Why I Believe Bra-Fitting is a Feminist Issue

As most of my readers will know, I consider my blog to be primarily a lingerie and feminism blog. However, at least on my wordpress, feminism posts have been far and few between – my blog focus is usually on bra fitting and reviews. What I haven’t mentioned is that I consider bra fitting itself to be a feminist issue, and today I thought I’d take a minute to give a few reasons why.

Starting with the simple, the most obvious function of a bra is to support. This is particularly important, of course, for sports. In the words of Beckie from Busts4Justice, a well-fitting bra is “the difference between a sedentary life filled with self-consciousness and discomfort and an active one filled with trampolines”. For exercise, a well-fitting bra is absolutely crucial for many people, and yet most of them go without. Unsupportive bras mean bouncing and ligament pain, which discourages women from physical activity, thereby keeping them less fit. Putting it like that makes it sound like a huge conspiracy, but that is one of the results of bad bra fitting being so widespread, and a clear reason to see bra-fitting as a feminist issue. Poorly-fitting bras can also cause health problems in day-to-day life: from the well-known issue of back pain, to blisters and cuts from rubbing.

Shock absorber

Image from Shock Absorber

Of course, there are much more complicated issues when it comes to bra-fitting. Numerous body image issues are caused, both directly and indirectly, by poorly-fitting bras. The vast majority of stores fit people into wrongly sized bras that are unsupportive, cause quadboob and add back fat, which is a problem in itself. But when these sizes don’t work, instead of changing their fit methods, the bra industry releases “miracle bras” (which never help) to get rid of aforementioned sagging, overspill and back fat. People who don’t realise that poorly-fitting bras are the cause of these things are further exploited by companies looking to profit, and when these “miracle bras” don’t work, they come to believe that their bodies are just “wrong”. They begin to think that bras that fit well and look nice are impossible for them. For many people, the appearance of their breasts and the trouble finding clothes can lead to insecurity about their looks, and often hatred of their breasts and body. Body dysmorphia is a huge problem alone, but when it is either caused or worsened by something that should be so easy to change, I can’t help but find it incredibly saddening.

Image via

Image from Victoria’s Secret

On a somewhat similar note, I feel bra sizing can play a huge role in body acceptance. I feel that accepting that you should wear (for example) a 30HH, rather than a 36DD, can be one of the biggest things you can do when it comes to accepting your body. Women are constantly told they need to be smaller, to be daintier, to take up less space, and bra sizing hasn’t escaped this. Many bra manufacturers seem to want us to believe we should all fit into 32-40 AA-E (DDD), and that if you’re out of that range, you must either be a porn star, a child, or a freak. I know women who have cried upon being resized, because of the messages they’ve absorbed about breast size. This image, which I’m sure everyone has seen, is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. Cup sizes over an E carry a weird stigma where those who wear them are simultaneously sexualised and ridiculed. Those with big breasts are too often assumed to be stupid, or accused of being “attention-seeking sluts”, solely because of their bra size. I don’t think I need to start on how fucked up that is.

BraMeter007

Image from “Bra-Meter” app

I feel that learning how bra sizing actually works means separating your breasts from all of the messages and labels so commonly associated with various cup sizes. It means realising that your bra size isn’t constant, that these labels are arbitrary, and that your size doesn’t define you. When you understand bra fitting, you start to deconstruct the size-shaming and slut-shaming associations, and you realise that your breast size has nothing to do with who you actually are. And personally, I can’t see how that doesn’t relate to feminism.

If you’d like more information on proper bra fit, check out this article on Busty Resources. For a more appropriate view of the bra alphabet, and for examples of properly fitted women, check out this article by Fuller Figure Fuller Bust.

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Founder and main author of Bras and Body Image. Anna is a lingerie lover, feminist and maths student based in the UK, who hopes to someday cuddle every cat in the world.

31 thoughts on “Why I Believe Bra-Fitting is a Feminist Issue

  1. Well said! I am thrilled that there is a pretty big overlap between bra-blogosphere and body positivity, and I’m so glad to see that there are bloggers like you who also make it a feminist space!

  2. Yes! I’m so glad you wrote about this. Such an important topic and I think it’s good to post discussion of the philosophy behind our blogs in general. I know I have only done a few posts where I discuss other than bra fit questions. I should get more active on opinion posts. But I love reading your blog because you always write so respectively.

  3. Thanks for this post. I keep wanting to post feminist stuff on The FB or Tumbler for The Brog, but feeling like it’s off-topic. Maybe I can just pin this post to the top of each and then start. I really care about feminist topics and would like to be able to home in, even if it’s only sharing my favorite things from other resources.

    I was (and I imagine you were, too) one of those girls who was assumed to be an attention-seeking slut when I was younger because of my body type. I was accused of stuffing my bra even as I was refusing to wear one (doing so would have meant admitting I had boobs, which I was not ready to do at age nine), accused of sticking my chest out (causing me to adopt a horrible hunched posture that I’ve spent years correcting), accused of “walking in a way that makes them bounce all the time” (real issue: vastly wrongly sized Victoria’s Secret bras which were not providing any support, combined with the normal jiggling of rather large natural breasts), etc. It caused me an awful lot of grief until I really stepped up and owned being the girl with the huge boobs, which of course caused me all kinds of mental/emotional issues of it’s own, since I was doing it as a defense mechanism and not as a natural effect of actually liking my body. Bleh. Sorry to write a small novella in your comments section; I just want to show a personal example in case anyone doubts that this (or any) part of what you are saying is a real issue.

    Thanks for posting this. It’s an important issue.

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  5. Loved this post and I agree whole-heartily! I’d say there’s actually a bit overlap into many women’s issues such as breastfeeding, pregnancy, fitness, and even careers. I still believe that bra fitting should be included in health and fitness classes in high schools.

  6. I am not shamed about my size as it’s something I have no control over. No matter what I do I get bigger. Currently I’m a 34KK but not very many manufacturers make that size, stores rarely have that size, and of course sports bras aren’t made in that size. I love kettlebells and body weight exercises but due the lack of a good sports bra I rarely do them anymore. It’s the main reason why I want a reduction to a smaller size.

  7. This has nothing to do with feminism. It all has to do with your self image. Guys have these problems too; for example, what do you think of a guy in a speedo? Just because it’s bras doesn’t mean it’s a feminist problem. There’s problems on both sides. It’s not about sexism or “unbalance”. It’s allowing other’s opinions harm you. That’s a personal issue, nothing to do with gender.

    • Poorly-fitting bras can have a huge impact on physical and mental health, and the people affected by this are overwhelmingly women. That alone is cause enough for it to be a feminist issue.

      Bras and speedos are in no way comparable whatsoever, and the fact that you think they are is kind of hilarious. Speedos are entirely optional attire, and the labels attached to someone wearing one are nowhere near as severe. There are a mountain of other options for men, and men don’t wear swimwear for 50% of every day. As for what I personally think of a guy in a speedo, I could not care in the slightest. Really.

      In comparison, wearing a bra is almost compulsory for women in the western world. Keeping it short, women are expected to have lifted, perfectly shaped breasts, and if they don’t they are mocked for it – which is a post for another time. Women who wear ill-fitting bras may experience physical or mental health problems as mentioned above, and women who wear well-fitting bras are likely to be heavily mocked due to the size, especially E+ cup sizes. The labels associated with large cup sizes aren’t something I just made up, they are things I have heard over and over again since I learned about proper fitting. It is not a self-image problem, it is primarily a societal problem. When it comes to bras, women just can’t win. I believe that women being expected to do something, and then being mocked for whatever they do in regards to it, should absolutely be considered a feminist issue.

      • Getting called anything negative can have a huge impact on mental health. That doesn’t mean it’s a feminism issue. I’m not even going out of perspective when I say this; If calling names is a feminism issue, you should rally up and start targeting *kindergartners*.

        My point is, and stands – A self image problem is not a sexism problem. It’s really that simple. This is about other’s opinions harming you. NOT a lack of rights. It gets tiring of people using feminism to try and gain support for anything they may feel compelled to write about. Especially self image problems that, surprise, both sexes have.

        Oh, and in case you want to stereotype; I’m a female.

        • It really doesn’t seem like you read half of the article. It seems like you read “self-image” and got stuck on it. I never said men have no self image problems, I said that poorly fitting bras disproportionately affect the physical and mental health of women. Feminism isn’t just about gaining legal rights, it is also about getting rid of societal expectations, pressures, stereotypes and traditions. Your dismissal of these things in relation to breasts and bras doesn’t mean they don’t happen, it means you aren’t paying attention.

          As for you claiming that you’re female to stop me “stereotyping you”, I’m almost 100% sure you’re a guy called Lance Samson, based on the fact that you already posted your first comment once on facebook. C’mon dude, seriously?

          • Even then being “a female” (which is usually something you hear MRAs say in lieu of “woman”) doesn’t mean one is magically incapable of misogyny. Or in this case, failing to understand that a substantial amount of people who need or want to wear bras cannot find them in their size.

            For a long time, I thought my bra size simply didn’t exist and I was, in fact, a freak. Though finding out that the bras that ARE designed to fit me are often $40+ wasn’t much consolation. I’d posit that it’s also a class issue.

          • All very true. Being female doesn’t mean that you can’t internalise misogyny, resulting in perpetuating harmful attitudes or dismissing legitimate issues. I’d agree that it’s very much a class issue, as well – going from my pre-fitting size to proper size took me from £8 for an everyday bra to £30 (about 4x as much). I understand why they cost so much, as there is a lot of engineering that goes into them, but it can’t be ignored that the higher pricepoint will affect those with a lower income much more.

      • Why do you think only women with “further” letters are “mocked”? Are you aware that it is also impossible to buy AA, AAA cups in regular stores? And what about what other women say about very small busted women? Like a 12 year old BOY, etc… Wait, maybe, you could say “just don’t wear a bra, there is nothing to support” /sarcasm

        There is a reason why breast augmentation is more popular than breast reduction. A large number of people who have breast reduction are even men with gynecomastia.

        It is not entirely societal problem. Part of it is self-image problem. Americans have successfully sexualized breasts. Everyone shows cleavage but all hell breaks loose when they see a mother breastfeeding in public.

        You seem to dislike the idea that women are expected to wear bras. Well, why not promote the “burn the bra” movement again rather than hammering the idea of bras? After all, before the corsets and bras, what did women wear? Many “tribal” people did not even wear tops.

      • Very true. I searched this topic because I want to know why if I’m a 38 L that bra size just doesn’t exist. I know im not the only person with large breast so why does the bra industry make me feel as if I am.Your only considered a slut if you wear a size 10 or less in clothes, larger than that your just considered fat.

    • we get it neither side has a lot of fun with self-image. start a blog about your experiences, I’m sure people will find that interesting, but this more about how self-image affects women.

    • You didn’t read the article, did you? It’s about more than self-image. It’s about ignorance surrounding an item of clothing that in theory is supposed to allow those of us with breasts to take a more active role in life.

      I really don’t even know what men in Speedos have to do with this post, unless you are saying that all men everywhere are hamstrung by the fact that they have to wear uncomfortable and/or painful Speedos all the time.

  8. Thank you! I am crossing my fingers that more retailers will offer a wider size range soon, but until then, I’ve found blogs like yours to be a great resource in finding the right one online. Let’s focus on the fit, support and comfort.

  9. Even after a pro fitting, my bra leaves me in pain. The underwires used for my cup size are too big for my rib cage and end up digging into my armpits, when they would sit in front of my armpits if the bra was properly designed. Bra makers need to accept that women’s boobs are on the front of women’s chests–not the sides–and hence wires that sit under the armpits are sitting in the wrong place. I have become so sick of red marks, pain, and thickened brown skin caused by chafing that I have given up with bras completely and either wear soft crop tops (like the ones made by Belvia) or else go without. I took 30FF at last fitting, yet despite my size I am still more comfortable going without a bra.

  10. Intersectionally speaking, bras are a class issue too. Large sizes are easily $50+ — I tried a few 36E on the other day, and IIRC the cheapest was $71 (CAN). I’m not poor and that is still not easy to pay that much for something that I need several of and that wear out/stop fitting fairly easily. Let alone the audaciousness of wishing you had matching underwear.

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  13. I hadn’t really thought of it this way before, but thinking back, I believe a supportive bra would have really made a big difference for me in high school PE. I was so afraid to run because I had heard my classmates teasing about my breasts bouncing. If I’d had a proper bra back then, I might have encouraged my fitness a lot. Thanks for speaking out.

  14. As a woman with almost no cup size, I can assure you that bras are not made in my size either. I do need a bra for a number of reasons, and yet am blithely assured that I don’t need one because I am so small. I have rarely heard anyone say, “wow, I love your dainty breasts!” or “gosh, I wish I had no boobs.” When I run, if I don’t wear a sports bra, despite them being tiny, they can hurt. And no, the bras don’t support me, because it is assumed with such “dainty” breasts that I don’t need support.

    Just a little food for thought from the other side.

    • Absolutely agreed. Most of the comments weren’t aimed at any breast size in particular, as I think the vast majority of bra-wearing people have difficulty working out and locating their size, and there are the stereotypes and insults at whatever size (as seen by the “Bra Alphabet” joke). The issues I mentioned above can be faced by anyone, which is why I believe bra fitting is important for everyone.

      I didn’t mention it specifically in the article, but one of the main issues with bra fitting is that inches are often added when calculating the band size, which then leads to underestimating the cup size. This leads to a lack of support for larger or heavier busts, but for small busts it can yield some very odd results. So, for instance, someone who measures “30, 34” would be put in a 34AA, while they might actually find a better fit in a 30D, or perhaps 32B/C.

      For those with less of a difference, adding 4-5 inches and then calculating the cup size (AAA for bust smaller than the band size, AA for 0-1 inch difference, A for a 1 inch difference, etc) means that people with up to four inches difference in their bust measurement will all be put in a AAA. So those who measure “28, 28”, “28, 29”, “28, 30” and “28, 31” would all be put in a 32AAA, despite all having different bust measurements. Quite likely some of them would do better in a different size, both for fit and support!

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