clothing · fitness · media · research

Sports Bra Drama

I usually pay little attention to sports bras, as I don’t seem to need much support and the one I wear is based on whether or not it is clean. Any love I have for sports bras comes wearing them exclusively since giving up underwire padded bras during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sam put it best here: “I’m still in love with lots of my formal work clothes but never again will I wear a bra that pokes in my ribs.”

I am a no-sports bra drama kind of person.

Bras Win Euros?

When I read the headline of the The Guardian article, “Secret support: did prescription bras help Lionesses to Euro 2022 glory?” I rolled my eyes at the sensational lead. Way to diminish the accomplishments of female soccer athletes. Would a male soccer player’s win be attributed to his underwear if he ran around in them after a winning game?

I have already written about how media commentary athletes’ bodies can reinforce gender stereotypes, undermine women’s athletic performance, or both. Our FIFI bloggers have also explored the topic of sports bras and athletic wear, highlighting the challenge of fit, double standards, and other gendered nonsense.

The Guardian’s headline led to more than sensational bra talk. The article described the findings of what little sports bra research is currently available: poorly fit bras can shorten women’s strides up to 4 cm. A seemingly small measurement, but “marginal gains” can add up to a big impact when it comes to athletic performance.

My Bra-Nundrum

When I am in a sports store, I walk right by the sports bras section, eyeing its wares with equal parts suspicion and derision. I am stubbornly uninformed about sports bras because I believe the industry is exploitative: the more women need these products the higher the price they seem to be charged for them. Brand logos inflate prices further. It’s all a bra racket to me.

But as I read article, my mind wandered to my own sad collection of stretched-out or over-tight sports bras I have acquired over the years. If I am honest, most of my off-off-the rack sports bras don’t fit or support me the way they probably should.

four sports bras on a table
Left to right: A black sports bra that is literally spandex; a grey sports bra from Goodwill (lost padding); a teal sports bra I have had since my 20s, a newer yellow sports bra that does not fit because it was an online impulse buy. Not shown: the one well-fitting sports bra own, worn wearing while taking this photo.

The article made me wonder: By not buying quality sports bras, am I forfeiting some comfort and performance out of principle? Did the purported bra drama lead me to realize that maybe I should invest in research-designed sports bras…because gender equality in sports research is a principle I believe in too?

The Need for (Some) Bra Drama?

It’s not new news (to me) that the Lionesses’ custom sports bras would fit better and be more supportive than those found in the bargain bin. And it’s also not newsworthy that the “prescription” outer- and under-wear articles for which elite athletes pay top dollar remove some impediments to their performance.

The real newsworthy story is the paucity of research on the fit, comfort, and support of women’s athletic gear, which includes sports bras. Women’s sports continue to be seen as second-class, right down to the lack of substantial research on an clothing item so clearly necessary for so many women athletes.

It’s a little sad that this disparity needs a woman athlete celebrating in a sports bra to draw attention to it. Perhaps The Guardian article is a fine piece of feminist sports journalism precisely because the sports bra drama is leveraged to spotlight the (lack of) research of athletic clothing design for women.

Let’s hope that an increase in research sports bra design eventually leads to better sports bra products for everyone—so that more than just top female athletes can perhaps get their 4 cm back when they play.

What’s your take? Does media sports bra drama usefully draw attention to the need for more research on women’s athletic clothing? What factors do you consider when you buy sports bras?

3 thoughts on “Sports Bra Drama

  1. I had no idea. Love this. I am rethinking my many annoying sports bras. How much time do I spend trying to pull them down again because my breasts are too small to keep the bottom band in place!?

    1. Mine are small too, so I didn’t think sports bras mattered much for me. But maybe not! Someone on FB suggested shops that specialize in post-mastectomy fittings b/c they know so much more about fit and support. Interesting!

  2. For me, a good sports bra is simply necessary. What I look for is a bra that keeps my breasts from bouncing too much but one that is also comfortable. To me, writing about the subject is basically a good thing, but it all depends on the tone and angle of the article.

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