I wish I could say my decision to go bra-less was a political one, a hedge against the Victoria's Secret-corporate-industrial complex. It was not. It was a convenience decision. After freelancing for five years in American Apparel running shorts and the sort of T-shirts you get for free when you sign up for a new checking account, I spent the next two in a recession-induced stint at two fashion magazines, where wearing a bra was literally -- literally -- the least I could do to dress in an office-appropriate manner.
When I went back to working from home, it was soon evident that there really wasn't much point to putting on a bra at two in the afternoon, which was typically around the time I'd first notice that I wasn't wearing one. In an at least semi-successful effort to avoid total slothery, I made a point of going for four-mile walks every morning. Usually I squashed my breasts into my one Lululemon sports bra -- a hot-pink racer-back that transfer-dyed all those T-shirts magenta from the bra-line up. On other, less enthusiastic days, I'd wear a tight top, sort of hunch my shoulders forward, and brace my arms against my chest to keep everything from moving around too much.
With the sole exception of failing to finish painting a bathroom I began painting seven years ago and which has a total of 12 square feet of paintable wall space, not wearing a bra for three months was the laziest thing I've ever done. Additionally, it's worth noting that it offered no notable benefits outside of reclaiming the 45 seconds it takes to put one on and take it off. As for those 45 seconds, I'm sure I used them to read something about sharks on Wikipedia that I immediately forgot.
My adventure in bralessness ended exactly where it should have: in my mother's parked car outside a movie theater in central New Jersey. Ten minutes before "Silver Linings Playbook" was due to begin, I described to my mother, a former nurse, how I'd begun to notice a mild pain in my left breast.
"What does it feel like?" she said.
"Sort of like when not wearing a bra when you usually wear a bra."
"Then that's probably it," she said.
"But what if it's...." I failed to think of a non-life-threatening way to finish the sentence.
"Just go see your doctor," she said, exasperated.
I did. I expected a ha-ha-you're-dumb lecture from my gynecologist on how people should not neglect basic, time-tested strategies for personal wellness, like supporting one's breasts with fabric and wire. Instead, I got a thorough manual exam and a prescription for my very first mammogram. I had proven empirically what I should have happily taken on faith: Neglecting your body isn't as funny as it might have seemed.
When my doctor emailed me a week later with the all-clear, I took ten minutes to Google the nearest lingerie shop and then bought a suitable number of bras for an adult female. They are 32Cs, I discovered, not the 34Bs I had been advised by Victoria's Secret. "You have no idea," the saleswoman said, "how many women are running around with the wrong bra sizes thanks to those guys."
When I'd first stopped to consider my decision to go bra-free, I'd thought of it as a tacit declaration, as evidence that I had judged which prescribed daily activities I valued enough to continue doing (flossing, lovely Nivea deodorant, etc.) and which were conformist relics not worth anyone's limited time: Why make a bed that's only going to be unmade? Why wear a proper bra when there's no one in my apartment to cast a judgmental eye? Why not spend the day in a bikini, and have caipirinhas at dusk, and fall into my unmade bed at 2 in the morning after a few hours of "Criminal Minds"? All I can do is blame it on my mom -- a model of Scandinavian rectitude and a farmer's daughter who dutifully dead-heads her flowers, gets up at dawn, rotates her tires, and makes her bed every morning with the precision of a put-upon Army recruit. It took me all these years to understand why she took such pride in her rituals of daily maintenance, and now, all I can do is apologize to her for failing to get the message until now-and promise that she's endured her last impromptu conversation on the state of my breasts.
Check out the many celebrities who have dared to go braless.