Breasts and Bras: The Irony and the Ecstasy

I am practical, and I rise above the level of fashionista, unconcerned about public opinion, charting my path without as much as a glance toward the dictates of fashion.

Or, I am lazy, and like Rhett Butler, frankly I just don’t give a d**n what you think.

Either way, I have long ago abandoned two of the stylish woman’s three instruments of self-inflicted torture:   make-up and shoes.  The third, the brassiere, is my topic today.

It was easy to get rid of make-up:  I developed an allergy, and going fresh-faced seemed far preferable to leaving the house swollen-eyed, bulbous-nosed, puffy and sniffling.

It was easy to get rid of uncomfortable shoes:  I broke my foot (a great excuse!) and no longer wear pointy-toed high-heeled pumps that exaggerate the body’s natural assets—thrusting women’s breasts forward, derriere out, lengthening legs, reshaping the arch into yet another soft and sexy curve.

But the bra?  That ingenious contraption that pushes one’s assets up and out, helps older women to masquerade as ingénues, provides a layer of protection against elevator crowders….  Well, it’s a little harder to give up that torture device and still find acceptance in the wider world of women.

Perhaps you remember (or, if you’re a 20-something, you read a book about) radical feminist Gloria Steinem and the feminists’ bra-burning movement in the 1960s.  Germaine Greer, in her book The Female Eunuch, wrote about the cultural phenomenon:

“Bras are a ludicrous invention, but if you make bralessness a rule, you’re just subjecting yourself to yet another repression….  For some, the bra remains a symbol of restrictions imposed by society on women…the classic burning of the bras…represented liberation from the oppression of the male patriarchy, right down to unbinding yourself from the constrictions of your smooth silhouette.”

Greer’s radical feminism struck a chord with women, who were increasingly sensitive to gender discrimination in American society.

Burning one’s bra, in that era, was a symbol of freedom—a sign that liberated women would no longer permit men to define them on the basis of their anatomy.  Going braless was a sign of freedom.

So it’s interesting that this week, CNN is airing “Taking a Stand, Making a Difference” which deals with—believe it or not—the bra as a guarantor of freedom.

CNN reports about Kimba Langas, a stay-at-home mother in Denver, Colorado, who collects unwanted bras for a charity called “Free the Girls.”  The organization, in turn, gives the bras to young women in Mozambique who are attempting to escape from sexual slavery.  The young women don’t wear the bras—instead, they sell them in a used clothing market, where the bras are a high fashion item and they command top prices.  The girls are able to earn enough to support themselves—about three times the average wage in that country—so that they need not enter the sex trade again.

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