This week I have been mostly (accidentally) researching the subject of non-conformity.
For fun, I re-watched a short clip of Russell Brand dumbfounding an Australian talk show host with his verbal antics and new paradigm thinking. His main theme: "You cannot define yourself by other external coordinates"
The same day I caught a reading of Radio 4's Book of The Week "In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom". This is Yeonmi Park's account of her quest for freedom, and in the bit I caught she explained how, amidst the repressive culture and controlled media, she managed to watch a bootlegged DVD of the film Titanic with Kate Winslet and Leonardo de Caprio. She said something like "Watching Titanic was amazing because at that tie living in North Korea we couldn't think according to our own hearts or experiences, and it showed me that people were free to shape their own destiny!"
Then I read an article by rejuvenation and health expert David Wolfe (aka David Avocado Wolfe) called "Scientists Have Just Told Women To Stop Wearing Bras: This is Why". The article adds to an increasing body of scientific evidence* about the health benefits of not wearing a bra. It includes anecdotal evidence about the comfort and freedom of ditching the bra in the form of a vlog by an engaging, if slightly rambling, yoga teacher. She makes the valid point that for smaller-breasted women there is really no physical need to use breast support and that it's purely a social habit that needs re-thinking. She calls for us to "get over" the sexualisation of "unbra-ed breasts" by not wearing bras to hide or exaggerate breast shapes and sizes.
The very next day I read an excellent letter - penned by a woman who had opted for no reconstruction after breast cancer mastectomies - to her male plastic surgeon, who had told her she would "never be beautiful" without reconstruction.
And now, today, I have watched, again via Flat and Fabulous, a short and powerful film made by another woman who chose to stay flat after surgery, and who says, "The visual representation of this body type is very important, so that no woman feels like they need to hide".
And then I started thinking. I thought again about the main reason I wear a bra on occasion - to conform.
In the society I live in I'm told I look best with a shaped, rounded and lifted upper chest. So I do it sometimes, despite some evidence that it may not be best for my physical health, and my own growing suspicion that it may not be good for my mental health.
I say this because, having heard Russell, having listened to the yoga teacher, having read the survivor's letter to her surgeon, having watched Melanie Testa's video, I feel that wearing a padded bra can often misrepresent my real self, and feed into a need to conform to societal expectations which objectify women and value us according to breast size. Which makes me feel low. I'd prefer to shine just as I am, not as somebody else's version of me. Real, perfectly imperfect, without additions or subtractions... just me.
You see I have a flattish chest. There's nothing wrong with me, I'm simply not very big in the boob department, and our society (just like the cosmetic surgeon) would say "there's room for improvement".
I have emails sent to me from "Max Cleavage" bra companies; I see countless films and videos where bigger-breasted women are the attractive heroines (I'm aware of photo-shopping but still, I see what is presented), and I was once offered a substantial sum of money by a model agent to have a boob job (when I was a skinny, 5'11" fashion model in the early 90's, lacking in just one crucial aspect of Barbie's body). I declined.
Since then I've read about young women getting breast augmentation as 18th Birthday gifts from parents, and about bottom implants and vaginal surgery - all for cosmetic reasons. And, despite being a 'live and let live' kinda woman, it worries me. A lot.
Apart from the facts that these procedures are operations (as recon is) and come with all the risks of an operation, they also imply a huge lack of natural self-esteem on the part of the girls and women involved. Young women are having these (often irreversible) operations done to conform to a standard of beauty which is totally external and has nothing to do with their own valuing of themselves, which was probably lost as young as the age of 9 or 10 (apparently the age when female self-esteem peaks!).
Here at Loose Debra we remain sure that our website is mainly directed at smaller-breasted/no-chested women and 'free spirits': none of whom will miss the support, and would really rather not be wearing a padded and tight contraption for the benefit of other people and not themselves. Who is to say that every woman should have full and noticeable breasts? Who is to dictate our standards of body beauty? We rather agree with Taryn Brumfitt of the Body Image Movement on this issue (watch her great Vlog here) who says "Your body is not an ornament, it's the vehicle to your dreams".
So, we encourage women who feel they have the choice, to make it. Going bra-free is not necessarily the culturally accepted norm, but can be done without attracting unwanted attention, and can lead to feelings of personal freedom, comfort and, of course, an inspired fashion sense. If, however, you feel you need a bra because as one reader put it "these 'EE' puppies are not bouncing around free. It would be uncomfortable and even unglamorous!!", then go ahead, strap on, hook up, feel safe. The choice, lovely women with all sorts of different chests, is yours.
I'm glad to have got that off my chest, glad to be able to refer to my own judgement and not someone else's, and glad to contribute to the much-needed conversation about visually representing and honouring very different, very real, female body types.
In the words of Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda...
"Our lives are our own. It is not for someone else to dictate to us how we should live them. All that awaits those who allow themselves to be continually swayed by what other people say or do is unhappiness. We simply need to have the self-belief to be able to say: "This is right. This is the path I will follow. I am content."
Karen Dobres, Chief Freedom Fighter, Loose Debra
*Apart from Wolfe's article there is also have a book on the topic called "Is Your Bra Killing You?" by Chuck Messinger, and another called "Dressed To Kill" by Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer. All these quote clinical studies which have found that bra-wearing can increase the chances of disease, and also can encourage breast tissue and ligaments in younger women to lose their natural strength, elasticity and tone. FYI, larger medical organisations report that "Internet email rumours and at least one good book have suggested that bras cause cancer by obstructing lymph flow. There is no good scientific or clinical basis for this claim" to quote the American Cancer Society. And the NHS brand the link between wearing a bra and raised levels of breast cancer risk an "urban myth". Let's make up our own minds :-)