bras · fitness

Calling all engineers: would you please make functional bras for all breast sizes?

Last week, the New York Times ran an article on how breast size affects how women exercise. Yes, a new study came out on this subject, and here’s what they found:

Breast size should be acknowledged as a potential barrier to women participating in physical activity. Strategies to assist women with large and hypertrophic breasts participate in all types and intensities of physical activity are needed so women can enjoy the health benefits associated with an active lifestyle.

I had to look up “hypertrophic”, which for our purposes means “very very large”. But the upshot is this: the researchers think we need “strategies” to “assist” large-breasted women so they can participate in physical activities.

Strategies? As in, a series of detailed plans, put together by crack teams of experts, collaborating across sectors, partnering together in service of a common goal?

People busily strategizing at a conference table, with lots of paperwork.
People busily strategizing at a conference table, with lots of paperwork.

Strategies? We don’t need strategies. We need functional sports bras for women with larger breasts. Why? Let’s go back to the NY Times article for more info.

Women with larger breasts, whatever their B.M.I., exercised less on average than those with smaller ones and were more likely to feel that their breast size interfered with moving.

The upshot is that women should be encouraged to learn how to find and fit a high-quality sports bra or swimsuit with adequate breast support, says Celeste Coltman, now an assistant professor at the University of Canberra in Australia, who led the study as part of her doctoral dissertation.

Some large-breasted women may need to wear two bras simultaneously to gain enough support for comfortable running and high-impact activities, Dr. Coltman and her collaborators say.

Dr. Coltman also suggests that large-breasted women who have not been exercising consider trying low-impact activities like walking and, perhaps even better, swimming, if they can find a comfortable swimsuit with a built-in bra.

Let’s take a moment to think about this advice. I’ll take each in turn.

1.Encourage women to learn how to find and fit a high-quality sports bra or swimsuit with adequate breast support

I’m taking a breath right now so I don’t break something. As a large breasted and physically active woman, I don’t need “encouragement”; I need a bra that is 1) my size; 2) fits me; and 3) preferably doesn’t cost a fortune. Recently, I embarked on my latest search for a sports bra that fits me, because I’ve gotten a bit larger-breasted and broader-backed in the past few years (thanks, menopause!), and my old bras just don’t fit. My size is now 42DD, which is means most sports bras don’t come in my size. But I am lucky to be in the position that there are (out there in internet shopping land) more options for me than there are for lots of women who have larger breasts and/or broader back sizes.

So what did I do? I went to some bra websites and ordered a total of about 10 different style and brand sports bras. I tried all of them on, and am thrilled to say that I found two models I really like. YAY! However, this took time and money. Lots of people don’t have the privilege of either. I managed to return the non-fitting ones (whew!), and, for the moment, am feeling happy and supported in my physical activity. But for women with less time, less money, larger breasts, larger bra size, or other features that I don’t know about, this isn’t a strategy open to them.

Let’s move on to the next piece of advice.

2.Some large-breasted women may need to wear two bras simultaneously to gain enough support for comfortable running and high-impact activities.

I’ve never tried/had to try this, and am grateful, because lots of women who commented on the NY Times article have tried this and do this. And it’s not comfortable– think sweating, chafing, etc. Finally, it doesn’t even work for many women. So no help there.

Now, the final piece of advice:

3. Large-breasted women who have not been exercising should consider trying low-impact activities like walking and, perhaps even better, swimming, if they can find a comfortable swimsuit with a built-in bra.

So, the researchers are trying to tell us (the women) that we should give up on higher impact physical activities in favor of walking? Not that there’s anything wrong with walking, but sometimes you just gotta run and jump and dance and spring. And why should these delightful movements be denied to anyone who wears more than a C cup? Then there’s the swimming comment: “if they can find a comfortable swimsuit with a built-in bra”. Passing the buck to the swimsuit manufacturers is flat-out disingenuous. I’ve never found a swimsuit with a built-in bra that was comfortable. I wear ones with minimal shelf-bras, which I happen to find comfortable. But not everyone does. By the way, I blogged about swimsuit designs here. So there is some progress being made, but there are still the issues of limited size ranges, limited options, and cost.

So, where does this leave us? We need some entrepreneurs and engineers to team up and provide us with more sports bra options for women with larger sized breasts. Also, we would like more sports bra options that don’t cost $80. Or, come up with other options for supporting us in our physical lives. What do I mean here? Innovation in breast-support designs. It just seems to me not to be an intractable problem.

Does anyone know of companies/startups that are working on interesting or new designs for breast support/sports bras for larger breasted women? Let us know– we’d love the information.

4 thoughts on “Calling all engineers: would you please make functional bras for all breast sizes?

  1. I’m lucky enough not to have this issue, but yeah, the advice really rubbed me the wrong way, especially about the the swim suits. It’s incredibly hard to find swim suits that fit in the first place, and good luck to you if your body is shaped in any way different from what the designers had in mind, especially if you’re looking for a training suit.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 34H-er over here, and I definitely have to double up on bras if I’m jiggling about in any way. It’s not comfortable but necessary, and the red welts post-workout are real. Swimsuit wise it’s also difficult, but I found an amazing all-in-one from Macy’s that has a boob shelf and thick straps for comfy support that proves you don’t need a built-in bra, just something well designed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I trained trampoline in the 1990s, tried the double sports bra thing and it was awful. Breathing is an important part of exercise and wearing 2 sports bras made that very difficult. These days I’m loving the shock absorber line of sports bras that provide separate compartments for each breast. Uniboob style sports bras always result in my breasts conspiring to escape up the centre.

    Liked by 1 person

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