Sunday, January 13, 2013

To Bra or Not To Bra

I'm pretty "old school" in this regard, and when I say old school, I am not talking about the 1960s "bra burning era". You see, I come from the time period where bras with underwire were the way to go - I guess my generation has Madonna and Victoria's Secret to thank for that (sigh). 

And so here I am, and all my life I've been bound up in this incredibly uncomfortable contraption with an actual metal wire in it. I mean who the heck thought this was a good idea? Sure, let's pinch off the circulation in my chest under my heart and near my lymph nodes with a wire and wear this thing up against one of the softest parts of my anatomy as often as possible to make sure that when I'm 90 years old I won't have saggy boobs (sigh).

So, was that really the motivation....? Like I'm going to really care when I'm 90....



What if bras aren't good for you?
This all started because I ran across a book called Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras by Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer. In this book I read about this idea that bras really aren't that great for women. They may restrict lymph flow and the book suggests a link between wearing bras and breast cancer due to this restriction, which causes an accumulation of toxins in the breasts in conjunction with other factors.

To be honest, though, I didn't find any other independent research in support of this theory (although, be advised, I wasn't searching medical journals). In fact, if you google "breast cancer and bras" you get an article by Cheeseslave which actually discusses this same book (article was posted about a year ago). In addition, Cheeseslave's article includes a video interview with Dr. Cheri-Lynn Burk CCT of the Las Vegas Thermography Clinic, who states very emphatically in this interview to ditch the bra because it restricts the lymph. This is an interesting and fairly short interview that would definitely be worth watching.

The google search will also return a few other links refuting the idea of a connection between bras and cancer or referencing it as a myth.

So what did I think of this book?
In my opinion, the theory discussed and conclusions and arguments presented were thought-provoking and even persuasive--so much so, in fact, that I got through the first half of the book fairly quickly (it was hard to put down for the most part) and while I am not 100% convinced of this direct correlation between bras and breast cancer, I did find the argument extremely compelling and the information presented in the book to be worth reading and relevant to anyone with an interest in this topic or cancer in general.

The second half of the book was a lot tougher for me to get through. It discussed the findings in detail, sample questions, and included a discussion of cultural factors.

Overall, I believe the book is a good read for any woman and at 171 pages, a fairly short read at that. The following points were especially interesting, in my opinion:
  • The cause of breast cancer is complex and involves biological, environmental, and cultural factors in conjunction; however, the standard cancer research and doctor is specialty-based, which does not allow for a synergistic examination of causes.
  • A signficant amount of cancer research is being performed on animals with the purpose of concluding opinions about people, when the species of organism you are studying should be the same as the one you want to learn about since cancer affects various species differently. In other words, there is an unknown relevance to humans of non-human studies.
  • "Human breasts have developed over hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years without constraint. It has been biologically impossible to adapt to bras in the short time since their invention."
  • The death rate from breast cancer has not changed significantly since the 1930s; however, the incidence rate has increased.
  • The authors discussed numerous risk factors and were able to draw a connection to all (in one way or another) to a blocked or diminished lymphatic system. Furthermore, all known risk factors account for only 30% of breast cancer cases, which leaves 70% completely unexplained.
  • The authors included a thorough, but straightforward, explanation of the lymphatic system and indicated that cancerous cells appear in our bodies all the time, but are destroyed before they get out of control when we have a normal functioning immune system.They suggest that a chronic mild impairment of lymphatic function may occur with the use of bras. This may cause a reduction of cellular function and accumulation of toxins and degeneration.
  • The authors offer some convincing arguments for the constrictive clothing theory including a 1990 Japanese Study whereby the breasts were made to swell under severe brassiere constraint (that sounds horrific!!) and another 1991 USA Today article entitled "Dress for Health, Not Style" basically citing various medical reasons why tight clothing in general, although not specifically bras, should be shunned. 
  • The authors state that lymph (fluid in our lymphatic system) is moved around in our bodies as we breathe, and as our muscles contract, and by our pulse. This illustrates how sensitive the lymphatic system is to touch and pressure, which seems to support the "constrictive clothing" theory.
The second part of the book presents a summary of the authors' actual experiment and results including questions, answers, and their analyses, in summary. While reading this part of the book, I had the underlying question, "is this correlation reasonable"? That is, does this experiment truly support a direct causal relationship between bras and breast cancer, or are other factors at play here? Honestly, I was not convinced that bras had been definitively isolated as a "cause", but it doesn't seem like the authors are trying to say it is the only cause, but rather, that it is a cause in conjunction with other factors. And, I am open to that line of thought after reading the book. You will have to read the book and decide for yourself if this case has been made.

Recommendations
Whether or not you believe there is a connection between wearing a bra and breast cancer, I think the suggestions below, discussed in the second half of the book, are all worthwhile.
  • Reduce toxin exposure - choose quality foods (i.e., drink filtered water and eat organically grown fruits and vegetables); choose clothing made of natural fibers; be aware of the fact that our skin absorbs many chemicals through contact with our clothes (many laundry detergents contain perfumes and dyes and new clothing is often treated with chemicals).
  • If you must wear a bra - reduce the amount of time the bra is worn each day (less than 12 hours is preferred); do not wear a bra to sleep; avoid bras with underwires or other uncomfortable construction features, push-up bras, and/ or sports bras, which can constrict the breasts.
  • Assist your lymphatics - massage, exercise, deep breathing (and singing), quality food choices, and a positive attitude can all assist your lymphatic system to operate most efficiently.
One of the reasons I really liked this book is that it seemed to wholeheartedly support a "traditional" lifestyle and it stressed how important it was to limit our exposure to toxins. It also stated in a few places how important the breath was to eliminate toxins in the body by stimulating the lymph system.

So what's the take-away?
The whole crux of their argument is really this--- "Tight clothing may simply serve as a handicap to our immune system because of its effect on the lymphatic system. In combination with other noxious stimuli and events, such as toxins, stress, poor diet, and so forth, the constriction of our bodies by clothing can set up a protracted process of degeneration, possibly leading to cancer."

So overall I don't really have any definitive answers to the questions posed above regarding a definitive link between bras and cancer or even whether bras obstruct lymph flow. But there is some circumstantial evidence out there that is quite compelling and I encourage you to research the issue and come to a conclusion for yourself. In the meantime, why not try a little more relaxed style, even just once or twice....?


And, ladies, if there's even the smallest chance that there is a connection between breast cancer and bras, then why are we wearing them???

Do you think you'll read the book? Does it seem within the realm of possibility that there could be a link between bras and breast cancer? Do you wear a bra? I'd love to hear from you--please leave a comment!

Watch for Part 2 of this post (click here for part 2), which includes my Top Ten List for Ditching Your Bra and Top Ten List for at least Ditching Your Underwire Bra! In addition, Part 2 includes summaries and select reviews on various wire-less bras available today.

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66 comments:

  1. Chemicals in anti-perspirants have been suspected as a factor of breast cancer, and they came into the marketplace around the 1930's as well. It would be hard to do a study comparing cancer rates among bra-wearers and non-bra wearers and control for antiperspirant.

    (Various forms of deodorants and perfumes have been around for centuries; bras have been around since at least the middle ages according to this article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/ancient-bra-middle-ages-austria_n_1683029.html)

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    1. I am glad you mentioned this point, because I in fact had included a few paragraphs about this exactly, but deleted them before publishing because it seemed to make the article too long and rambling. Perhaps I should add back? I did discuss how it would be difficult to isolate bras as a cause from using deoderant considering the location of use on our bodies. Thanks for the comment!

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    2. There might be a link between cancer and choosing not to breastfeed, and formula came into fashion around that time, too. With cancer research, the more we learn the more we know we don't know. I don't think your post wold be rambling if you mentioned deodorants, but it is not lacking in its omission, either. You can't list every possible variable because it is a non-ending list. I appreciate that you took the time to critique the book.

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    3. The book did mention breastfeeding as a possible risk factor, or rather "not breastfeeding", amongst many other possible risk factors. I was thinking deoderant was lumped in the "toxin" category and that was part of my reason for removing specific mention of it from an already long post! Although having it in the comments works well. Thanks so much for your thoughtful consideration and comments! It is appreciated.

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  2. I will keep my money for a different book because I am not going bra-less anyway even if it is a contributor to cancer :)

    Have a good night!

    Much Love,
    Janet

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    1. You will have to reserve your final opinion until part 2 of the post (top ten lists)! - very convincing, you know. :)

      Thanks so much for the comment.

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  3. I definitely can't go without a bra with a wire, but as soon as I get home, thats the first thing that comes off!

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  4. I am a 36 DD, and I have rarely worn a bra without a wire or that was not comfortable. My mom always pointed me away from the underwire when I was growing up, but since my late teens, all I have worn is underwire.
    I never sleep in a bra, not even when pregnant or nursing.
    Also, they may not have worn bras until the 30s, but corsets and laces were worn for a long time before then-keeping the girls up and where they were supposed to be.

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    1. I think if they are comfortable then that is really the most important thing!

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  5. I wore underwire my whole life, until I was pregnant/breastfeeding starting at age 34. I'm 36 now, still breastfeeding, but barely, so I recently wore one of my old underwire bras. It felt SO uncomfortable. I think I may just have to toss my whole collection and find some nice non-wire bras once my nursing bras are no longer needed.

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    1. I wore underwire my entire life as well, but stopped after reading this book and now I am the same way - my old underwire bras feel very uncomfortable. In part 2 to this post, I have reviewed several wireless bras, and I found some that were comfortable. :)

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  6. Very nice article. I would like to add a few comments.

    Fibrocystic breast disease should be called "tight bra syndrome". The lymph fluid that accumulates in the breasts as a result of the bra constriction collects as cysts, which over time become fibrous. Ending the constriction by eliminating the bra allows the cysts to empty and disappear.

    Premenstrual breast pain also greatly reduces or disappears when you stop wearing bras. The breasts are slightly larger during that time of the month due to estrogen related fluid retention, but the bra is the same size, so the constriction is greater, along with pain and cyst formation.

    There is also a study out of Harvard in 1991 that showed bra-free women have half the rate of b.c., or put differently, bra wearing increases breast cancer rates 100%. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1827274

    More research is clearly needed. Unfortunately, the Komen Foundation refuses to address the bra issue at all, insisting it does not deserve scientific research. They say they want prevention, but they refuse to do any research at all into the bra/cancer link, despite studies showing this is the leading cause of this disease. The American Cancer Society also refuses to research or consider the bra issue, and the ACS even promotes bra wearing. These "experts" are clearly working to get your money, not end this disease. They want drug/surgical/and radiological treatment, not lifestyle change that prevents this terrible disease.

    Bottom line: We live in a culture where women are conditioned by a multi-billion dollar bra industry into believing they need artificially shaped breasts and this is causing breast disease, but the medical industry profits from treating this disease so it looks the other way.

    For more see my website killerculture dot com.

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    1. Wow, this is great information! Thanks so much for the comment. The authors did indicate at the end of this book that they tried to present their findings but could not really find anyone (I'm assuming they meant anyone "mainstream") that was interested. It is a shame because I think that we would all benefit from having all available information and we can make our own choices as appropriate. I will definitely check out your site. Thank you. :)

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    2. I did just now get a chance to look at the site and facebook page briefly and I truly appreciate the additional information you provided. It is a great extension of the article for any readers. I did recall a sense of perplexity at the end of the book when you indicated you could not really attract any interest in the findings. I think much in our society is drivin by money, sadly, rather than what is in our best interests (unfortunately). Thanks again! http://www.killerculture.com/

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  7. Women should realize that bras CAUSE breasts to droop. The suspensory ligaments in the breasts atrophy from non-use when the breasts are supported by an artificial device like a bra. Women who stop wearing bras usually experience a lifting and toning of their breasts as their natural support mechanisms gain strength. Women who have never worn bras have firm, healthy breasts into their senior years.

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    1. I actually touch on this exact point in part 2 of this topic as I had found that mentioned when doing my research exactly as you say above. Thanks so much for the comment!

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  8. Hello there, you've signed up for the "what I like about your blog" at my blog - are you getting my emails?? We would like your reviews, please!

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    1. I just sent you a couple of emails - I was not getting yours!

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  9. for years i have worn underwire that were plastic not wire. There was a theory at one point it was the metal. I'm in retail sales sooo not really able to go braless. (34C) Work mostly with guys and live in a small conservative town. I have about 6 tank type pullovers with pretty good support and I do wear those alot.
    Those feel like a good compromise
    Thanks for this thread. Looking forward to more on this subject

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    1. I am planning to post one follow-up discussing alternatives to the standard underwire bra next week sometime. I agree, I think it is about doing what you can! Thank you for stopping by!

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  10. I wonder if anyone has considered what the corsets of pre-1900 did to women's bodies in relation to cancer.

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    1. I did not run across that during my research but I did read that bras were considered to be more comfortable than corsets! Perhaps the impact of corsets would be discussed more thoroughly in the research for the constrictive clothing theories...? It would be interesting to know if anyone made such a connection. I believe corsets were known to have various negative side effects (fainting!) but that is all I read about. If you find any additional information, please come back and share.

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  11. Interesting topic. I wear underwires, but then, I'm a b- cup (or A+) so it doesn't have to do much. When I go bra-less I feel like I have 4 armpits. Sigh... at least I make my own non-toxic underarm deodorant. I would be very interested in how other women would handle the question of fashion with this issue. I don't care so much how I LOOK, but I would like my clothing to fit well, and much of our clothing is designed for the bra. I hope you write more about this.

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    1. I agree it is difficult! I wore an underwire nearly 24-7 before I read this book. It was really difficult at first for me to make even the small change of taking it off at night, but I did and now I wear it for 5-8 hours a day tops, and I've switched to wireless. I just want to be kind to my body! I will post a part 2 (prob next week) that discusses bra options and lists some additional reasons to remove the bra (or try a wireless bra). Thanks so much for the comment!

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  12. I've heard this concern before. It will be interesting if research can pin it down. I'll stay tuned. :)

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  13. Very thought provoking! I look forward to reading more.

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  14. I grew up with a mother who was one of those ladies burning her bra. I did not wear a bra until I started working (also didn't shave, I was a hippie's daughter). Since then, I have gotten larger and I find it uncomfortable to go outside without. But is it discomfort because of not wearing the bra or how society makes us feel? As soon as I get home, I take the bra off. If I'm staying home on a weekend, I keep the bra off. Bra's are just some MAN's idea of what we should be wearing. The more you don't wear a bra, the more comfortable it is to go without. I was not aware of a risk factor for breast cancer, but then, there are so many contributions that it probably isn't just one thing. Our industrial revolution has put us in a huge risk factor. Thank you for the share.

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    1. I agree with you completely - the more we go without, the more comfortable it is to go without. I certainly discovered that myself. In the second half of the book there is a chapter about the social aspect of wearing a bra that expands on the points you've brought up in your comment. I am glad you enjoyed the post!

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  15. I stopped using underwires years ago and try to only wear them when I need to go out so I have freedom of movement. I agree that it's probably a help to our bodies to wear loose clothing most of the time. Interesting post...thanks for sharing.

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  16. Very interesting! I've heard this quite a lot lately and had to ask myself why I do wear a bra (a padded one), and the answer is so that other people can't tell when I'm cold (if you know what I mean) I think if I lived in a warmer climate I'd consider going bra-less a lot more!

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    1. Yes that is certainly a consideration!

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    2. lol, yes that's my reason for not being able to go bra-free as well. That plus I'm a 34D and so things just aren't as ummm...perky? But I generally stay at home all day and there's no way I wear a bra unless I'm out of the house (rare) or we have people over (also rare) So I probably only wear a bra for 12 hours a week.

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    3. It sounds like less is better so you are already ahead of the game. I have been so surprised by how many women already go braless so much of the time! It is good to hear it, based on the information in this book.

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  17. We at BFFL Co provide unique products, information and support for Best friends for life or other Suggestion , to help them recover with comfort, convenience and dignity.

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  18. I wear a 36 D and have recently started going braless. I wear a fitted but not constrictive camisole under my shirt. I am so much more comfortable, and after reading an article like this, I feel vindicated!

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    1. That is wonderful to hear! I wear a B/ C cup and felt like I couldn't really relate to what someone with a larger bust. I think your comment will be very helpful for others to read. I am so glad you left this comment here!

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  19. I have a huge collection of tank tops--a few with built-in "cups" but most without. I haven't worn an actual bra since my freshman year of college (I'm 30 now). I cannot imagine ever going back to wearing a bra. I'm fortunate to have smallish, perky B-cup boobs, so it's never really been an issue. My friends make fun of me for it, but it's not like my nips are sticking out or anything. I just layer on the tank tops until that's not an issue anymore. :) Or wear a sweater! I teach for a very conservative college, but I don't think anyone's the wiser. Except for me, of course. I love my boobs and want to keep them as healthy as possible. Going braless, massaging with coconut oil, and using a deodorant crystal instead of conventional antiperspirant are how I plan on keeping my boobs perky until death do us part.

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    1. Well I wish I would have read this book and worn tank tops since college! I am just starting a relaxed style now and I feel like I have lots of catching up to do. I agree with you in that it really has to do with being healthy more than anything else! Thanks so much for the comment. :)

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  20. Eek! I love the idea of going braless, and I often do at home. But since I am 34HH (and breastfeeding) I suffer back pain if I go too long. I am not that into fashion in any other way, but I do appreciate a bra which will help me look perky! If I could find wireless support which would be flattering I would love it. Maybe I can build my muscles?!?

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    1. I did read a couple of sources which states that one would build the muscles and ligaments to supports one's breasts naturally once the bra came off. I am not sure if that is the case though. You will have to check out my next post though, which discusses some wireless options. Thanks for the comment!

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  21. I am a mixed bag! I spent much of my teen and young adult years braless but have been wearing underwire bras for many years now (38DD). Fortunately my early years taught me what comfort was and I could never stand to leave my bra on for hours on end. Sometimes I can't wait until I get home so off my bra comes as soon as I'm in the car and on my way! Free, free, set them free...
    I am happy that my 16 & 18 year old daughters choose to be braless most of the time too. The new generation of hippy chicks are so smart. They give me hope for the future.
    Found you through Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday! Nice work. (I have been following Cheeseslave for a few years now and thought her post on the issue was very well done.) Keep spreading the good word.

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  22. Timely post! I just went out and bought a wireless bra today. I've been feeling like my underwire bras are so constrictive and uncomfortable since weaning my son months ago. And I've been reading about keeping the lymph system moving. I have started dry brushing before my shower every morning, and bought a mini trampoline for the whole family. I appreciate this wonderful post and all the fantastic comments. Can't wait for part 2.

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    1. I have been meaning to try the dry brushing as well! I should just get on Amazon and order the brush. I am so glad you enjoyed the post and hope to have Part 2 out early this coming week. Thank you!

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  23. Thanks for linking on Natural Living Monday! Very interesting post. I never thought of breast cancer and bras but I can see it making sense... although womans breasts have been constricted since the middle ages with bodices it is definitely still a "modern" (historically speaking) practice. Whenever I am home I usually don't wear a bra... its the first thing to go! It makes breastfeeding easier too. ;)

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    1. Yes that is one of the questions remaining - the fact that woman have been "bound" for a long time. Since records were less complete historically, it is hard to understand the impact then as compared to now. The book did encourage me to change my habits a bit and I think, at the minimum, an awareness of this issue is certainly worthwhile. Thanks so much for the comment. :)

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  24. How interesting! I am looking forward to more. I do wear a bra mainly because I still have 7 of our 10 children at home and I guess I think wearing one is more modest. I do however change for be after milking our family cow (6pm) and I go braless then and feel so much free-er.

    I would love to have you share this and any of your other posts on Thursdays at Tasty Traditions: http://myculturedpalate.com/

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    1. Thank you for the comment! I think a lot of us were raised to believe we should be wearing them for one reason or another, including modesty. It seems like the important thing is to try to wear it less than 12 hours each day and to make sure it isn't too unconfortable. I will certainly stop by on Thursday. I enjoy your blog a lot. :)

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  25. Very thought provoking (and all the comments from everyone are super interesting, too!). I hadn't thought much about this, but you're right, if there's even a chance it's true, it can't hurt to go bra-less more often and switch to wireless!

    Thanks for sharing this on Waste Not Want Not! As always, your posts are so thorough :)

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    1. I know, I agree all the comments are awesome!

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  26. I very much enjoyed both the article and all the comments. I went braless until I was around 16 and already had really big breasts. Then I started wearing wireless bras, when out of the house, because I felt people were looking at me, I guess... Now I am 37 years and wear a 42G, so for social reasons I can't really imagine to go without a bra outside of the house. But still, as soon as I come home I usually take it off. And I always wear wireless. I bought maybe two underwire bras in my whole life, but could never really wear them cause they were so uncomfortable. I always buy very good quality bras and wish there was more of a choice among the wireless ones in terms of materials, colours, looks, especially in my size, of course. I have thought many times that when I'm old (or completely stop caring what others think), I will, at least around the house and garden, and never mind any visitors, only wear a long beautiful cloth wrapped around my hips to cover the lower part of my body and go completely topless. Freedom! At least in the warmer part of the year....

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    1. Oh, just to add, I use no deodorant either. I shower or bath once a day and figure that should be enough to keep me smelling fine...

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    2. I think you are on the right track! I so wish I had made smarter decisions sooner, but I just had no idea I was on the wrong track. Good to hear about the deoderant, you may have seen the comment above about deorderant and cancer. I use a home made version myself. :)

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  27. Two comments:

    First, in general if an underwire bra is digging in then the bra does not fit properly. That may be a factor in cutting off lymph circulation or it may not.

    Secondly I seem to have some really strong nipples and if they feel like standing at attention it can be really obvious sometimes even while wearing a padded bra. I can't even imagine my 32 Fs swinging around unrestrained with nipples erect at work.

    Also I'm not sure what else might be involved but I've been a regular bra wearer for my adult life preferring firm support. It wasn't until I wore next to no support for over a year while nursing that my breasts headed south. Maybe it's the hormones but it sure seemed like gravity. And what about those African tribe women you see in documentaries who never have and never will wear a bra? Those breasts don't look perky to me.

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    1. I think that a big problem is women aren't wearing bras that fit properly. Thanks for the comment. :)

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  28. My 10-year old daughter was instructed by the school nurse, who invited me in for this conference, to wear a bra because someone noticed that her breasts were beginning to develop. The nurse refused to disclose who the pervert was. The nurse went on to advise that my daughter needs the breast support when she runs. However, there is not yet anything to support. The environment is very hostile for a public school so I reported this incident to the district superintendent's office.

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    1. They certainly cannot force a child to wear a bra! I hope that works out for you and your daughter!

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  29. Love your article! I was born in the 60's and I have always had a hard time wearing a bra. I only wear one if I am at work. I feel more comfortable without one. I have always thought women were a little crazy wearing the uncomfortable underwire bras. Thanks for the great information. Can't wait to read part 2!

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  30. A very interesting idea to link BC with uncomfortable bras, although, I would think that the ladies of the 1800s would have been worse off, as far as being unnaturally squished and restricted. For me, the theory is just another reason to thank God for my extra small chest (a concept I wouldn't have dreamed of in my teens or early twenties, haha - oh, the perceived inferiority)! I have never worn (as my mom and sis put it) a "real bra" in my life, and try to get away without even my old, mangy, so-broken-in-i-can-barely-feel-it-on sports-like bra as often as possible. Nowadays braless in public has become the norm for me, with much encouragement from my husband, and I only feel a little self-conscious when I get nips. It feels great to be unconfined, and since most of the other comments voice that same sentiment (saying they take their bra off first thing once home and such), I think it's a shame that in our culture, to be acceptable is to be uncomfortable, unnatural...
    Thanks for this post; I look forward to delving into part two!

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