Are You Wearing A Wire? (Bra That Is —)


I was between patients with my door open in one of the many clinics I have covered and this staffer slipped in, this woman who is in the process of trying to “dress up” because she has just realized that she does not have a boyfriend. She trusts me, asks me about personal things. In this case, she slipped into my office because she needed to adjust her bra, and I was the only person in the office, and it was obviously a “man-free zone.” “Damned underwire!” she mumbled, adjusting herself. 

“Why the hell do you need underwire?”  I asked her. 

She murmured something about being fashionable, and having bought her bra when out with her mother. “No,” I told her.” Just plain No.” 

She was surprised.  She had thought me fashionable.  She was shocked when I told her I was a scientist first, which I thought she already knew.   I told her there was no reason under God’s heaven to wear a bra with underwire, and some good reasons not to. If I forget everything else I learned in medical school obstetrics and gynecology, I will not forget the old chief, Dr. T., who would rhapsodize at the drop of a hat about how much he loved women and how much he loved breasts. 

He always had these bandage scissors in the pocket of his white coat, and would whip them out as we did rounds on the maternity ward, and he would ask women to remove their bras and he would cut little slits at the end of where the underwire was and pull it out. He would do it theatrically, even if the women begged him not to.  He had seen them cause pain, he said, and draw blood.  Even back then there were some vague notions of hematomas (black and blues) in the breast being associated with later breast cancer. There are some findings since, suggesting that wearing any kind of a bra at all, especially postmenopausally, could be promoting breast cancer. Clearly a lot of people — like the bra industry — does not particularly want to think about this data. There are not going to be a lot of double-blind placebo-controlled trials for this one. As a matter of fact, there is not going to be a lot of objective data. Simply, underwear should not cause pain or have the potential to draw blood.  Therefore, I avoid underwear that causes pain, and for a long time I was naive enough to think that other women would make similar decisions. I am a child of the 60’s, when a lot of other women felt at least a little the same way. Now, the re-ascent of fashion has caused lots of women to choose increasingly uncomfortable underwear. If anyone had actually asked men, they might hear complaints (as I have) that such pieces are harder to remove. Let’s try common sense.  These structures of fat and lymph and velles and the like have some uses, including nursing and, well — pleasure. The idea that women “look better” with wires in their bras has always been a mystery to me. It is sensitivity — the breast as a play-toy — that people forget. Maybe a smaller one is more sensitive and more reactive, if nerve endings are close together. They were made to be stroked or sucked, but not to be cut into painfully. My staffer said she would think about it.  I suggested going back to her medical textbooks. In France, it was nothing to find an “amateur” reviewing this literature. Not surprisingly, I failed to impress my female staffer.

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