Battle of the bra
Women shed their brassieres for ease, health and freedom from social expectations
Zhang Qi, a 28-year-old girl from Beijing, has gone braless for nearly a year. She said it is the first time she has felt this comfortable since she started wearing bras when she was 13.
“When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to
wear a bra because I thought they were so beautiful and a symbol of becoming a woman,” Zhang said.
“But in recent years, I got sick of wearing bras because the underwire pinches me, the bra leaves mark on my skin and sometimes, especially during the summer, a bra makes it difficult to breathe,” Zhang said.
So she decided to try not wearing a bra, wearing bras without underwire or wearing Nubra, a backless, strapless self-adhesive bra.
More young Chinese women have become aware of feminism and pursue gender equality, according to Chen Yaya, a feminist and sociologist from Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. She said a small number of them are starting not to wear bras, and the number is growing.
“Not wearing bras is still progressive behavior among young women; only a small group of young would do so,” Chen said. “It’s a common behavior among feminists in China who want to take control of their own body and care about their breast health more than if they are big and perky.”
“For myself, I don’t wear a bra, mainly because I think it’s uncomfortable and a bondage to women,” she said.
Other signs of the development of feminism in China include more women choosing to get married later or not to get married at all.
They want to achieve themselves through career, school and other interests, and more women prefer boyish and gender-neutral looks now, according to Chen.
Some women choose to not wear a bra for comfort or health benefits. However, for some women, especially feminists, not wearing a bra is an advancement of feminism in China.
“Feminism advocates healthy beauty and women being in charge of their own body, free of influence from other people’s opinions,” Chen said.
“Bras and high-heeled shoes are bad for women’s health. Besides, feminism advocates diversified beauty standards. Everyone has their own unique beauty, and they don’t need to change their body to cater to mainstream and stereotyped beauty standards.”
Zhang also experienced such a wakeup call. Surely not wearing a bra makes her more comfortable, but it is also her way to rebel against male-dominated beauty standards and express herself.
“Our society (mainly the male population) thinks the bigger the breasts are, the more beautiful or sexy a woman is,” Zhang said.
“So women go out of their way to put pads in their bras to make their boobs look bigger and buy bras with underwire and push-up effects to have cleavage, although they are uncomfortable.”
Zhang said that she had tried them all. In the summer, she would wear bras with thick pads in them to try to push up her boobs and have more obvious cleavage. Her breasts were covered with sweat and red marks from the underwire, and her chest felt stuffy.
“Sometimes, my skin even bruised because of it. All that pain just because my boyfriend formed his taste for big boobs from watching unrealistic women in Japanese pornographic films?” Zhang said. “I don’t think so. I shouldn’t sacrifice my health and comfort over other people’s illusions.”
A bra’s usage in modern society is more for male’s aesthetic taste than for the protection of boobs, said Li Tingting, a feminist activist in China who initiated many feminist campaigns, including “Occupy the men’s room” in 2012.
“Bra’s designs are getting tighter, focused on showing cleavage and more about entertaining,” Li said. “It shows that women’s bodies are products for males to watch and consume.”
Zhang recalled that she and her friends have all purchased a wonder bra called “baoru shenqi,” which is intended to give women maximum cleavage, and the lingerie vendor told Zhang that the wonder bra is their store’s best seller.
According to a report in November 2015 by people.cn, Du Yan, the deputy secretary-general of China Association of Plastics and Aesthetics, said that China ranked No.1 in the world on the number of boob jobs in 2014.
Li said some Chinese women starting to not wear bras signify their rebellion against male-dominated aesthetic standards and consumerism’s exploits on the female. These women are chal- lenging the irrational rules set out by the male and stereotyped aesthetic standards.
Feminism around the world
More women choosing to not wear a bra is the result of feminist campaigns around the world, which fight to gain gender equality. In 2014, a movie called Free the
Nipple filmed by American actress, producer, director and activist Lina Esco was released, and later a campaign started on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, that argue that women should be allowed to be topless and bare their nipples in public just like men.
Stars like Chelsea Handler, Miley Cyrus and Rhianna and Internet models including Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid all shared pictures of themselves showing their nipples on social media platforms. Their actions helped promote females in Western countries to free themselves.
In China, the sense of feminism among Chinese people has developed quickly over the past five years, according to Li.
For example, people are no longer silent when seeing or hearing of violent assault toward women, especially in public places. After the violent assault on a girl in the Yitel hotel near the 798 Art Zone in April 2014, Internet users were furious and launched a wide hot discussion about women’s safety and rights, she said.
Sexual harassment toward women in public has gained more and more attention from the public and the authorities. Feminists have launched campaigns against gropers in subways and defend a women’s right to wear whatever they want without worrying if they will be groped.
Also, the Beijing Municiple Public Security Bureau has set out a task force to find gropers in public places.
Also, the prejudice of male-preference in China has been more and more challenged and questioned, and social phenomenons related to women’s rights such as criminal cases of trafficking women in rural places can all trigger hot discussion on the Internet.
“Those actions have all raised attention to women’s rights,” Li said.
Health and fashion
Not wearing a bra or choosing steel-free bras that do not exaggerate the look of the breasts is also about health and fashion.
At the beginning, Zhang’s boyfriend had some difficulty accepting her choice to not wear a bra.
“After he realized that I was uncomfortable wearing bras and that unfit bras could cause diseases such as breast cancer and sagging breasts, he understood,” Zhang said. “As long as I don’t wear a transparent dress showing my nipples to other people.”
According to a report by the official website of China National Radio in November 2015, wearing bras that have steel wires and that are too tight could cause many issues including sore muscles, a stuffy chest and dizziness, in addition to spinal aches, hyperplasia of mammary glands and mammary gland lumps, which could all increase the possibility of breast cancer.
The fashion trends in recent years also lead more women to abandon their bra.
In the past few years, Normcore style (a unisex style) has been very popular on the runway and real life, according to Zhang.
“In winter, baggy sweaters are very popular and in summer, all the fashion icons are wearing silk slip dresses. These kinds of clothes look better with natural-shaped breasts and without bras,” Zhang said.
Take slipped dresses for example; the bras’ laces and the plump shape would ruin the style, according to Zhang.
However, it is not a mainstream choice among Chinese women. Some seem not to agree with the feminists and have gotten used to wearing bras. One of Zhang’s female friends said that she think it must be uncomfortable to not wear a bra because her breasts would hurt when nothing is holding them.
“I am glad more women in China put their health and preferences over the stereotyped beauty standards now,” Zhang said. “Whether or not a woman wants to wear a bra, and for whatever reasons, it’s her right. They shouldn’t be making the choice under other people’s opinion and influence.”
Some people believe that not wearing a bra supports the feminist movement.