Sydney Ross Singer, Medical Anthropologist
Soma Grismaijer, Medical Anthropologist
Ken L. Smith, Breast Health Facilitator
March 31, 2022
Of all the body parts, the breasts would probably have the most to say, if they only could. But even if breasts could talk, would women listen?
In modern western culture, breasts have taken on more than their biological role as mammary glands to feed babies. Breasts are cultural icons, sexualized and fetishized through the use of a special garment constructed to alter the shape and position of the breasts on the chest wall, to limit breast movement, and to hide the nipples. The garment, of course, is the brassiere, or bra.
But how do the breasts feel in a bra?
Are they comfortable being compressed, constricted, and reshaped? When a bra leaves marks in the skin, it is from compression. This interferes with circulation in the breasts of blood and lymph. The result is pain, cysts, and ultimately, breast cancer. (See references, below.)
Of course, most women are introduced to bra usage when they reach puberty, as a rite of passage into womanhood and a future of needing to manage their breast appearance. The “training bra” breaks the girls in, as they get used to the discomfort of having a tight band around the chest. After that, girls don’t think about the discomfort so much, or at least they learn to subordinate their breast discomfort to the mandates of fashion and society.
In other words, girls become desensitized to the feeling of their breasts through the use of bras. The chronic constriction of daily bra usage, however, does take a toll on breast health, leading to lymphatic stagnation, or lymph-stasis, with associated tissue toxification and eventual deterioration.
You can’t have healthy breasts if you have poor circulation from wearing tight bras daily. Circulate or deteriorate. The choice is each woman’s, although the fashion industry would like to make that choice for all women, turning breasts into fashion accessories. Meanwhile, the breasts are crying for help, but are told to just shut up and put up with it.
Culture has usurped the breasts for fashion.
Women are culturally compelled to wear bras to be socially accepted. A fetish garment for the breasts that serves no biological purpose, and can also cause harm, is the standard of dress for women, even for professional women whose work has no relevance to a breast fetish. The cultural programming needed to achieve this remarkable commitment to breast obsession has resulted in a cultural blind spot to the hazards of wearing tight bras.
As a result, the bra has become the leading cause of breast disease. Circulation of blood and lymph are essential for health, and any tight garment interferes with circulation. Women wear bras daily, often for 12 or more hours and sometimes 24/7. Over time, the constriction takes its toll.
And since bra use is universal throughout the culture, it’s hard to find bra-free women with whom to compare breast health with those who use bras. In order to see the problems caused by wearing bras, you need to have a comparison with bra-free breasts.
How can you tell if a bra is causing harm?
There is one real way. Stop wearing a bra and see how it makes you feel. If bras have been harming you in some way, you will feel better when you stop wearing them.
Eliminating the bra is the basis for the International Bra-Free Study, which we began in 2018. Our goal is to create a cohort of women who are bra-free, and to document their bra-free experience. We ask about changes they feel in their breasts and overall health, their relationships, self-esteem, and even fashion sense. Participation in this ongoing study is free and available online at BraFreeStudy.org.
In the Study, we ask participants to stop wearing bras, and we then follow their progress. We now have participants from Albania, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Central African Republic, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Curacao, England (UK), France, Germany (Deutschland), Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands (Holland), New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Scotland, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan (ROC), and the US.
We have reported before on the early results from this Study. Many women shared that becoming bra-free was life-changing, and life-saving. We want to share the comments of some of these women, who have rediscovered their breasts since freeing them from bras.
These comments are presented as written. They were in reply to open-ended questions about their experiences after becoming bra-free.
I did have slight breast pain when I first went bra-free, but it disappeared within a month of going bra-free.
My breasts seem slightly firmer than they were 6 months ago.
I now find wearing a bra to be so uncomfortable & restrictive, I find I care less what people think. My comfort and freedom to breathe are more important than what thoughts others may or may not have about my body. But I have to admit, I do still feel self conscious about nipple protrusion and bouncing breasts, depending on the circumstances. More & more often now, I find myself saying.. ‘’who cares” when those thoughts come up. “Women have breasts, these are mine and they move when I do, if you happen to notice that & you find it unusual, then get over it!” Because I now find a bra so uncomfortable, I have had to become more confident. To keep my confidence up, I have my mantra – women have breasts, these are mine. If you don’t like the way they look, that is definitely not my problem. I have gained a lot of self confidence that I would not otherwise have found.
I can tell you that I have been staying bra free. Last fall I attended a wedding and thought I needed a bra with the dress. When I took the bra off I was in pain. I vowed never to try that again. Visible nipples versus days of pain is worth being braless. I dress conservatively for work as it is a more corporate office, but no bras.
I joined a gym with my husband. I was wearing a looser fitting sports bra, but have been trying it without a bra. Since I joined the facebook group “Free the Boobies” I asked what would be good to wear to the gym. It was suggested to go braless. Now I wear a stretch fit tank top and it has been great. I am going to continue doing this at the gym. Treadmill, elliptical, weights and all.
Since it has been winter and a cold spring I have worn bulkier layers. So with regards to day clothing no one really sees me being braless. I believe as the weather warms it will be a bit more apparent. In the past couple of years I have worn an additional layer (a tank top or Camisole), but this year I want to try one layer as it is cooler in the heat and sweat evaporates. I also wonder what people’s reactions will be like. No one has said anything to me at the gym to me so far. It has been a great experience. Let’s see what people say in public outside of the gym.
With regards to how I feel, it has been wonderful. No back pain, the straps of bras, particularly racer back sports bras cut into my shoulder muscles and cause shoulder pain. I use to go to physical therapy for it. If only I had known what I know now about bralessness and breast health. So perhaps going to the gym and ditching the sports bra is a good move. Being is C cup is not large, but big enough. The gym and the right gym clothes is still a bit of a challenge for me sometimes.
I have noticed since going braless the ptosis that I had from wearing a bra (where they looked flat on top) has reduced greatly. I have a lift in my breast tone, and lifting weights along with other exercises helps greatly. I have noticed less monthly pain in the breast. With less lumpiness. So this has been a very positive change. Physically I feel like I look better too. Some of my friends can’t believe I am braless. However, with that being said turning 47 this year I may be starting peri-menopause. My breasts have been very sore in particular the nipples. Nipple massage as well as breast massage is greatly helpful. I can’t imagine wearing a bra with this soreness.
It feels wonderful to be bra-free. I have been working on going bra free for workouts, and intend to try it bike riding.
When I use to wear bras and would take them off the top of my breast would be almost flat. They are not flat anymore and I attribute it to having a braless lifestyle.
I feel much more confident now. Breast massage has become something important for breast health. And I feel better about wearing clothing I might not have chosen when I started going braless.
I had physical therapy, but realized it was the sports bra cutting into my neck and causing shoulder pain.
I occasionally get migraines which are associated with monthly hormone levels. But regular headaches were a result of my bra causing pain in my shoulders and tensing my back and neck., the result was headaches. Those are virtually gone.
I actually like the (breast) movement and it is less now that my ligaments are stronger.
I am more confident, I like my breasts now, and I want to advocate for girls and women to understand the link between bras and cancer and how easy, rewarding and healthful it can be to feel this comfortable. I am more empowered now too.
I am more noticibly uncomfortable, every time I put a bra on I wonder why we (society/women) do this to ourselves _
extremely uncomfortable, restricting, unnatural
I like that I am overall healthier and putting my body first. Not putting a society expectation for how my boobs should look above my health is important. That being said, my brain still associates perky boobs with high cleavage as desirable. So unfortunately, I don’t “like” the shape of my boobs.
A negative side effect that i have noticed and i do think should be passed along for bra free people to take note of is… my posture. I allowed myself to use my posture to “hide” my chest. This was totally subconscious, i have only recently notticed and made the conection. I had originally assumed that bra free would hep my posture, as im sure it can. However, with the insecurity i have had with my nipples showing in public, i believe i started hunching and bringing my shoulders forward a bit. In reality I know this doesn’t actually hide anything, however, lifting or holding my chest upright seemed too bold of a posture.
I have forgotten I’m not wearing a bra
My husband doesn’t care if I go bra less,_he actually likes it, “Free the Ta Ta’s”
I’m very uncomfy in one (a bra) now from those months of bra-freeness so not sure what I’d do if I had to wear one! We went to my brother’s funeral in Jan & I didn’t wear one & was most comfy with a warm sweater over my top; didn’t even think of being bra-less cause I’m so used to it now & don’t even consider wearing one, even for something like that.
All is well with me and my bra-free boobs! best thing I ever did, should have done it years ago.
I wore a loose, lacy, non-supportive bra that was still tight around the band. It felt HORRIBLE! I went back home and took off the bra and changed my outfit.
I’m six months in now. My breasts have gotten much larger, I’d say 2 cup sizes. I’ve had no problem with pain or soreness. They look rounder, which actually feels less obvious than before (they’re sort of a “typical” breast-in-bra shape now).
Do you currently experience breast pain or cysts?No, but a couple of months ago I had breast pain and I thought it was because I wasn’t wearing a bra. So I went to bed with one and it only got worse. I decided then to never wear one again. Haven’t worn one since. I’d wear a bra just to go out but realized it was too tight.
When I stopped eating meat I thought that’s why my breasts were not engorged any more but it was because I stopped wearing a bra all the time.
I have always had back pain from my endometriosis so this has not changed.
I did have a problem with one of my back ribs popping out and my chiropractor mentioned it could be from my bra. This was a few years ago and I had bought two new bras which were tighter than my old ones. The problem continued for a few years, even into my early bra free days. The problem seems now to have gone away – my rib stays where it should 🙂
I haven’t seen too much family due to the pandemic, but in the past when I saw my mother she would comment. Things such as, “I can tell you are not wearing a bra.” I have however shared with her the link between bras and breast cancer and she is wearing them less and less. My father will comment about her not wearing a bra (not me though), as he “likes the way her shape is in a bra” and she has told him too bad 🙂
Fantastic!! Freeing!! I cannot believe I was talked into wearing a bra!
I’ve been braless for 20+ years; as a human freedom from constriction is my right !!
I LOVE not having painful breasts anymore! It’s usually only the week before my cycle now! Thank you!!
I hadn’t realized exactly how confining a bra really is!
I am much more active without the restriction a bra causes. I feel relaxed and therefore am less tense with others.
I started wearing a bra at 10 years old. I was frankly sick of wearing them. They really are not comfortable. I try to hide the fact that I don’t wear them because I know it’s not socially acceptable….but at this point, I don’t think wearing a bra should be socially acceptable. You know, after I stopped wearing them, I realized that there had been a lot of tension in my chest. I felt all bound up in the upper half of my body. Removing the bra from my life (mostly) has not just freeing in terms of just the breast, I feel freer all over.
I have been bra free my entire life. I can’t stand wearing one. I am 60 years old
I LOVE being bra-free.
I’ve definitely noticed that my breasts do not seem to bounce as much bra free as they used to…..either that or I’m just more used to not wearing a bra now, either way going without the bra is so much more comfortable and I wish I’d done it sooner.
I love that they no longer feel like they’re moving/flopping around as much. Maybe I’m not as self conscious as I used to be also.
I’m loving it. I’m glad I finally took the plunge to do it. Wish I hadn’t waited so long.
I love having pain free shoulders and no boob sweat around the band.
I had been bra free before discovering this study (almost 3 years now).
I had cysts in my breasts, infected cysts in my armpits, shoulder pain, digestion issues and regular shortness of breath.
All these symptoms faded away when I stopped wearing a bra.
I have less pain in my breasts during my menstruation period now compared to 6 months ago
A year after going bra free (in 2017) my cysts disappeared
My nipples are higher. Breast are not sagging at all.
I had regular acid reflux, gas and constipation. No longer.
Overall I feel less self conscious. Also, the strategies given by your bra-free website helped.
You know that overwhelming sense of relief you have when you get home after a long day and remove the bra? I have that all day now.
Much more comfort. People look. Some judge. Overall the experience teaches me to get over other peoples’ opinions of me.
Mainly I feel reassured that my health is better protected and I feel grateful for this.
I took the decision to ditch the bra when I came home one day and found a deep wound due to the wire jamming in my skin. General discomfort, short breath, back pain, itchiness around the breasts.
No more feeling like there are grains inside (like pressing on a bag of rice). Now they feel smooth and soft to the touch, more “fluidy”. They are bouncier, look fuller and higher on my chest.
My overall appearance has improved (posture). My breathing has gotten lot better. Less back and shoulder pain. Self esteem and confidence are way up allowing me to be more socially confident. Don’t feel so restricted while moving around. my postures improved leaps and bounds. My breathings alot better and deeper now.
I have what looks like stretch marks underneath each breast & they kept developing while I was wearing a bra. One of those marks was inverted & growing into one of my breasts. Within the first year of not wearing any bra that hole that was created is totally gone. The smaller looking stretch marks are getting better but I think it will take a lot longer than the most indented one was. These I have now are flat like putting a bandaid over your skin but they are getting lighter & smaller if that makes sense.
My breast health now? Fine. Just fine. Not floppy. Not saggy, Not mammoth. No aches, no pains, no weird sensations. Just nice.
I am back to being 100% bra-free as I went back to wearing a bra for about 6 months ago because I wanted to wear a white blouse. Around September 1st of this year, I decided being bra-free was a much better choice and that is what I plan to do from now on. It feels so much better without the straps falling down and the tightness around my chest.
At first when I was bra-free, I was concerned over my nipples showing through my blouses, but I tried to wear a scarf or not look down at my breast to cause other people to look at them. Now, I realize that people are so busy that they are not paying any attention to my nipples and if they are they don’t say anything. I don’t worry about them protruding through my blouse anymore. It feels so much better to be bra-free and my nipples feel free, too.
My bra-free experience is great and I do not plan to every put on another bra. It is the best way of life and I plan to stay bra-free.
The best thing that I told one friend to become bra-free that our grandmothers did not wear a bra and they had less health problems than a society that dictates that you must wear a bra to be accepted. Men don’t wear bras; so why should I?
Bra-free has mad me more confident, has helped my back because I stand up straighter, and has made my feel better that I can make important decisions that affect my health and to not worry what anyone else thinks.
These comments are representative of the kind of experiences women have been having since becoming bra-free. Fortunately, comfort is now important to young women, who are ditching the bra. Sexist fashions which demean women and cause them discomfort and harm are now being seen for what they are. Today’s woman is more independent and self-confident, and she does not think her identity should be dependent on her breast shape, especially at the expense of her comfort and health. With bra-free fashions being the latest trend, lingerie companies try luring back customers with less constrictive designs.
But too many women have now heard the call of their breasts, asking for freedom from the bra, for the trend to reverse. Once women feel for themselves what it’s like to be free of bras, they rarely go back. They have become empowered. They have experienced freedom. They have come to hear the voice of their now bra-free breasts quoting Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and shouting, “Free at Last! Free at Last! Thank God Almighty, I’m Free at Last!”
SOME STUDIES THAT SUPPORT THE BRA-CANCER LINK
(Taken from BrasAndBreastCancer.org.)
- 1991 Harvard study (CC Hsieh, D Trichopoulos (1991). Breast size, handedness and breast cancer risk. European Journal of Cancer and Clinical Oncology 27(2):131-135.). This study found that, “Premenopausal women who do not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users…”
- 1991-93 U.S. Bra and Breast Cancer Study by Singer and Grismaijer, published in Dressed To Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras (Second Edition, Square One Publishers, 2018). Found that bra-free women have about the same incidence of breast cancer as men. 24/7 bra wearing increases incidence over 100 times that of a bra-free woman.
- Singer and Grismaijer did a follow-up study in Fiji, published in Get It Off! (ISCD Press, 2000). Found 24 case histories of breast cancer in a culture where half the women are bra-free. The women getting breast cancer were all wearing bras. Given women with the same genetics and diet and living in the same village, the ones getting breast disease were the ones wearing bras for work.
- A 2009 Chinese study (Zhang AQ, Xia JH, Wang Q, Li WP, Xu J, Chen ZY, Yang JM (2009). [Risk factors of breast cancer in women in Guangdong and the countermeasures]. In Chinese. Nan Fang Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao. 2009 Jul;29(7):1451-3.) found that NOT sleeping in a bra was protective against breast cancer, lowering the risk 60%.
- 2011 a study was published, in Spanish, confirming that bras are causing breast disease and cancer. It found that underwired and push-up bras are the most harmful, but any bra that leaves red marks or indentations may cause disease.
- 2015 Comparative study of breast cancer risk factors at Kenyatta National Hospital and the Nairobi Hospital J. Afr. Cancer (2015) 7:41-46. This study found a significant bra-cancer link in pre-and post-menopausal women.
- 2016 Wearing a Tight Bra for Many Hours a Day is Associated with Increased Risk of Breast Cancer Adv Oncol Res Treat 1: 105. This is the first epidemiological study to look at bra tightness and time worn, and found a significant bra-cancer link.
- 2016 Brassiere wearing and breast cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis World J Meta-Anal. Aug 26, 2015; 3(4): 193-205 This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to evaluate the association between 8 areas of brassiere-wearing practices and the risk of breast cancer. Twelve case-control studies met inclusion criteria for review. The meta-analysis shows statistically significant findings to support the association between brassiere wearing during sleep and breast cancer risk.
- 2018 Lymph stasis promotes tumor growth Journal of Dermatological Science “(t)hese findings come as no surprise to us who for a long time have been aware that alterations in regional lymphatic flow may produce dysregulation in skin immune function and consequent oncogenesis. In fact, since 2002, our team has held the view that lymphedematous areas are immunologically vulnerable sites for the development of neoplasms as well as infections and immune-mediated diseases. In recent years, increasing evidence has confirmed this assumption.”
- 2019 Wearing Brassiere – A Less Well Known Factor Associated with Breast Cancer in Women Nurs Midwifery J 2019, 16(12) 891-901. Wearing of brassiere is also a lifestyle-related habit that has sparked many debates today as a risk factor for breast cancer in women. This study was conducted to determine the behavioral Habits of wearing brassiere in women with and without breast cancer. Conclusion: The findings of this study revealed differences in some behavioral habits of wearing brassieres in women with and without breast cancer. So, in preventive interventions for breast cancer, women’s education should be considered in order to be aware of the proper behavioral habits in wearing brassieres.
Join the International Bra-Free Study at BraFreeStudy.org.