Liberation, two nipples at a time (Guest post)

When all the fashion magazines featured women with hands (their own or others’) covering their breasts, a thought flickered that hands are much more comfortable than the average bra. Hiding women’s breasts, one way or the other, is standard media fare, and of course in some places women aren’t allowed to go topless in public, a clear gender disparity.

Fashion in the last few decades has even come to erase to nipple that might protrude from a shirt — again only for women like Serena Williams, not for men like Andy Murray.

It’s become really hard to find a non-padded bra, even for sports. Yet it’s seriously unpleasant to exercise with sweaty padding. Does anyone really believe in “breathable padding”? Sorry Victoria’s Secret, but my skepticism was well placed.

However, in recent years fashion has shown glimpses of the saucy braless 70s, including the bralette and bandeaus, all pleasant options for small-breasted women. The news even declares that bralessness is in fashion.

Many of us may sneer “how nice for you!” Bralessness and even lightweight bra alternatives are not realistic choices. Many heavy breasted women are simply not comfortable and even experience back pain without support from a bra. Sizes small, medium, and large rarely do the work we need them to do either. Sports bras tend to be sized that way and create a special kind of hell. We end up pinched and unsupported on top of being sweaty.

So I suggest the new move away from bras and padded bras may be good for all women. It marks a greater diversity in the types of breast support and sports tops available for women. The less women are expected to hide our breasts the easier it will be for us to demand comfortable functional support.

Freeing the Nipple One T-Shirt at a Time (or Hairy Man Nipples For Equality)

mannipsWhen I was 9 I had a pretty summer dress that my mum bought for me to take on holidays. It was a little sheer and covered in brightly coloured daisies. I loved it. One day a friend of the family scolded my mum for letting me wear it because you could vaguely make out the shape of my nipples. Similar things happened throughout my teenage years. I remember going to my first Blue Light Disco (a police coordinated and supervised event for Melbourne youth) and taping bandaids over my nipples so that no one could see them through my top. I remember buying shirts a few sizes two big so that no one could make out the prepubescent shape of my chest – nipples slightly protruding, big enough to make me uncomfortable, but certainly too small for a bra.

These experiences are common for many women in Western cultures. We are told to cover up, to be ashamed (of our sexuality, of our bodies), and to protect our value and purity…to, among other things, cover up our nipples. Strikingly though, we are simultaneously told not to be prudes, not to be frigid, to embrace our sexuality, to let our hair down, to have fun, to give it up…and sometimes to flaunt our damn nipples!

Like so many things that shape the female experience we are caught in a double bind where playing by the rules of a male dominated framework means that we just can’t win!

But this is nothing new. Feminists have been saying this for years.   So, why rehash old arguments? Why are we still trying to burn our bras when we all know what the message is? The fact of the matter is that we don’t all know it. With new generations coming through and movements like this , and this , it is important that we continue to promote and reaffirm the message of equality.

The Free the Nipple movement is one way to do this. The movement was started by filmmaker and activist, Lina Esco. Her aim was to raise awareness of the double standards and hypocrisy regarding the censorship and sexualisation of nipples that is present in American culture and law (on the one hand, men’s nipples–fleshy, often wrinkly, located on the chest–are permissible to expose, and on the other, women’s nipples–fleshy, often wrinkly, located on the chest–are not). Esco’s ultimate aim is to promote the decriminalisation, and normalisation of publically exposed female nipples. She says ”Women should be able to do what they want with their bodies. In some states, women can get jailed or fined for being topless… “Free the nipple” is simply about having the choice’’ (See Should we free the nipple?).

On the surface the Free the Nipple movement is a light-hearted, fun message (because nipples really are fun, aren’t they?) that invites new audiences into a deeper and important discussion about feminism and equality. This is why I will wear my big hairy man nipples shirt proudly on campus this week, and why I will discuss with my students the importance of equality, respect and, of course, nipples.

For more nipple goodness see Sam B’s post Padded Sports Bras and Nipple Phobia?

Nanette Ryan is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Georgetown University. She is primarily interested in moral and political philosophy, epistemology, and their intersection. When not philosophizing, she enjoys working out, traveling, eating good food, and wearing t-shirts with nipples on them.      

 

Why I’m happy about having a double mastectomy without reconstruction (Guest post)

woman's chest with healing words

I have breast cancer in my right breast, and in a week I’m undergoing a double mastectomy without reconstruction. I couldn’t be happier. Here’s why.

For many woman dealing with breast cancer, the thought of losing one or both breasts is terrifying. Often our sense of femininity, attractiveness and sexuality is tied up in having breasts, and we don’t want to imagine life without them.

A few weeks before I found a lump in my right breast, I came across this article from the Wall Street Journal, which reported on what doctors are calling an alarming trend of women choosing to have both breasts removed after being diagnosed with cancer in one breast (dubbed the “Angelina Effect” after actor Angelina Jolie, who had a highly publicized double mastectomy in 2013 after discovering she carried a genetic mutation that increased her odds of developing breast cancer to 85%). Only a tiny fraction of breast cancer patients carry a genetic mutation for breast cancer, and with survival rates for lumpectomy-with-radiation matching those for mastectomy, there is a concern that women are undergoing drastic surgeries for no good medical reason.

I found the article interesting, but I also knew without a doubt that if I were ever diagnosed with breast cancer, I would want both breasts removed. (It just so happens that, according to the article, I fit the demographic that is most often making this choice: educated, middle-class white women.)

Little did I know, however, that sh!t was about to get real.

Two or three days before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I watched the Netflix documentary Tig, about American comedian Tig Notaro. The documentary details her life in the year following her own breast cancer diagnosis.

Tig had cancer in both breasts, and a double mastectomy. She’s a small, slim lesbian with a boyish style, and as I watched the film I found myself envying her breastlessness. Knowing there was a possibility that I might have cancer myself, I thought about how great it would be to not have breasts anymore.

It was then that I decided that if my own breast biopsy came back positive, I would not only ask for a double mastectomy, but I would also forgo reconstruction (implanting artificial breasts in my chest). My biggest worry was that they would recommend a lumpectomy to try and preserve my right breast, which I didn’t want – or that they wouldn’t allow me to have a double mastectomy, leaving me stuck with one large breast and nothing on the other side.

I’ll be totally honest here: I’ve never really liked having breasts.

I’m a cis-gendered, heterosexual woman who loves being a woman, and enjoys being considered attractive and desirable… but for as long as I’ve had breasts, they’ve been really large. At age 12, they were 36C’s. A few months ago, before I started losing weight (on purpose, not due to my cancer), they were 36G’s. Do you know how hard it is to find bras that size? For years I’ve crammed my girls into 36D’s, with spillover at the top and sides that would make a bra fitter weep. The one time I did get a proper bra fitting, the store didn’t have any bras in stock in my size. Frustrating.

I became a teenager in 1980, when the ideal body in North America was Brooke Shields in a pair of Calvin Klein jeans. Shields was 15 at the time, and had a figure like a boy. Slim hips, flat chest. My 13-year-old-self felt like a freak by comparison, with rounded hips and full breasts.

This post isn’t about body bashing – as an adult woman I eventually learned to love and appreciate my curves – but about recognizing that I was living in a body that didn’t match the cultural ideal, and moreover felt limiting to me.

I danced a lot as a teenager – my high school even offered proper dance classes as an alternative to Phys. Ed. – and my large breasts needed extra support for all that leaping around. By university, when I took daily fitness classes at the university community centre and was trying to become a jogger, I resorted to wearing two bras at a time when I worked out, in order to keep my breasts from bouncing too much.

(This blog has published all sorts of posts about the challenge of finding good sports bras, here.)

Big breasts were a barrier to many of the physical activities I enjoyed. I was a lifeguard in my teens and early 20s, at a time when shelf bras in women’s Speedos were unheard of. I longed for small breasts that didn’t jiggle and bounce when I walked around the pool deck.

As I’ve aged, my breasts have headed south towards my waist, and actually ache when they aren’t bound by a bra, especially at night when I’m lying down and trying to sleep.

When I started aikido a year-and-a-half ago, I had to experiment with a number of bra configurations so that I could run without bouncing (we’re expected to move quickly when called upon in class), as well as roll and flip upside down without popping out the top of my bra.

I currently wear two bras at aikido – an underwire bra underneath, that separates my breasts and prevents “uni-boob”, along with an inexpensive, too-small sports bra on top, to keep everything motionless when I run on the mat, and safely contained when I flip upside down. (I’ve noticed with a thrill of recognition that Ronda Rousey and other female MMA fighters use a similar configuration when they’re working out and fighting.)

So when I met with my surgeon after my diagnosis, my only worry was about whether she would entertain my double-mastectomy wishes. In the end, a double mastectomy actually makes medical sense for me. Turns out lumpectomy is not a medically recommended option for my cancer. Thankfully my left breast is currently clear, but the cancer in my right breast is such an unusual presentation (with a possible genetic mutation like Angelina Jolie’s, which I’ll be tested for later this year) that my surgeon tells me I’m at higher risk of getting cancer in my left breast. This makes preventive mastectomy of my left breast a sensible choice. If I wanted to keep my left breast, I’d be facing annual MRIs and the increased worry of a recurrence for the rest of my life.

I don’t have a partner to consider. I’m at an age where breastfeeding is not in my future. And while I love being a woman, I’m not afraid to look boyish. I’ve had 36 years of being voluptuous, and an eye-magnet for men and women who like large breasts. I’m ready for freedom from that kind of gaze and attention, and freedom to move my body the way I want to move my body. I anticipate “living flat” for the rest of my life, and likely going without prosthetics, too.

One of the benefits of forgoing reconstructive surgery is that my recovery should be much faster than if I’d chosen reconstruction at the time of mastectomy. I’m looking forward to getting back to my regular life as soon as humanly possible.

My only hesitation is that I feel guilty for not wanting my breasts anymore. I feel like I’m betraying a part of myself. So I’ve been spending a lot of time during my breasts’ final days trying to celebrate them. I’ve also been preparing myself for the huge visual change there will soon be in my figure whenever I look in the mirror. While my femininity isn’t tied to my breasts, I recognize that it may be for others. So I’m making plans to cut and colour my hair in a “pretty” style, and wear clothes and jewelry after surgery that make me feel and look feminine.

But honestly? I’m so excited about my upcoming breast removal. And the interesting thing is, whenever I’ve talked about it with other naturally large-breasted women, they totally get it, and tell me they would make the same choice.

This is the second of a three-part series on breast cancer, sports and body image.
Part 1: What martial arts taught me about fighting breast cancer
Part 3: My pre-surgery boudoir photo shoot

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You may also be interested in these blog posts by Michelle about her breast cancer experience:

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow works in nonprofit and small business communications by day, and also enjoys writing, taking photographs, making art and doing aikido. You can find more of her work at michellelynnegoodfellow.com. Michelle has also written about her breast cancer journey on her blog, Kitchen Sink Wisdom.

Sure you can run in your bra!

Sam shared this article and knew I’d love to chime in about running in a bra.

Is It ok to run in a Sports Bra?

Well of course it is! Actually I live in Ontario and you can run topless if you want to here, perfectly legal. I wouldn’t, but not for modesty’s sake, my breasts are long, wide and floppy so topless anything isn’t terribly comfortable. it’s the flapping and slapping.

This came up recently at the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon where, in recent years, they’ve actively discouraged women from racing in their bras. the race rules state “Shirts or tanks must always be worn” (note the bold).

I thought that was really weird. The announcers framed it as a wanting to keep it a family friendly event. (As though families don’t have people in their bras.) What really blew my mind was at the pre-race briefing the night before the race director, who is a woman that participates, said she would personally be more comfortable if we kept our shirts on. Really? Why? Men swim in their trunks topless all the time, they race topless. The bras women wear for racing are, well, down right functional, opaque and completely appropriate FOR RACING.

On my bike on a hot day I’m much more comfortable in my bra and shorts. I’m sweaty and shirt off cools my dimply tummy. When I have my druthers I wear little if any clothes. I’ve recently discovered these ballerina tank top thingies (Called Teggings Tank Tops) that mean I can stroll around bra-less and non-floppy. Yes, people stare, MY GOD A FAT WOMAN NOT WEARING A BRA as though it’s the worse thing ever. Whatever!

Run in a bra, don’t wear a bra at all, you get to decide. Not only are you the boss of your own pants. YOU ARE THE BOSS OF YOUR BOOBIES.

Oh and wearing a bra and a tri suit at a triathlon doesn’t mean folks won’t see your nipples. Mine stick out all the time. I wonder if next year they’ll ask us to tape our nipples under our shirts.

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Success on the bra front: Oiselle bras reviewed

Since Tracy and I have both blogged about sports bras challenges, I thought I’d say a few kind words about two bras I actually like. They won’t be everyone’s first choice, sizing is somewhat limited and they aren’t cheap, but they work for me. I’m a size 14, B cup, who wants support without padding and not a lot of extra bulk. I ordered one from Oiselle in the United States but had to pay import duty. I discovered the brand through reading Caitlin at Fit and Feminist when she blogged about finally finding running shorts with real pockets. I also now have a pair of those.

Actually the sizing at Oiselle bothers me a bit. I got excited when I saw a “plus” tab on their page but it didn’t mean extra sizes, it meant extra stuff, like headbands and socks. Grrrr. Also although their sizes only run up to 12, I fit their 12, which probably means they run big.

(Oh, for our past gripes about sports bras, see What’s wrong with sports bras? and Padded sports bras and nipple phobia and The Sports Bra Dilemma.)

Strappy bra, available at MEC here. The straps are funky but also super comfy and the bra is very supportive without having a lot of fabric. It dries very quickly, which I appreciate. image Go Time bra, currently on sale at MEC here. This one has a light padding layer–more like modesty shield, but since those get soggy and sweaty when I run, I just removed it. image