It seems that everywhere you look these days, there’s talk about breasts: how to keep them healthy, how to keep them looking good, and what to carry them in. Most focus seems to be on the latter two, with adverts everywhere showing push-up bras and other types of shape-wear in lace, velvet, and other aesthetically-pleasing fabrics, but what about the health impact of the kinds of bras we wear? Are the wires in our bras doing us any harm while coaxing our breasts into rounder, perkier shapes?
Black lacy bra from Figleaves
Nasty Side Effects
Recent studies have listed numerous nasty side effects of underwire bras, from heightened chances of developing cysts (from pressure and aggravation in wire pressure-points), to costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage around the sternum and between ribs). Most women don’t wear the right size bra, and a constricting undergarment can put pressure on sensitive areas that really should have free rein.
One can find research that both proves and disproves links between underwire bras and breast cancer, but nearly all breast cancer survivors are told by their doctors to stop wearing underwire bras. There’s also personal experience to take into account: nearly everyone who has worn an underwire bra has, at some point, probably experienced some discomfort with it. For some people, there’s ribcage sensitivity from the wire pressing against the bones or muscles therein. This can interfere with posture, as the wearer may bend forward to alleviate pressure, which in turn can mess up muscles in the back, neck and hips. If a wire breaks through the fabric, it can poke into the skin of the sternum or armpit; the latter being a sensitive area that’s best kept free of infection.
The Cult of the Underwire
Photo by MontiLee Stormer
Why do so many people insist upon wearing wired bras anyway? Well, no matter where we turn, we’re inundated with the idea that our breasts have to look a certain way in order to be considered attractive, thus we mash ourselves into these metal-reinforced contraptions. Ultimately, the only people benefitting from them are the few who’ve decided to gawp at our chests. While we all want to look our best, it’s probably more important to make personal comfort and well-being a priority over ensuring that some random stranger on the tube thinks that we look good in a tight jumper.
Underwires force breast tissue into rounded shapes with the help of the fabric around them, and often cause a fair bit of discomfort while doing so. After working a full 8-hour shift (plus significant commuting time), how many of us whip off our bras the moment we set foot in the house, sighing with relief after doing so? It would be interesting to find out what percentage of men cram themselves into uncomfortable, pinching, squeezing undergarments for our viewing pleasure, yet we consider these to be the norm. Sigh.
Alternative #1: Going Bra-less
Photo by J. Pott
Although this may seem like the most comfortable option out there, it probably isn’t the most attainable one for most of us. Unless you’re a smaller cup size, you’ll likely encounter a degree of pain/discomfort when walking around without a bra, and many women with larger breasts will also feel a bit self-conscious swinging around freely for all eyes to see. Women who work in office environments may be considered unprofessional if they walk around sans bra, and situations in which most other office mates are male can be very awkward indeed.
If you do decide to go braless, try a tight-fitting tank top or camisole to keep “the girls” in place. You might want to start out by just going braless at home on your days off, and if you find that you’re more comfortable sans bra, venture out on a simple errand nearby to see how you feel out in the open, so to speak. Many women report a significant improvement in back/shoulder pain after giving up their bras, but an equal number also experience tenderness and a “pulling” sensation in the skin and upper chest muscles when walking around without support. Every body is different, so be sure to listen to yours.
Alternative #2: Wireless Bras
Wireless bra from House of Fraser
These sound terribly tech-savvy, don’t they? No, we’re not talking about receiving Bluetooth through your underwear, but rather going for bras that give shape and support without any metal bits slapping against your chest.
Far from the types of bras we may have been unfortunate enough to see our grandmothers in, these are not large, floppy, beige monstrosities that will either turn your breasts into bullets, cones, or strange upper body mounds. Today’s soft-cup and underwire-less bras come in all styles and colours, and are just as stylish and gorgeous as their wiry cousins. The key to a good wireless bra is a wide strap that sits comfortably against the sternum and ribcage, with a rounded soft cup that will cushion and hold your breasts in place. If you have a larger bosom, go for one that has wide straps, so nothing digs into the tops of your shoulders.
These come in every fabric from satin and lace to cotton and leather, so you’ll be sure to find one that’s right for you. One thing to remember is that if you’d like a bra that fits you perfectly, it’s important to get sized for one. So many of us wear the wrong bra size because we might be too shy to ask a saleswoman to help fit us, but honestly? It’s so worthwhile. Get thyself to a good lingerie shop, and ask the staff about getting properly fitted. They’ll take a series of measurements around your ribcage, chest, and shoulders, and will be able to give you some bras to try on that will fit as though they were sewn especially for you. You may be surprised to discover that you’re a size larger or smaller than you thought you were, but the excellent fit of the garment will undoubtedly dispel any flustering.
Alternative #2: Sports Bras
Sports bra from Debenhams
Many women avoid wearing sports bras because they’re afraid they’re going to get what is commonly referred to as “shelf boob”; namely the visual in which breasts are smashed together and compressed against the chest to create a solid mass of protruding chest flesh. A shelf.
Well, guess what? The only sports bras that will do that to you are the super-tight ones that are meant for rock climbing, running, or other high-impact activity. There are many sports bras out there that provide shapely silhouettes along with spectacular, comfortable support. Just like with any other bra, you’ll want to get fitted for one of these, and determine what it is that you need it for.
Are you looking for a bra to wear on a daily basis? Aim for a low-impact sports bra that has cup shaping and a clean delineation between the breasts: this will avoid that oh-so feared shelf illusion, and will keep you comfortably in place while walking around, climbing stairs, or picking up dropped pens. If your job requires you to be a bit more active, you can still go for one that shapes you well, but also offers a measure of compression support. A policewoman who has to run after thugs will obviously need more support than a judge, and a yoga instructor will need to keep things in place with a bit more ferocity than a college prof.
Wire-free bra set from Bonprix
Ultimately, the only person whose opinion really matters about your breasts is you. Take some time to determine what your priorities are with regard to aesthetics and health, do your research, make some informed decisions, and then go bra shopping.