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“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.” –Amy Bloom

As a teen girl growing up into a young woman, you are often made conscious of the physical changes taking place in your body, much contrary to your wish. Actually, you rarely notice it first; it’s the reactions of the people around you, both verbal and non-verbal, that give you the idea that something new and noticeable is happening to your body.

I hated it when my breasts started to appear. It was as if my own body suddenly became a stranger I knew nothing of, or a creature tormenting me for no reason. I felt ashamed and restless. Perhaps, this discomfort, this shame could have been evaded had the women in my family been less concerned about the shape of my body, and more about the state of my mind, and my ability to cope up with puberty. I was told to start donning a chunni, to wear loose suits or tops for ensuring unrestricted chest growth, to take care of that which I had no control over. Worst of all, I was given a bizarre garment to wear that I had always seen my mother putting on under her kameez, and often hiding from the rest of the family while washing or drying. I knew it without them having to tell me that it was something shameful; that I was supposed to wear it but not let anybody know about it. I took it as I had to. Little did I know that it was to become my lifetime companion. Yes, the Bra!

That first time when you are made to wear a bra, your feelings are so strange and mixed that you can’t decide whether it’s shyness or shame. I know many women who have been through similar experiences during their adolescent years. And now, years after making through this hellish period that we call ‘puberty’, many things have changed, but not our relationship with bra. This garment that we love and hate continues to symbolise shame for us. You are shamed if you are not wearing a bra. You are shamed if you are wearing a bra but not of proper size. You are shamed if your bra strap is visible. You are shamed if the colour of your bra does not match your upper garment. You are shamed if you mention ‘bra’ loudly. You are shamed if your bra somehow comes in sight of your brother or other male members of your family.

Young girls are sent back home if their bra is seeable under their school uniform. Women students are sent back to their rooms if they show up in the hostel mess without wearing bra. Mothers are called to schools to be given a lesson on ‘how to raise girls’ if their daughters fail to show up with a bra once. Men cat-calling women whose bras can be seen under their clothes is so common, I don’t even need to mention it.

The message behind all this is clear– that you, as a woman, must think about your bodies and bras before anything else. That your bras are far more important than your education, or food, or comfort. That out of all the challenges and concerns that this world has to offer to individuals, bra remains one of the major ones if you are a woman. That your breasts are always a ‘potential object of attraction and distraction’ for men trying hard to mind their own businesses. That wear or not wear, bra is always a problem! Because the body part for which it’s been designated is itself a big problem for people.

Yes, your breasts are one of society’s major concerns. Your breasts, much against your wish or intention, give anxiety to your mother, alarm to your father, embarrassment to your teachers, discomfort to your hostel wardens and land ladies, and ‘distraction’ to your classmates or colleagues. Not that they evoke negative emotions only. Your breasts give ample happiness to that uncle who happens to stand nearby you in a crowded metro or bus. Basically, your breasts are the most important thing, not just in your life but in everybody else’s lives too. You must have them, big and supple. You must maintain them, firm and round. But you must not let the world know about them by making your bra visible, by mistake or by choice. You must keep them hidden and covered even if you need to feed your hungry little baby.

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The society expects you to grow and maintain perfect breasts, because women with “small and saggy breasts” don’t have good marriage prospects, because men can’t compromise with the quality of this amazing toy. If you don’t know still how much worth you are, you can take that “Are Your Nipples Erotic” series of tests. Then there are those immensely useful and important articles in magazines and on internet that classify what kind of breasts are best for which body type. Measure your waist, hips, breasts, and height, apply the formula and check how ‘perfect and desirable’ you are! However, even if you are not beautiful or ‘desirable’ enough according to that universal test for women’s bodies, there still is hope. They have great exercises, diets, body shaping costumes, breast enhancement treatments, creams, etc to cure your ‘imperfections’ as much as possible.

There are diverse varieties of bras available in the market that help you assume that perfect shape, if only you can afford to spend a thousand bucks or more on a single piece of lingerie. It isn’t that difficult. There are great discounts on fancy bras, skin and hair treatment products, cosmetics, among other things on International Women’s Day, Mother’s Day, Daughter’s Day, Karva Chauth, and even Valentine’s Day. Because after all, they understand that your entire existence must revolve around your beauty and bras alone.

And hence dear ladies,
they just can’t stop worrying about your bodies!
All this, fine and done.
But there’s one question.

With the entire world so frankly talking about your bra, so openly working to shape up your breasts, what is this obsession with telling you to hide your bras and breasts all the time?

Women are taught to get used to wearing bras right from teenage years to keep their breasts in good shape. We are so trained that we can’t imagine looking beautiful without that uncomfortable thing on. The entire day at home passes happily without a bra; the next day for office or college or school, it again becomes a necessary evil. As much as it makes many of us uncomfortable, especially during summers, we never want to be seen in public without these under. And such has been our upbringing, such is social conditioning that we don’t dare to step out of the house without this crucial instrument of beauty and ‘decency’.

Well, bras are not always bad. To many of us, buying fancy bras with beautiful laces, or net cups gives immense pleasure. So the point is not whether women should or should not wear bras, because, needless to say, it’s their personal choice. The point is if women are expected to wear bras for an attractive figure, and for preventing breasts from “loitering” to look “presentable”, why are women being shamed and chastised if their bras or bra straps happen to be visible? When everybody knows that women do wear bras under their garments, why do people display tremendous amount of shock on seeing them by chance? If this is not classic hypocrisy and misogyny, what is it? Why must shame be always associated to our bodies and garments?

We need to teach our girls that it is okay if their bra strap is visible, and not that they must spend all their attention in trying to hide their bras from the same world that mandates them to wear it.

We need to tell our girls that it is okay to shop for bras and talk about them in public, and it is equally okay to not wear them at all.

We need to tell our sisters and friends and daughters that it is okay to feed their hungry baby in public places. But more than that we need to instil this consciousness in both our girls and boys that a woman’s life does not revolve around her bra and breasts. We need to teach our boys that a woman who is not wearing a bra is not indecent; that a woman whose bra is visible is not “asking for it”; that women are much more than their breasts.

We need to teach our girls that their breast size or nipple type does not decide their worth. That they don’t have to pass those beauty, breast and nipple tests to know that they are beautiful. That breasts can be small or big, proportionate or unequal, smooth or blemished, loose or firm, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they should be healthy, as much as the rest of the body parts

7 COMMENTS

  1. “The message behind all this is clear– that you, as a woman, must think about your bodies and bras before anything else. That your bras are far more important than your education, or food, or comfort.” Point considered but such instances from the post show exaggeration. I don’t think the society has taken it that far. (Acknowledge the comment as positive criticism only)

  2. It should be absolute choice of women what she wants to wear and what she doesn’t. The purpose of clothing is to make oneself comfortable and not otherwise.

  3. Back in 2002 I joined a good college in North Campus, Delhi University where I learnt from one of my new friends a code word. “Indira Gandhi bahar aa gayi” That means that your bra strap in visible. “ALERRRTTTTTT”. Thank god I havent ever used it. Now if the strap is visible, my husband tries to communicate that through his eyes and in a muted way so that no one can hear it. I am teaching him to be calm, its as normal as his undergarment showing through his low waist jeans.

  4. Your article brought back so many memories of my experiences and feelings about my breasts when I was younger.

    Unlike some of my classmates I was still flat chested when I started at secondary school. In fact being a bit of a tomboy, during the summer holidays between primary and secondary school, I had thought nothing of taking my T shirt off and running round with just a pair of shorts on like the local boys.
    By the following summer, that definitely wasn’t an option!

    By Christmas I began to notice the first signs of things starting to change as I gradually developed little ‘bumps’. It wasn’t too bad at first as they weren’t noticeable under my winter clothes and weren’t large enough to be uncomfortable when I was doing PE at school.

    My mum must have noticed though as she bought me my first training bra as a 12th birthday present. It was a real surprise as I hadn’t asked for one and mum hadn’t said anything previously about me needing one. I still thought that it wasn’t really noticeable enough to need ‘controlling’. At mum’s request I did try it on, I couldn’t fasten it myself, so mum did it and straightaway it felt like an iron band around my chest! I also hated the way that it made my breasts more noticeable under my shirts.
    Up to then I either hadn’t worn anything under my shirts or had just worn a vest, so this contraption with it’s tight elastic metal fasteners and adjustable straps was just so alien!
    For several months I refused to wear the bra, but eventually my growing breasts became more jiggly and noticeable (especially when I was running) so eventually mum insisted I wore one outside the house.

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