Why is it So Damn Difficult For Women to Find the ‘Right Bra’?
Let us begin with generalisations.
Indian men can’t deal with the sight of breasts, or anything associated with them. They begin to act funny.
Indian women can’t deal with the fact of carrying breasts after a point. They begin to act weary.
The second statement has an obvious causal connection with the first. But that’s only one half of the breast story. Since there can be no feminism without lambasting capitalism, let us hunt for the other half in the glow-signs and cheeky magazine inserts and cheekier lingerie store placards.
The labyrinth of bras.
The Bra/The Holy Grail
No, I’m not going to dwell on how awkward the act of buying a bra is. From the village haat to the La Senza store in the biggest mall of the country, what remains unchanged is the figure of an uneasy woman trying to avoid eye contact with the seller during her frantic search for the desired upliftment.
There will always be that one woman embarrassed about her breasts. All the Deepika Padukones of the country with their heroic declarations cannot make her disappear. She steps inside the glitzy store leaving behind the male companion – or tiptoes undetected by the passersby and the hanger-on crowd, making a silent wish for invisibility.
Anyway, ignoring the process like a bad communist, I’m focusing instead on the end, the prize, the Holy Grail (in duplicate), the promised wonders of Tilism-e-Hoshruba, the goody from Samudra Manthan: a perfect bra that fits like a dream.
Fits, mind you, your breasts and your budget.
Why is this perfect bra as elusive a concept as the G spot? I don’t know a woman who is 100% sure of the existence of either. But let the G spot be. We focus on the tangibles. Deliverables. The modern bra is more than a century old. How is it that we are still struggling to perfect its form? Yes, we’ve come a long way from kanchukas and corsets – but the development seriously falls short of expectations.
What’s With the ‘Bra Shaming’?
A quick tour of the lingerie section of reputed stores like Marks and Spencer or flagship outlets like La Senza is enough to dent your belief in honesty. They are inundated with the padded variety in varying degrees of thickness. Whatever happened to the curvaceous Indian women? Or is this evolution?
Loveliest bras, to touch and behold, are for the breasts that ought to be there. One of the sales attendants once threw this to me casually – “these are the fastest moving things.” Oh indeed, well done consumerism! First, fat shame women to lose their curves and then, sell them these overpriced padded bras.
The Economies Behind the Little Fabric
The biggest irony, however, is almost tragic. Curvaceous women are the ones at loss in these stores. To the ample bosomed, all that the rainbow store offers is that one rack of black, white and “skin colour” abominations. If you get lucky, there shall be some colourful ones, hung at the back of the row as apologetic afterthoughts. And then, there are the minimisers that are the ugliest of the lot. Is there a valid reason why they don’t come in colours and prints?
When it comes to fitting, nothing teaches you inverse proportion better than bra shopping. What fits your breasts beautifully will never fit your budget – and vice versa. Women have been educating themselves about choosing the RIGHT bra only to be LEFT bankrupt when they finally find one. The average price of a bra at two favoured brands – La Senza and M&S – is Rs 2,000. A woman on an average needs at least four everyday use bras, two sports bras and 2-3 special utility bras (strapless, backless, et al). Around 20,000 for ten pieces, therefore, when you start building your little closet from the scratch.
Now, the experts tell you to discard your bras every six months. That makes it 40,000 per annum. 60 years of bra wearing will cost you 24,00,000 without adjusting for inflation.
And what happens to the discarded bras? I’m yet to come across a woman who actually practises recycling or repurposing of bras. Unlike clothes, it is difficult to donate bras. So tonnes of bra waste are added to the planet biannually. Should this not be reason enough for a revolution in the bra industry? What stops companies from manufacturing bras that fit well, look good, last long and are affordable? Are we still treating the bra as a luxury item? And in which case, why write reams on the scientific virtues of wearing the correct bra and making it into a necessity?
In the 1960s, bras were decried, if not actually burnt, for being a tool of subjugation of women by the male gaze. Bras were discarded – along with high heels, tweezers, false eyelashes and other feminine products in the Freedom Trashcans to make a statement. The freedom to look natural. Half a century later, the struggle with the bra continues. Make endless bra jokes, make an issue out of bra sighting even in private spaces, but no, don’t make bras that women really need.
[The writer is Associate Fellow (Gender Studies), Observer Research Foundation]