Certainly this op/ed will be a lot more about bras than it will be about Islamic garments. However, it is interesting that women who choose to obscure their bodies are demonized by cultures who do the same, albeit in an entirely different way. For reasons that I would argue are far less important than religious beliefs– i.e. money, and possibly even fear of unrestrained womanhood– we are told to hide our bodies.
Jean-Denis Rouillon of the University of Besançon in France spent 15 years tracking hundreds of women to test whether the supposed health and beauty benefits of bra-wearing were real. A sports scientist, Rouillon would certainly have a keen interest in preventing long-term pain. Health benefits to not wearing a bra included a lack of backaches and an easier time breathing, as reported by some subjects. It was also shown that “denying gravity” to one’s chest does not decrease the slope of one’s breasts over time.
Many people dismiss the significance of this, despite the fact that it challenges a very profitable fashion industry niche. Lingerie stores rack in $12 billion annually in the US alone– to say nothing of the profits they turn at department stores and other venues. The lack of financial favors Rouillon would receive by releasing this study is notable in a world where only a few years ago a then-scientist was bribed by lawyers to fake a study saying that vaccinations cause autism.
What is really interesting about the financial implications of a study like this– on the severe off-chance that it is actually taken seriously despite its supposedly racy nature– is that it directly counters the marketing mantra that a woman never looks good enough. It also challenges a media ideal that has raked in trillions of dollars in clothes, surgery, cosmetics, and even the sex industry: the worship of youth. Bras don’t prevent sagging breasts after all? They actually cause them? And the way to prevent such results is to utilize the totally free method of simply doing nothing? Interesting.
At times the fashion and beauty industry is focused less on looking good, and more on prohibiting the display of the natural female form. Labial surgery is just one of the many disturbing trends in this area, as well as breast feeding being sexualized and prohibited in public areas. These two trends are emerging for the first time in history, but others have been around for ages.
For example, douching is not nearly as popular today as it was in the 1950s. This is due mostly to the fact that there are now more gynecologists, and better ones; there are doctors around to denounce myths regarding douching, and inform the public of infections that they can cause.
There are certainly modern equivalents, though, with the related body-shaming.
Obviously no one is arguing that one shouldn’t keep one’s genitals clean. Adult wipes actually cause pH imbalances and resulting odors/discharge, so cleanliness isn’t really what’s at stake here.
As for bras specifically, I’d liken them unto one trend that we grew out of and are now stuffing ourselves back into: girdles, minimizers, and the Spanx of it all. As a fashion lover, I am totally fine with the use of thin models; there isn’t necessarily anything unhealthy about them, and they are preferred by some designers to show the art off during fashion shows. Off the catwalk, however, the idea that one cannot wear clothes attractively without streamlining hips, breasts, and thighs makes one wonder if unrestrained womanhood is seen as threatening.
So basically, vive la France.
Tee pictured is available from Buy Olympia.