Sa-bra Ka Phal Meetha Hota Hain?
Updated: Sep 2, 2020
For millennia, people have said that if you wait long enough, and have patience, victory will be yours, and it would be sugar-sweet. Women have waited long enough to get rid of their bras. Is it finally the time to say goodbye to them, as a society?
The other day, before our online classes started, I got a call from my friend. She sounded like she was in a hurry.
“Hey, I am getting ready for class but I don’t think I am going to wear a bra because nobody is going to notice anyway. Can’t believe we used to put ourselves through so much before. Honestly, this is the only good thing that has come out of this pandemic and these lockdowns.”
She went on for a bit and told me how good she felt that she didn’t have to wear a bra and how the hassle of wearing one was a thing of the past.
And that got me thinking, did it take a pandemic for the women of the world to actually skip wearing bras entirely and for the rest of the world to be okay with it? Or is this just another #QuarantineTrend? I did go on a little thought journey and I decided to take a look at bras. What are they? Does wearing or not wearing one actually mean anything? How have they changed over the years and how the women wearing them have changed along with them.
A History of The ‘Contraption’
The first bras, or breast-cover-uppers, that they actually were, were seen in the ancient Egyptian, Indian, Greek, and Roman civilizations. The Egyptians wore something that resembles today’s tube tops. The fabric was sewn on the sides but there isn’t much proof of these bras. Maybe we lost them to time and misrepresentation.
In India, the traditional blouse, which is worn even today with a saree, was and has been the form of the bra in Indian culture. The blouse is usually made out of cotton or silk, depending upon the saree and its color is usually in coordination with that of the saree. The first time a bra-like blouse was in vogue in India, was during the time of the Vijaynagara Empire.
Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations are actually believed to be the first ones where we actually see a garment that resembles the modern-day strapless bra. The famous ‘Bikini Girls’ paintings of Ancient Rome depict women running around and playing sports that happen to look like Volleyball in just those strapless bra-like things and briefs.
Image Source: earlysearchhistory.org
But bras, as we know have come a long way from those breast-cover-uppers that they once were and seen as. Because today, the choices are endless.
Shopping for bras is like browsing through Netflix on a regular Tuesday. Like the genres on Netflix, a bra shop or a website has bras for every occasion and every mood per se. The options are endless and you end up buying the same kind of bra, just like you end up watching the same show all over again on Netflix. The average woman is comfortable in the style that she picked out for herself until her friend or the Internet comes around to tell her that she has been wearing the wrong bra her entire life. Lifestyle magazines are flooded with advertisements and articles about finding the right bras because they are intimate.
But how did the bras come to this? I am afraid I have to steer you back to history again.
The Corset Days
The utility of bras changed quite a bit after the Ancient Civilizations. Women understood that the underwear, they wear, could actually enhance their posture and might make them more desirable. They could have the “ideal” body type. Enter corsets. You know, those things you see women squirm themselves into in all the period pieces that you watch on Netflix while you stuff Cheetos in your mouth and wonder about romance? Even watching them makes you uncomfortable and uneasy. You ask yourself, “how was this woman able to breathe in that thing?” And the answer is, well she really wasn’t.
So the women now knew that corsets weren’t going to let them breathe. Even though they “enhanced” their posture, if you Google images of what it did to their internal organs, you would freak out. Corsets were just another prop to the already suffocating patriarchal society (oh that is still there, by the way).
The Victorian Dress Reform Movement saw emancipation from corsetry. But of course, that took a lot of time. The bras that were just two-piece corsets back then, were only available to the elites and the wealthy reformists. So the market for the ‘new and improved’ corset was still slim.
There are a lot of origin stories for the first-ever modern-day bra and I won’t get into those right now, but I can tell you this: the focus was shifting from utility to seductiveness.
And it was this shift in focus which led to the bra being a thing to be romanticized and sexualized for the eyes of people (well, predominantly men). This shift gave the bra its symbolic power.
Image Source: charlottelaurenback.wordpress.com
Bra-burning and the Political Angle
Let me just get this out there: feminism is not about burning bras. I mean, it would be fun to burn a bra, but it is not about that. In a misreported story about the Miss America Protest, where women were throwing products which ingrained patriarchy in ‘Freedom Trash Cans’, a woman decided to throw her bra in there. The story was misreported, by a man, of course, who thought that women were being a bit “extreme” in their demands. Back in those days, women who did anything that even remotely resembled standing up for themselves, they were called ‘bra-burning feminists’. The term then became a slur. Very much like today’s ‘feminazi’.
And we all know who starts these slurs; misinformed people who don’t know the cause in its entirety. The women who stood up for themselves and protested against a contest that degraded them (Miss America) were called ‘radical’ and ‘extreme’.
Riddle me this: Why does it so happen in our society, that whenever a woman does something for herself or asks for equal rights; her actions are politicized? The women who don’t wear bras, on the usual, are ridiculed. Why are you afraid to see a woman without a bra? Is it too sexy or is it not the right kind of sexy? And why oh why, does it matter?
Image Source: smithsonianmag.com
Bras in Culture
Bras have evolved with women and of course, the media has to do something with it. When does it not? The thing is, the absence of bras causes more of a talk than the presence of them. There have been so many instances in the media where bras have been put on a pedestal and talked about as if they are something mysterious and sexual and that women have to wear them for some kind of an “allure”. Women’s underwear has been sexualized and fantasized about. I mean, there is an entire industry based on that.
The image of the woman in her bra has been made into something much more than just a woman in a piece of clothing. The whole gambit has to be sexy and mystifying. And in all bland honesty, it is hardly like that.
And the whole shebang is mainly because men have been behind the camera and the ‘male gaze’ has only worsened it for women. The question has always been about the male audience and not about the women who have to don those bras and if they feel comfortable that their basic undergarments have also been sexualized.
The image is changing, granted, in many instances. In the sense that bras have always been by women and for women. But their narrative was just entrusted in the wrong hands. Stories of wearing or not wearing bras are stories of women, essentially. And maybe it is time that we give this symbol the right power because after all, it is not that hard to reclaim. Because it is ours to do so.
Image Source: behance.net
Yes, wearing or not wearing a bra is a choice. It has been and it always will be. Like pretty much anything else. This pandemic has been a great opportunity to actually sit and evaluate all our choices. It has indeed given us some “breathing space” to think about this, especially. Many of my friends and relatives whom I have spent this lockdown with are women. And they have all ditched their bras and felt relieved. Sometimes, they have forgotten to wear one while going outside too.
What I mean is that it is up to you to wear a bra and feel sexy about it, or not wear one and be okay with that, too. The choice is completely yours and I am not for or against bras. Granted, they are a contraption and we can’t wait to get rid of them on an average day, but the days now and the days going ahead won’t be so average, would they?
So is the Society ready?.... More importantly, are you?
I can’t say much about the Society. The not-wearing-a-bra revolution has mostly been a personal one. It has been within the confines and the comforts of the home for most women. This may even last only until the lockdown ends. This personal “revolution” might just end before the world becomes or morphs into some kind of normal. But for sure we have the power to make it into a ‘New Normal’ (yes, even I cringed).
Image Source: behance.net/alanakeenan