I wake up in the morning, put on a dress, no bra, and admire my braless, bare-all look in the mirror. Cool, I think to myself. Nipples and breasts are a natural part of everybody’s body but have been deemed inappropriate on women. Today, I personally feel my most confident and empowered when I’m braless. Not only is going braless more convenient (shout-out to the wide range of backless shirts I can now wear), but it’s also a symbolic middle finger to a society that says women’s breasts should always be caged in a bra and that we should be prim, proper, and pretty at all times.
Let me explain…
I’d like to begin with a full disclaimer: This story is not meant to be a rant hating on men. As a feminist, I am not a man hater (as some misconceptions may lead you to believe). I believe in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. There’s nothing more to it.
I grew up in a family full of all women (except my dad, bless him), so gender roles never really crossed my mind. My sister and I were raised to feel like we could be whoever we wanted to be, and do whatever we wanted to do. Gender never affected that. I never felt inferior to boys or felt like I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl.
I had my first realization that sexism is, in fact, a thing when I was 12 years old. I was in the sixth grade, and a girl in my class had started to develop early. All the boys in my class took notice. I watched them gawk at her like she was a shiny new iPod or a freshly prepared sandwich as she walked through the classroom. At the time, my adolescent mind envied her. Why weren’t boys looking at me like that? I was jealous that she was already starting to grow breasts when I was still flat as a board.
Looking back now, I realize that was my first real experience with the male gaze. Of course, being under the boys’ gaze, feeling ogled at and then talked about like a puck in a game isn’t flattering; it’s insulting. I just didn’t realize it at the time.
As I grew out of my awkward phase and entered high school, I started to comprehend how unbalanced the whole gender system really is. I wanted so badly to ignore it because there was no way my stubborn pride would ever let me admit that just because I was a woman, my opportunities in life would be limited.
My second experience with sexism happened like this: I was a senior in high school and a dress-down day was coming up (I went to a private Catholic school, so we had a dress code). I wanted to wear leggings, but unfortunately, they weren’t allowed, which I didn’t understand. I thought we should be allowed to wear them. I mean, they’re comfy and easy and basically are a cuter version of sweats.
My friend decided to ask the dean why we couldn’t wear leggings. Her direct response: “It distracts the boys.” It. Distracts. The. Boys. So since the boys at my school had zero self-control, we were punished? It’s safe to say my friends and I weren’t very happy. That was when I realized that men had control over certain parts of my life that I didn’t want them to have control over, like what I wore.
It’s a symbolic middle finger to a society that says women’s breasts should always be caged.
Once I reached my freshman year of college, my sociology teacher laid it all out right in front of me. The male gaze exists, the glass ceiling is real, and women still don’t get equal treatment. Again, I was in denial. I was honestly offended. I pride myself on being a strong, self-possessed person, and I hated someone telling me that I was essentially still living in a world that belonged to someone else. However, once I heard the words I’d been thinking for so long finally be said out loud, I admitted to myself that it was true.
Fast-forward a year or so later, and I woke up one morning and decided, You know what? I am not going to wear a bra. I remembered I felt free the entire day. Empowered. Quite frankly, I felt like a badass. Why? Because for the first time, maybe in my whole life, I was finally in control of my body. After a lifetime of uniforms and no leggings and wondering what I could wear to make the boys think I was beautiful, it was something I could do in protest.
Sure, it was a small change, and it’s likely that no one even noticed, but it wasn’t about that. It was something I got to choose to do with my body, in a world where I feel like I don’t have control over my body. (Plus, I’m lazy, and honestly visible nipples are hot.) Now, I hardly ever wear bras on a daily basis (besides work or if I’m in the mood for a little lace).
I’m lucky that now, unlike my Catholic school days, I’m no longer in an environment where someone would ever chastise me for not wearing a bra. I’m also lucky to feel comfortable with my cup size (I’m a C) since I know there are plenty of women out there who prefer the support a bra provides.
But I think we can all benefit from a “braless” attitude. For example, maybe if you’re not totally comfortable going bra-free, next time you buy a bra, choose one purely for the comfort or support—or maybe choose one made by a sustainable or female-run company, like Lively, Fortnight Lingerie, or Thirdlove.
My point is that no matter what you choose to do with your body, you deserve to feel empowered in a world where it’s easy not to. So whether you like wearing lacy bras, going braless, growing out your body hair, getting a wax—whatever your thing is that keeps you feeling empowered—keep doing it. Because we can’t afford not to.
Here at Byrdie, we know that beauty is way more than braid tutorials and mascara reviews. Beauty is identity. Our hair, our facial features, our bodies: They can reflect culture, sexuality, race, even politics. We needed somewhere on Byrdie to talk about this stuff, so… welcome to The Flipside (as in the flip side of beauty, of course!), a dedicated place for unique, personal, and unexpected stories that challenge our society’s definition of “beauty.” Here, you’ll find cool interviews with LGBTQ+ celebrities, vulnerable essays about beauty standards and cultural identity, feminist meditations on everything from thigh brows to eyebrows, and more. The ideas our writers are exploring here are new, so we’d love for you, our savvy readers, to participate in the conversation too. Be sure to comment your thoughts (and share them on social media with the hashtag #TheFlipsideOfBeauty). Because here on The Flipside, everybody gets to be heard.
Want more stories from The Flipside? Next, read about the problem with ethnic beauty stereotypes.