Breasts and bras

In the November Harper’s Magazine, a fine piece by Sallie Tisdale, “Miracles and Wonders: One woman’s search for a perfect bra”, touching on almost everything bra-related. Here I’ll look at four things: variation in breasts; bras compared to jockstraps; the aura of sex that suffuses the world of bras; and Tisdale’s wardobe of bras. Along the way: analogies between female breasts and male genitals, and in line with that, analogies between bras and male underwear containing the genitals (briefs, jockstraps, etc.).

Illustration in Harper’s by Katherine Streeter:

Variation. From Tisdale:

Unmistakable, yet greatly varied, the visible breast can be shaped like a pear, melon, apricot, or orange — for some reason, produce is a common metaphor — but also like a cone, sausage, softball, plate, ham, or loaf of bread. The fibrous tissue of the breast is a kind of suspensory structure called Cooper’s ligaments that allows the breasts to move freely but gives little support. Breasts may lie near each other or be widely spaced; they may grow high on the chest or low. The nipples can point toward each other, away from each other, up, down, or straight ahead.

Mammary symbols and breast variability, analogues to two recurrent male themes on this blog: phallic symbols (also testicular symbols, like nuts and eggs) and variability in the male genitals, especially the penis (size, angle, curvature, etc.).

Bras and jockstraps. From Tisdale:

I’ve heard men say that wearing a bra is like wearing a necktie, but it’s a lousy comparison. A bra is more like a tight jockstrap that you are obligated to wear all day, every day, wherever you are, because your testicles are so large that your pants don’t fit otherwise, so large that they flap painfully against your thighs, chafing each other and jiggling conspicuously with every step. Envy that.

Contain, control, and support — that’s what bras are supposed to do, and that’s what men’s underpants and, especially, jockstraps are supposed to do,

Sexualizing the clothing.  From Tisdale:

After days of Web surfing, I hit bra fatigue. It was partly due to the endless airbrushed photographs of slim, beautiful women with unnaturally large and perky breasts. I found the scent of sex that permeates the world of bras tiring. I know that my breasts are far more than collections of fat and fibrous tissue. They are provocative and comforting; they have been stroked, nursed, kissed and slept upon, nestled and coddled and slapped with glee. My breasts, like most breasts, have been objects of love and hatred, hunger and confusion. They are like two small companions who live on my chest, whispering, demanding attention. But they are not always sexual, and looking sexy is actually the easiest thing to do in a bra. Being comfortable at work all day is the hardest, and not many companies are selling that these days. I grew tired of the breezy insistence that the difficulty of shopping for a bra was suddenly gone forever. And I got angry when I read that my nipples “should always point straight ahead.” The idea that my breasts should behave in a particular way after having proved for many decades that they will do as they please was discouraging at best.

Bra ads tend to be suffused with sex. They are aimed at both men (who find the bra-breast association arousing) and women looking to use a bra to arouse men — though as with Tisdale, women are often searching for a comfortable bra, not necessarily an arousing one.

Something similar is true of ads for men’s briefs and, especially, for jockstraps. As I’ve pointed out in my frequent postings on men’s underwear, many gay men find the underwear-genitals association arousing, and that’s especially true for jockstraps (with their association with locker-room masculinity), so that there’s a rich lode of ads that ostentatiously drip with sex — though there are plenty of men (especially straight men) who are mostly searching for comfortable underwear and for jockstraps that provide support and some degree of protection.

A wardrobe of bras. From Tisdale:

A year ago, I owned three bras. Today I own ten: a wardrobe of bras, as many people in the business have told me I must have. Which one do I wear? The Jeunique is not, after all, my favorite bra for daily wear. But it has such good support that I often wear it for exercise. I like my new Elomi, and under certain clothes I wear a seamless Bali. I wear them all, but none of them are eighteen-hour bras that I can forget are there. My favorite bra, the most comfortable bra, the one I wear when I’m home alone, is about ten years old. It is stretched and thin, so faded that I cannot read the label, and barely a bra at all.

For many men, their most comfortable underwear, their favorite underwear, is threadbare stuff that they wear until it falls apart.

One Response to “Breasts and bras”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Mike Pope on Facebook:

    As a kind of aside, there was an article in the Seattle Times a while back about the ladies (always) who staff the “foundations” department at the department store that has since become Macy’s here. It was a nice piece that touched on the ritual of girls being taken to the store (in an era when “going downtown” was perhaps still a special thing), where they were capably and efficiently fitted for the first time by the old pros at the store. And about how many women experience changes in their body shape but stick with the size they’ve always known, with results that are both uncomfortable and unflattering for them.

    It was an interesting look into a world that, more or less by definition, I knew (know) extremely little about.

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