This article was inspired when one of my clients told me that she was unsure about going bra-free, because her bra felt like a protective armor. She felt more secure putting this coverage on before going out of her house and into the world. I was intrigued as to where this feeling came from, because I definitely experienced some feelings of vulnerability when I first started going completely bra-free. One event that stands out in my mind was the first time I hugged a male friend without wearing a bra. I had no conscious thought of what I was wearing when I ran into him. I have known him for some time and was happy to run into him, so I automatically went in for the squeeze.
Then I flinched.
OMG! I am not wearing a bra today!! Can he tell? Is that something he can feel through a hug? Can I feel more of him somehow without my bra and padding on? This is weird. Am I imagining all this? What is happening?!?
But what could I do? I couldn’t suddenly not hug him. That would be even more awkward and potentially hurt his feelings. (Side note: I go out of my way to hug my male friends because many men do not get as many opportunities for hugs as women do in my estimation. All humans need touch every day.)
So I pretended that I wasn’t completely freaking out on the inside and completed the hug follow through. If he noticed anything at all, I absolutely couldn’t tell. I didn’t feel comfortable enough to ask him. Afterwards I thought that if I didn’t feel comfortable asking a man about this issue, what were other women going to do? This was a friend of mine who knows what I do and supports my work. I really missed an excellent opportunity to get some feedback from a safe person because I was afraid of seeming “weird” or that there might be some sexual overtone. He and I don’t have that connection, so why would I assume we couldn’t have an adult conversation about this?
This is not a small thing when we are trying to make a change that breaks cultural taboos. We need to be aware that we can decide on the inside that we aren’t concerned with other people's opinions about whether or not we are wearing a bra. However, the body may have a strong visceral response to what that potential rejection may feel like. Humans are pack animals and it is hard wired into us to seek acceptance from our tribe in order to survive. This is why it is so crucial to seek friends and community for support while you are making this change. You will need to actively mitigate the knee jerk reaction to wanting to follow the herd, even though your brain wants to make a better choice. Don’t spend 9 years trying to make a change like I did. Create community support to replace the bra support.
There is also the visceral feeling of not having this layer of “armor” over our hearts and our chests. This is something that happens in the nervous system. The nerves in our skin have become habituated to a certain amount of pressure around the chest and breasts. It will feel “weird” to the nerves when they suddenly do not have this sensation. When our nervous system is experiencing weirdness, it is the brain’s job to look for a reason for this weirdness. It is likely that we will start to create stories for why we feel weird without a bra, when it is simply our nervous system acclimating to this new sensation.
I found that I felt more secure being bra-free in public if I had more layers of clothes on. Also, if one of these layers fit more snuggly around my trunk, I was more comfortable. The sensation was more similar to having a bra and I believe that further supported my weaning process. For me, my “untraining bras” were tank tops that blended cotton and spandex. I would buy them one size too small. They did not have any rib band or additional “shelf” inside. This was my first layer of defense. They also provided breast coverage in case I had a shirt with a lower neck line where someone could see down my top if I leaned forward. It is one thing to see down a woman’s shirt when she is wearing a brassiere. It is quite another if the breasts are completely bare and you aren’t expecting that view!
I have an additional theory that this tight layer has a bit of a swaddling effect. Pediatricians recommend swaddling babies for the first month after they are born to reduce fussiness and help with sleep. It is reported to reduce startle reflex (when your body jerks as you fall asleep). It is also suspected to provide the baby with the feeling of still being contained in the womb. They also sell weighted blankets to increase feelings of security for children and adults having trouble sleeping. I don’t understand the physiology behind this phenomenon, but that will not stop me from taking advantage of it.
In this same vein, I discovered “ThunderShirts” for pets that are advertised as a drug-free option to reduce anxiety in animals. This is a tight vest that is velcro’d around anxious animals to reduce sensitivity to loud noises (e.g. thunder) or new situations. This idea was introduced by autism-awareness-advocate and livestock behaviorist Temple Grandin, who noticed that cows were calmed when they were squeezed. A machine was created that could simulate a hug. This is now being utilized to calm people suffering from autism and is called “Deep Pressure Therapy”. Perhaps the pressure of my tank top is acting as my ThunderShirt when I am anxious about being accepted in my new bra-free attire.
I also feel better when I am wearing more layers. I find three layers to be the magic number for me. This is sufficient to reduce any appearance of my nipples, or “headlights”, so it is much less obvious that I am not wearing a bra. I find it easier to relax and forget I am not wearing a bra this way. There are some photos below of me in my layers. Thicker clothing and loose, flowing tops are the best bet for the outer layer. It is definitely one thing to appreciate about the colder “sweater” weather of winter. I started my truly bra-free endeavor in October of 2018 and have been without a bra 90% of the time. Timing is everything for supporting this healthy new breast practice!
Please post on the Bra-Free Challenge FB page any pictures or links for shirts that you love for going out bra-free. Let me know if wearing your tight tank top helped reduce any bra-free anxiety. We will have more camouflaging ideas in the next practice to turn down the high beams of your headlights!