When I look at photos of myself as a teen, I have to laugh at the sheer “muchness” of it all. I may have been all of four foot eleven (thanks, college growth spurt, it’s good to finally be 5 ‘ 2”!), but I inflated my frame with enough hairspray, eyeliner, lip gloss, and lingerie to make Dolly Parton jealous. And at the center of my look, no matter what I was wearing on top, was a big padded bra.
Looking back, I doubt that anyone thought my chest looked “natural.” Push up bras give more nipple coverage and lift than lacy bralettes, and many large-breasted women find the extra support makes them feel more comfortable. But I wasn’t wearing them for comfort. What other people thought of my body was hugely important to me, and I was self-conscious about my naturally small chest. Sure, it was in proportion to my small frame, but that didn’t stop my teenage brain from fearing that no one would ever love me if I didn’t amp up my tiny boobies. I wanted to be sexy, comfort be damned, so I filled out my band tee shirts with $50 push up bras from Victoria’s Secret.
My insecurity lasted until college, when I was landed with a bombshell of a roommate that made me feel like a freckly little kid in comparison (she’s also an intelligent, lovely human, and we’re still friends to this day!). It started to become very clear that I would never look like her. I learned to embrace my body little by little, slowly getting over some of the eating hang-ups I’d struggled with in high school. But I still wore a push up bra every day, strapping on constant proof of my insecurity. If I was so comfortable with my body, why did I still insist on puffing up my chest with padded bras?
My push up bras weren’t fooling anybody. Anyone that got to second base would know immediately that all that oomph was fake. Of course, I occasionally went braless, but even that “freedom” was more about emulating some titillating hippie ideal of beauty rather than embracing my own personal comfort. Everything about how I presented my boobs was about performance. I wanted to kiss all those old insecurities goodbye, and I realized that not learning to love my natural chest was holding me back.
Slowly, I started replacing my push up bras with lightly lined bras. Gone were the pokey underwires and inches of padding, and in were pieces that outlined my natural shape. It was jarring to see my silhouette change so completely, and I had to relearn what my boobs look like in V-necks, tee shirts, and the bodycon dresses I loved so much. I discovered that to really love your body, you have to see its natural shape every day.
I would like to think that I came to this realization all by myself, but this is one time when fashion has inspired a positive social change. It wasn’t that long ago that the teen idols we looked up to were strapped into bandage dresses, low rise jeans that laced up at the crotch, and actual corsets as going out tops. Now, Kendall Jenner chats openly about going braless, small boobs and all. “I really don’t see what the big deal is with going braless,” she says. “I think it’s cool and I really just don’t care! It’s sexy, it’s comfortable and I’m cool with my breasts. That’s it!”
Add on top of that the popularity of “Free the Nipple,” and its no surprise more young women are choosing lingerie that adds comfort and style instead of changing their silhouette. The refusal to conform to a homogenous shape is always a feminist moment. It happened in the 1920s, when women dared to show their ankles and wear dresses that actually let them dance. It happened again in the 1960s, when women refused the full-body girdles that had been popular for years and turned to separate bra-and-panty sets. And it happened notoriously in the 1970s, when your mom might have burned her bra on a college campus.
I work in an office, so going totally braless has always been reserved for the weekends. As I transitioned my own bra wardrobe to more casual pieces, bralettes were popping up in stores all over the country. Lacey bralettes were no longer just for hippies or sleeping. They were peeking out from under workout wear, layered under sheer sweaters, or adding visual interest and coverage under backless tops. And with those bralettes, you could finally see the natural shape of a woman’s breasts, in all their totally personal, wildly unique glory. We look back at the uniformly bullet-shaped bras of the 1950s and laugh. I wonder now if we’ll look back at the perfectly round push-up bra silhouette of the early 2000s and laugh just as hard.
Now, we fight for the desexualization of women’s bodies on Instagram and Twitter. A lingerie makeover is just one piece of a movement that includes clapping back at catcallers, tweeting our workplace harassment stories, and refusing to apologize for our period jokes and messy hair. Our bodies can be sexy when we want them to be, but they’re not just about sex. Our bodies can also just be vessels for head and heart, or a canvas that we illustrate with makeup and clothes. And breast size doesn’t affect their value one way or the other.
Whether they’re part of your daily uniform or not, bralettes are all about embracing your natural shape. Bigger breasted women may want more support, and that’s okay. The most important takeaway from the bralette trend is that cultural norms for what a “sexy” or “normal” shape is are changing. Kim Kardashian, Chrissy Teigen, Rihanna, Selena Gomez, and Miley Cyrus all proudly go braless, and all have widely different shapes. Add a few bralettes to your rotation to start falling in love with your natural breasts. It’s the most stylish way to make a body-positive statement and feel cute at the same time.
Author: Mandie Williams
You can follow Mandie on Twitter @mandiethekid