Bat­tle of the bra

Women shed their brassieres for ease, health and free­dom from so­cial ex­pec­ta­tions

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By Zhang Xinyuan

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.

Re­al­iz­ing fem­i­nism

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 peo­, 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.”

Photo: Li Hao/GT

Some peo­ple be­lieve that not wear­ing a bra sup­ports the fem­i­nist move­ment.

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