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A woman and her BRA:

By Josephine Agbonkhese & Anino Aganbi

Not only has recent research shown that bras reduce the shelf life of the proverbial twins and are more likely to contribute to their droopiness than otherwise, there is also a fear of tumours associated with the persistent wearing of breast shackles

ONCE in a little while, the social conversation turns to  that most ubiquitous subject – a woman’s breast.   It really does not matter what the subject matter is: healthcare, fashion /beauty, politics- somehow it just turns up. Conversations vary equally. There is the question of utility: what is its real, God-given use- erotism or nutritional?

bra5The question was famously asked on national television in the nineties by veteran broadcaster Frank Olize,  then reporting on a network program and creating a national standing joke.

Should they be exposed or tucked securely out of sight?   How should they be maintained?  Can they be maintained? How does it add or detract from a woman’s beauty?

But those appear to pander to the pedestrian. Conversations about breasts lend to deeper issues than those- the health, politics, the economy.

In the 1960s when the feminist movement became global, women taking off their bras and burning them was supposedly the major symbol of freedom and liberation from the social shakles of gender inequity. Women wearing corsets were said to be a male idea supposedly to control women’s sexuality and needed to be done away with. And though recent reports hold that bra burning in the era was more of a myth than a reality, it remains the political symbol of women empowerment of the era.

Meanwhile, women are taking their bras off for a completely different reason now: their health. Not only has recent research shown that bras reduce the shelf life of the proverbial twins and are more likely to contribute to their droopiness than otherwise, there is also a fear of tumours associated with the persistent wearing of breast shackles.

On the other hand, a new politics has emerged in contemporary times concerning the right of nursing women to nurse in public as well as the social effects. Activists have jumped on this global debates and it is likely to become a subject of political campaigns in the days to come.

But perhaps the most important conversation we ought to be having concerning breasts ought to be economical. In Nigeria, we have mastered the art of selling products with breasts, from Nollywood to the car industry. Beyond that, their potential in the fashion industry remains untapped. Victoria’s Secrets did $7.2 billion worth of business in 2015, and that is instructive.

Since the early 20th century when modern bra (brassiere), with its two separate cups, was developed from the corset in an attempt to manufacture a more comfortable underwear, the bra, has evolved from being a mere undergarment designed to support a woman’s breasts to an actual sexual garment.

Today, at least over 80% of women wear a bra, while the remaining either prefer camisoles or go without. In this part of the world especially, not wearing one is outrightly awkward-and even unacceptable. Hence, it’s progressively becoming a self-imposed obligation on mothers to buy their daughters one as soon as they hit puberty.

But should every woman wear a bra?

“I wouldn’t be wearing a bra if not for my mother because my breasts are on the small side. She tells me I must wear one as a woman. For me, any tight underwear that can help conceal my nipples is cool. But she wouldn’t let me,” Funmi, a lady in her late 20s confessed.

However, whether a woman must wear a bra, according to style experts, would depend, first of all, on the breasts size, and secondly, on the woman’s habits. Very large and heavy-breasted women usually need to wear bras for support, and they feel pain and discomfort if they don’t.

On the other hand, women with small-to-medium size breasts, if they are used to wearing bras, probably feel a little bit uncomfortable or self-conscious without them. But, this is believed to be more of a psychological issue and a question of habit.

Reasons therefore identified by women for wearing bras range from ensuring support for the breasts to dealing with the immoral or indecent feeling that comes with going braless in public, and even to hiding their nipples. Also, some simply wear bras because the unspoken rules of society so dictate, while others do so simply to prevent their breasts from sagging.

The bra industry

Whatever the reasons for wearing a bra, one fact remains that the bra manufacturing industry is a billion-dollar one and not even the “burn the bra” campaign of the Women’s Liberation Movement has succeeded in making any significant dent in the industry’s fortunes.

The changing fashions too have kept designers on their toes. Only a few years ago, women were going largely for the heavy pointed bras which now caters to a very minimal percentage of the urban market. But now, there is a drastic change in the styles, with new designs added each year.

Thus, these days, the bra serves not only as an under-garment but also a tool for seduction, as most women go as far as investing a fortune when they find a very, very ‘hot’ design and colour.

Affirming this was Debbie, a Port Harcourt-based Accountant who said she is in fact obsessed with beautiful bras and actually has her wardrobe full of them.

Little wonder lingerie designers would always smile to the bank even amid economic recession.

Right size, material

Unlike any other piece of clothing, finding the right bra size, as well as the right bra, poses a major difficulty to most women. Hence, some even grow old not knowing what exact bra size is appropriate for them. Experts however say the right bra is simply the type of bra that is tailored to your body as well as your lifestyle as bras come in many different styles-with many different features, from the sports bra to underwire, padded and non-padded, and to racerback. These bras however have different functions for everyday wear.

Another important aspect of the bra is how it feels on you. The right fabric could determine your overall feeling about the bra, which in turn leaves you uncomfortable for the rest of the day. When evaluating your bras or before shopping for a new one, it therefore makes sense to know how different fabrics feel on you; maybe too constraining or flimsy.

Health implications

Wearing a bra, especially a constricting one with underwires, and especially to bed, prevents normal lymphatic flow and would likely lead to anoxia (lower than normal oxygen content), which has been related to fibrosis and has been linked to increased cancer risk. Women who go bra-free have also reported no more lumpiness before monthly period, no hardiness and no pain.


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