This year, Bustle is celebrating Rule Breakers — the women and non-binary individuals among us who dare to be themselves no matter what. In the lead-up to Bustle's Rule Breakers 2018 event happening Sept. 22, we are featuring stories from an array of individuals about critical moments when they didn't do as they were told.In a world that encourages us to conform unquestioningly, they refused to look or act the part, and we're all better for it. Click here to buy tickets for the event.
I'm jogging away from my front door, my sneakers firmly laced and my podcast playing in my ears, when a few things start to hit me in quick succession. The first is that jogging without a bra, which is what I'm doing right now, can be slightly painful — there's the bouncing to contend with, and the near-instant nipple chafing. But secondly (and more uncomfortably), is the feeling of everyone I pass immediately locking eyes with my chest.
As their gazes bore into me, I notice my hands twitching, almost aching to play with my hair, adjust my earbuds, scratch my chin — any excuse to reach up and shield my body. With heat rising in my cheeks, I repeat to myself that I'm a confident woman, out for a jog, being healthy and living my life. I put my shoulders back and run on, but am quickly disheartened by the faces snapping in my direction; the blaring honks from passing cars.
And that's when I remind myself why I made the decision five years ago to stop wearing a bra. I was sitting under fluorescent office lights, girdled tightly in an itchy underwire, when I came across a blog written by Dr. Elizabeth Vaughan. In it, she claimed there are physical benefits of going braless; how allowing breasts to move naturally drains the lymphatic system, and helps remove toxins that may build up in breast tissue and lead to health problems. Although research still debates whether wearing a bra is dangerous, or potentially leads to cancer, this new outlook — that it's acceptable to ditch your bra altogether — made me re-examine why I even wore a bra in the first place.
My attention flashed to my own bra, which was digging angrily into my skin, pressing into my boobs, and pinching my back. Why on earth was I wearing it? What good was it doing?
My attention flashed to my own bra, which was digging angrily into my skin, pressing into my boobs, and pinching my back. Why on earth was I wearing it? What good was it doing? That night, I unhooked the clasps and let it drop to the floor.
Since that day, my decision to stop wearing a bra has been one I fully try to embrace. But it's half a decade later, and I'm still struggling with the mental side of things. Other people's reactions are always extra intense when I'm running down the sidewalk, my boobs shifting to and fro beneath a thin T-shirt. Uncomfortable vibes seem to follow me everywhere, making the process of getting used to not wearing a bra seem like two steps forward, three steps back.
This puzzling dichotomy reflects, in many ways, how society views women's sexuality overall: we need to be lifted, separated, and sexy while also strapped down, molded, and discreet.
As a society, we've come to expect that breasts will look a certain way: hoisted up, strapped down, and held in place. As Dr. Vaughan said, wearing a bra is about achieving a certain "desirable" aesthetic — the world loves a perky chest in pretty lingerie. But if you think about it, bras are also about modesty. This puzzling dichotomy reflects, in many ways, how society views women's sexuality overall: we need to be lifted, separated, and sexy while also strapped down, molded, and discreet.
Breasts are too often solely viewed in a sexual context, but they are just body parts, and thus shouldn't be as "scandalous" as we make them out to be. And yet everyone's fervent stares tell me otherwise. Even when I'm casually entering a coffee shop, I'm greeted by the same uncomfortable glances I get while jogging, and it reminds me that folks simply aren't used to seeing the outline of a nipple, or the way braless boobs fit in a shirt.
If it isn't lifted and separated in the expected way, a woman's chest will get all sorts of attention — and for me, it's mostly the awkward, unwanted kind. This, of course, happens to many women whether they're wearing a bra or not. But without the extra padding, it can sometimes feel like I'm wearing a giant neon sign on my chest that says, "Look here!"
Even in my most uncomfortable moments, though, I won't change my mind; I don't grab a scarf or put on more layers, and I try to keep my arms at my sides. What I want to do is feel more comfortable in my body, in every way. It helps to repeat in my head that boobs aren't scandalous, that they're a part of me, and that I have the right to choose what I do with them.
People's stares and judgments are their issues, and not mine. It's why I've pushed myself to waltz around braless in my day-to-day life, whether I'm jogging, getting coffee, meeting up with friends, or attending more "buttoned up" events. If I went to great lengths to cover my chest, I feel like I would, in a way, be admitting that it's "weird" to not wear a bra. But it's not weird, and I want my boobs to do their thing and jiggle around freely.
In reality, there are no rules for what breasts should or shouldn't look like. Even when my nipples get hard on a cold day and I sail on into an establishment with them shining through my shirt, I remind myself it's OK. They're just a body part, and one that I want to be healthy and comfortable.
Living a bra-free life is so important to me, and I refuse to let a few stares, or honks, or judge-y glances affect how I get dressed in the morning. It can make for awkward moments, but I encourage anyone interested in trying it to break the rules and do it anyway, even if it takes others (and possibly even yourself) a long time to get used to. It's your body, after all.