Free to Be You and Me

A lot of us early feminists jettisoned our bras decades ago and never looked back

My pal Deb has just one criteria when it comes to shopping for clothing.

"Do I have to wear a bra to make this work?" she'll ask. "If so, I'm not buying it."

She's had to walk away from some great outfits over the years, but has no regrets.

"I like the way it feels," she says, about going braless. "And I like the way it looks."

I'm with her 100 percent. I, like Deb, am a 1970s-era feminist. Although we've modified some of the more radical beliefs we held back then, a lot of us jettisoned our bras decades ago and never looked back. (And no, we didn't burn them. That's a myth.)

We're a bra-free crowd. (And a Spanx-free crowd, too.) If a dress needs perky stand-up tits to work, or is so see-through that wearing it with no bra is obscene, we'll just keep shopping.

Although I have no problem buying a shirt that, when worn, hints at the fact that I do have breasts. Unlike Barbie, I'm a real woman and I've got nipples. Deal with it.

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Like most girls growing up in the '60s, I went through the usual phases. Looking with envy at my fellow 6th-graders who had "developed." Longing for my first bra. Begging mom for a so-called "training bra" which, basically, was a bra for a girl who doesn't need a bra.

Finally, when I turned 13, Mom gave in and took me bra-shopping for my very first, as the current slang termed it, "over-the-shoulder boulder holder."

I didn't have boulders of course. At most, I had pebbles. Tiny pebbles. But I wore my first bra proudly. Finally, I could participate when, in the locker room at gym class, my pals snapped each other's bra straps. This, for a teen girl in the '60s, was a significant rite of passage.

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I never once questioned why it was necessary to cover up or confine my breasts. To deny their natural shape. To pretend that when I moved, they didn't. Instead, they were supposed to be held stiffly in front of me at all times. I never questioned any of this. Until feminism came along and inspired me to question all of it.

It's not as if the first time I read Ms. magazine, I threw out all my bras, put on a pair of Birkenstocks and lived happily ever after. But feminism did challenge me to reconsider a lot of the stuff that I'd taken for granted. And to discard much of it.

There are women whose breasts are so large that they require a bra for comfort. Thankfully, I'm not one of them. Over time, I came to realize that, like Deb, I prefer the way it looks and feels to go without a bra.

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So I did.

These days, I only own one, and the last time I wore it was in the 1990s. I favor comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. Because I'm a swimmer, I'll often wear a Speedo in place of underwear so that, if I encounter a good pool, I can whisk off my clothes and jump right in. Yes, I know, that's a little unconventional. But it works for me.

Wearing a bra, in my opinion, is a symbol of dressing for the sake of others, not yourself. For you, it could be different. You might own a fabulous assortment of designer bras, and look forward to putting one on each morning. What feminism means is that each of us gets to discover and act upon what matters to her. Deb, for instance, has lovely silver hair. Whereas I go to an expensive salon every other month and spend a fortune on coloring mine the exact shade of blonde that I need to see when I look in the mirror.

How do I afford it with a librarian's paycheck? Just think of all the money I've saved on bras over the years!

Tags: aging