by Tara Miller
In March, an important video was released in favor of ALL PEOPLE’s rights to go braless—not just without legal consequences, but without harassment, shame, embarrassment, or fear.
If you have breasts and you sometimes, often, or always feel more physically comfortable when not wearing a bra, you’ve probably experienced an internal monologue similar to the one I go through every day when getting dressed:
Let me be clear, before I continue, that I am not suggesting that all people with breasts do not or should not enjoy wearing bras. I’m also not here to argue that people shouldn’t want to wear bras. I firmly believe that people should be able to wear whatever they want to wear and whatever they feel comfortable (and sexy and beautiful and themselves) in—especially people with marginalized identities, including and not limited to, people of color, queer people, women, transgender people.
I am acknowledging that many people with breasts do not enjoy wearing bras and do so only in order to ensure that their nipples are not showing. When I asked a number of my fellow femme friends and friends with breasts whether they feel they have to wear bras all or most of the time, they said yes. When I asked why, they said because they don’t want their nipples to show. When I asked why they didn’t want their nipples to show, they said it was because of the negative ways they feared they’d be viewed or treated.
Personally, when I come home from a day out and about, the first thing I do after walking through my door is take off my bra. If it weren’t for the expectation that I don’t let my nipples show, I would probably never wear one, except when exercising, because my breasts hurt when they don’t have support while I’m working out.
Bras are uncomfortable for me. Even when fitted by a professional, I feel they constrict my breathing and movement. Even when I wash them routinely, they cause rashes around my breasts and nipples. While for some people, bras help prevent chafing, for me, they usually cause it.
I feel more physically free and comfortable when I go braless. But I am still often scared to do so.
The fact that many people are more likely to be harassed, shamed, and treated disrespectfully based on what they wear is ridiculous in itself. It is especially ridiculous that in the case of bras, this treatment is not directly related to whether or not someone’s nipples are hidden, but whether they have breasts and/or present or identify as a femme. It is important to acknowledge that people without breasts and/or who identify and/or present as masculine, are much less likely to be shamed for wearing shirts that show their nipples. People who identify as men are not legally prohibited from being shirtless in public in the United States, whereas people who identify as women are in many places.
Why is seeing the contour of certain people’s nipples in public so offensive? Why do I fear harassment when walking down the street while not wearing a bra? The answer is inextricably linked to the patriarchy’s control of femme bodies. Femmes constantly navigate the contradictory and impossible expectations of their bodies and the sexualization of breasts is no exception. As Jenicka McCrayer writes in this article, one of our main perception about breasts comes from the idea that “the female body exists solely for a man’s sexual pleasure and entertainment.”
The belief that people with breasts should hide their nipples originates in the idea that showing them is inherently sexual or inviting of sexual attention and arousal. As if they exist solely for the pleasure of those around them. While breasts are wonderful and a source of sexual pleasure for many people who have them, they have many non-sexual functions, similar to all parts of the human body.
If you ever find yourself unable to control your arousal because of a bare breast or are disgusted by a person’s nipples showing through their shirt or offended by someone publically breastfeeding a child, take a moment to educate yourself. Watch the video, read this article, and listen to the words of activist Amy Brangwyn: “Scared you’re gonna get an erection? Then close your damn eyes and turn in the other direction.”