You can’t love them. But you can’t live without them.
The relationship between women and their bras is complex. While on the one hand is the relief of ripping the bra open and falling on the bed after a long day, on the other is the incessant need to wear one to keep the breasts from going in all possible directions.
Of course, there is also the ‘bra-free’ movement to support a woman’s agency to choose to not wear bras. But the fact that many women continue to wear one makes it crucial to look into the health implications of our coloured, patterned, padded and unpadded frenemies.
According to a 2008 study,
Almost 80% women wore incorrectly sized bras: 70% wore bras that were too small, 10% wore bras that were too large.
The reasons for this may be many: unawareness of one’s own size, unavailability of a perfect size in the market, continuous changes in breast sizes, and the taboo associated with discussing breasts (and anything to do with them).
These seemingly harmless statistics become troubling when the possible health issues associated with ill-fitted bras are studied.
Before we get into them, enough studies have debunked the claim that there is a link between bras and breast cancer, calling it a myth. In fact the American Cancer Society does not see any evidence that compression of the lymph nodes by bras causes breast cancer.
Skin Problems & Bra-Strap Syndrome
We are hardly unaware of this one.
Rashes, redness, deep grooves on shoulders, itching, chafing and irritation are some common problems that are experienced if the bra doesn’t fit well.
When the breasts don’t get enough air to breathe in a tight-fitted bra, blisters might also form on and around them, causing further pain and irritation. Stretch marks would be a more permanent damage, as shared by author Joanna Wakefield-Scurr in The Conversation.
In fact, there is a condition describing some of these problems, known as the ‘bra strap syndrome’ or the ‘costoclavicular syndrome’.
Physiopedia explains, ‘the costoclavicular syndrome was first described in soldiers with loaded knapsacks, who developed pain, numbness, and fatigueability of the arms as they stood at attention’. One of the ways it could happen in women is by wearing an ill-fitting bra that could exert pressure on nerves near the ribs and compress the thoracic outlet.
Isn’t the entire purpose of wearing a bra to support the breasts and keep them in shape?
Well, a wrong bra may do the exact opposite.
First things first. Some degree of breast sagging is normal and not a sign of a serious health problem. Sagging breasts, however, can be uncomfortable and may signal permanent damages, such as the stretching of the Cooper’s ligaments (connective tissue that shape and support the breasts) and backaches.
While there are many exercises that are recommended to help make the breasts firmer and lifted over time, a right-fitted bra is definitely a start.
Posture, Backache and Neck Pain
News website Bustle quotes Elise Recour, managing director at Gossard.
“A bra that is too tight restricts movement in the upper back, causing stiffness in the spine and restriction. Spines are designed to move, to bend, to rotate, but experts believe that the section where the bra strap is often has a localized stiffness at the spine (the two vertebra around the bra strap tend to be quite stiff). This causes backache which can then develop into back pain.”
Drooping shoulders and a slouching back might be signs of a bra that doesn’t provide full support to the breasts. Therefore, finding the right bra is crucial.
Unfortunately, the conditioning of women is such that they find it difficult to be comfortable in their own skin. Bouncing and sagging breasts, especially during physical movements, may make them conscious, and thus, skeptical of working out.
A study titled ‘The Influence of the Breast on Physical Activity Participation in Females’, found,
The breast was a barrier to physical activity participation for 17% of women.
These women were quoted as saying "I can't find the right sports bra". The authors also confirmed that breast pain increased with ‘vigorous activity’ and ‘poor breast support’.
Customized Bra Services to the Rescue
Online bra-size calculators may come in handy to measure the estimated bra-size. There are also ways to measure yourself at home.
The problem, however, arises when the available options in the market are not sufficient to perfectly fit women of all shapes, sizes and ages.
FIT spoke to Rashi Seth, founder of ‘Kiraka’, a product service consulting which fits, consults and recommends right innerwear for women of all ages and stages.
"I started Kiraka with a vision to guide, educate and fit women of all ages and stages and to help them make an informed purchase. Our emphasis lies in guiding our customers on their exact size, educating them on how to wear and recommend the best fit from available options or guide them where to buy from."
Explaining why she felt the need to start such a service, she said, “Growing up in this country, I always felt under-serviced in my intimate wear needs.”
Lack of awareness, apprehensions, taboos and under developed product range are primary reasons for girls and women wearing the wrong size: making them under confident, conscious, and inhibited.
So ladies, if you feel discomfort, itching, swelling, sagging, backache, or any of the other problems discussed, the solution might be as simple as re-examining your bra-sizes.
Also Read: Should You Wear a Bra at Night or Not?
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