Okay, let me make one thing clear first: I do not have a huge bosom.
I am not a late bloomer, I am aware that nothing more is going to bloom, and I am perfectly at peace with that. This is an important caveat to set out, because my personal circumstances definitely made it easier for me to make the decision to go a week without bras. Nonchalance was what I wanted, not speculative attention. I wanted to confine it to my personal space, without others noticing. (Andddd therein lies the paradox of my personal social experiment.)
Unfortunately, this decision did not transpire from a sudden inspiration of elevated self-awareness. It was contrived, and a result of superficial reveries over the fashion trend of bodysuits. From her slight frown and immediate glance away from pictures of bodysuits, I could easily tell that the word that popped up in my mother’s mind when she saw them as “pornographic”. My first thought, on the contrary, was: So you don’t wear a bra underneath?
Other than the usual considerations of aesthetics, functionality was among my priorities too. Realising that bodysuits were styled in a manner incompatible to bra-wearers made me question the function of a bra. Needless to say, my established recognition of my flat chest renders a bra rather useless to me (you were pre-warned of the superficial nature of my thought process). That made me question the obligation of wearing on a bra daily.
I remember once in Primary 6, when one of my close friends pulled me aside after a PE lesson to tell me in all seriousness, “ I think it's time you wore a bra.” Slightly dazed from the abruptness of her suggestion and how she entirely ignored the fact that we had just crushed the opposition in our soccer game earlier, I looked down at my sweat-drenched t-shirt to consider her advice. I guess people don’t want to see this. I took her suggestion to heart, as all 12 year-old girls do when their best friends give them life-changing advice. To get used to the new daily ritual of wearing a bra, I constantly reminded myself: people don’t want to see this. And this daily mantra gave rise to a heightened self-awareness, and self-consciousness. The irony of realising your growth, while simultaneously inhibiting it, is one that I’m sure many girls can relate to. Why shouldn’t I be able to embrace my own growth (as little as it is)? Nine years of uncomfortable bras later, and wanting to challenge the societal pressures that shape my subconscious decisions, I decided to try going braless for a whole week.
(As ridiculous as it is, we seem to be part of a culture that restricts physical self-acceptance, to a point where we may even feel like we are living in strangers’ bodies.)
Unsurprisingly, the experience was mortifying, from the initial dread of leaving the privacy of my home, to the sporadic crumbling of my sense of dignity whenever I encountered “wandering eyes”. Contrary to many opinions of a gradual personal indifference that develops, the constant reminder of my “indecency” gradually devoured me. It was my albatross, haunting my every move: the actions of turning and bending had never been executed with that much precaution and precision. In fact, my anathema of my tiny protrusions further compounded my self-consciousness. Like barnacles, the slightest hints of my own nipples sent me shrivelling up into a lifeless flower bud. Maybe this is too European, I thought. After all, I am in a conservative country.
However, during my post-humiliation reflection, what bothered me the most was not the reactions of others, but my own insecurity. Most of the time was spent on worrying about what strangers might think of me, and my personal discomfort. Beyond this physical context, I realised that I was not fully confident in my own identity. Though it may be true that the way I view myself is largely influenced by the cultural forces in my environment, I ultimately hold the master key to my being: I control my own thoughts and perceptions. Like any image we see, interpretations of ourselves are subjective: we can choose to value our own opinions over those of others. Being comfortable in our own skin is a difficult choice that we have to make independently.
In her film “Free the Nipple”, Lina Esco highlights the issue of gender equality. The campaign she portrays is organised by women who believe in the gender neutrality of public exposure of nipples, and it proves an important message: we yearn for what we think we deserve. When we demand respect from others, we act in a particular way to justify that demand. Similarly, if we recognise the need for self-acceptance, and demand respect from ourselves, we will pursue a path of self-growth and exploration.
(I’m sure we can do without their support once in a while)
Ultimately, understanding yourself does not call for the need to resort to provocative actions. Appreciating yourself, for who you are, through self-motivations in daily activities will also allow you to achieve self-satisfaction. Though the sudden lack of support may leave you feeling lost and vulnerable, you will understand the satisfaction of being liberated once you have freed yourself from the buckles of your mental bra.