I’m a big advocate of Intuitive Eating, so at first glance, a bra that is designed to tell me to step away from the fridge sounds like a bad idea. But though it won’t be on the market any time soon, according to this report “a team of researchers at Microsoft have been working on a prototype of a smart bra embedded with sensors that track the wearer’s heart activity, so that it can monitor her emotional moods and essentially intervene when she’s stressed out and tempted to overeat.”
My favorite philosophy blog, Feminist Philosophers called this “the panopticon bra.” The panopticon is that prison design that leads the inmates to self-police because they never know when they are being watched. Feminists frequently claim that social norms around femininity have a panopticon-like hold on women’s lives. I myself have likened food tracking to the panopticon.
The Consumerist says of the bra:
Once those sensors detect a looming episode of overeating, they signal the woman’s smartphone which will then flash a warning telling her to back away from the fridge and make better diet decisions. Which, again, not sure it’s cool for a bra to be telling people how to live their lives, but then again, if people want that help, sure, give it.
Being a proponent of Intuitive Eating, I know that one of the most challenging aspects of it is learning to decipher the difference between emotional eating or habitual and mindless eating, on the one hand, and eating because we’re hungry, on the other hand.
The main goal of Intuitive Eating is to learn to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied. Period. And that’s a huge challenge for many people. Hence, the bra. The Consumerist is right to point out that men also struggle with mindless and emotional/stress-related eating. So a non-bra alternative would also have a market.
Sam asked me if I thought the bra advocated something like the opposite of Intuitive Eating because it does the monitoring for us and tells us when to pay attention. I think it could be a useful device for the aspiring Intuitive Eater because it encourages us to pause. I don’t see it as necessarily shaming or guilting us into not eating. Rather, I see it as potentially useful for helping us be more mindful.
I know, I know. Tracking is supposed to be the same — it encourages mindfulness. So in this sense, whether using the bra or using tracking, are we not engaged in panopticon-like self-policing? I guess to that I would say it depends whether you are using it as a “stick” or merely as a method of creating more awareness.
For me, tracking feels more stick-like than neutral. I can do it for short periods of time to gather information, but used over the longer term it feels like a life sentence of sorts. Similarly I can imagine that if the bra is used as an awareness tool on the path to becoming a more Intuitive Eater, then the eventual goal would be to dispense with it. It doesn’t need to have a panopticon-like hold on us.
In the end, for most of us, emotional eating is not a successful way to cope with stress. Becoming aware of it and learning to deal with stress in other ways is a worthwhile long term goal that goes hand in hand with learning to approach food more intuitively, to meet the body’s needs.
The smart bra won’t always be smarter than the person who wears it.