfortable in my body and therefore more inspired to otherwise take more pride in getting dressed in the morning; actually becoming more of a grown-ass woman.

7. I Had A Fight With My Boyfriend

The above picture of us is the "old bra" me, and the picture in item #3 is the "new bralette" me, in the same shirt. It might not look like much of a difference, and at first, my boyfriend Jesse didn't even appear to notice. Then, a few times, when I went out in a tight dress without a bra at all, he commented, "What? No bra?" "Nope," I answered. The second time he asked, squeezing them and giving me a kiss, I felt myself get angry. Yeah, that's right. No bra, motherf*cker, I wanted to tell him. Instead, I said, "Yeah, I know. It's different. It's a change. I'm just done with them. At least for a while."

I wanted to ask Jesse which version he preferred, the Full B Me or the Barely B Me — but like the time he asked whether I wanted him to have bigger muscles, I knew there is no good way to back yourself out of that corner. When I finally did work up the courage to ask him what he preferred a week later, he said the thing he always says.

"I think you should do whatever you want to do."

Pressed, he admitted that he "kind of prefers it when they are lifted and shaped a little," a comment that evolved into an hour-long conversation about our longterm compatibility — AKA a fight. It was actually a very productive fight, though, because we'd been burying some other stuff; stuff that had nothing to do with my bra, but did have to do with my fear that as I change and grow up, he won't like how I evolve. I told him it hurt me that something that felt so empowering and sexy to me didn't translate as sexier to him.

But as we talked it out, I realized what mattered to me most is that he had answered my question honestly, and been adamant that if I was more comfortable or preferred wearing bralettes or no bra for any reason, that that was what he wanted me to do. It was sort of like his question to me — sure, maybe if he had huge muscles the way he used to when he worked out obsessively every day, I'd like how it looked. But I wouldn't like how it made him feel emotionally, or the fact that huge biceps would get in the way of his yoga, which is what actually makes him happy. It became clear to me he felt the same way about my wearing a traditional bra.

8. I Realized I Had Only Ever Been Wearing Bras For Other People

When I told people I was going on a trip to a clothing-optional resort, everyone kept saying, "You're so brave. I'd love to do that, but I'd be afraid." One woman said, "I'd love to do that, but I'm too self-conscious about my boobs ... Maybe that's exactly why I should go." She had what's considered the ideal bust: 32DD. "Sure, I like them when they're all pushed up and perfect-looking in a bra. It's when I take them off that I have a problem. You're lucky."

Before I even went on that trip, ceasing to wear underwire really drove home the point for me that anything we wear or do simply to please other people at the cost of our own comfort is bullshit. For me, this revelation came first with high-waisted jeans, then heels, then, simply, any clothing I couldn't do yoga in. (Yes, my skinny jeans and dresses are all stretchy.)

It's funny, but not surprising, that the last thing to go was also the item I found most uncomfortable: my underwire bras, all strategically picked to make me look a little fuller in the bust than I actually am, while still being able to kid myself that I wasn't using padding. Well, at the ripe age of 28, I think I'm finally done with that shit. I refuse to wear shoes I can't walk for as long as I want in, or pants that cut into me when I sit down. And, most of all, I refuse to wear a bra that feels like anything but a second skin. If my breasts offend you, well, then, that's cool. But I'm realizing they probably never did or will — it was my imagining other people's judgement all along. In actuality, they were always beautiful.

Images: Rachel Krantz