Two girls, Jeong and Kim, are having a heated discussion in a chatroom on whether or not they should wear a bra. Jeong tells Kim that wearing a bra can make women vulnerable to breast cancer. Kim, on the other hand, does not agree with her. She claims that not wearing a brassiere can make breasts saggy so Jeong should wear it if she wants to keep her breasts firm and shapely.
Bras have been an essential part of the wardrobe for many women, and the rumors behind it have also spread among the wearers, regarding efficacy and safety. According to a survey conducted by The Hanyang Journal, half of the female Hanyangians respondents said they believed wearing a bra could increase the risk of breast cancer, while 84.3 percent replied they believe using a bra could prevent breasts from sagging. In this issue of Eureka, these two most commonly held beliefs about bras will be discussed in order to reveal the truth once and for all.
The Evolution of the Bra
Historically, female breasts have served important roles, symbolizing motherhood and female sexuality in particular. In ancient times, women’s breasts functioned as a symbol of fecundity, so ancient Greek women wore an undergarment called Mastoeides, to push up their breasts and show more cleavage from underneath their clothes. However, this changed in the medieval times when the Catholic Church saw the act of revealing parts of a woman’s body as being obscene. Consequently, women in the Middle Ages concealed their breasts and hid them under long shapeless tunics and smocks.
Then came the Renaissance when people began to place more importance on humanity instead of God. As a result, a woman’s body began to be seen as beautiful and consequently, aristocratic women wanted to accentuate their breasts and hips to show their femininity. They wore corsets to emphasize their sexuality by constraining their waists and pushing up their breasts.
However, during World War I and II, women had to participate in the war effort by making weapons and textiles. As army uniforms replaced their fancy dresses, there was no need to wear corsets anymore. As a result, corsets were separated into a bra, which pushed up the breasts, and the girdle, which emphasized the silhouette of the waist and thighs. “Since ancient times, women have worn clothing that revealed, exposed, hid, and suppressed their breasts according to the social and cultural norms of each era,” said Han Sun-mi, the head of Han’s Underwear Studio.
The Relationship between Bras and Breast Cancer
“Wearing a bra for a long period of time increases the danger of being diagnosed with breast cancer,” claimed two medical anthropologists, Sydney Ross Singer and his wife, Soma Grismaijer, in their book “Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras” in 1995. This statement highly publicized the supposed danger of bra-wearing for the first time. According to Singer and Grismaijer, wearing a bra suppresses the breasts and interrupts the flow of the lymphatic system, causing cancer-forming toxins to flow into the breast instead of out. The lymphatic system is a network of conduits consisting of lymphatic vessels that carry a clear fluid called lymph.
However, their hypothesis was rejected by the American Cancer Society since the results lacked specific facts supporting their assertion. Chung Min-sung, MD, PhD and Assistant Professor of Breast and Endocrine Surgery pointed out that there is a flaw in their experiment. “They overlooked the fact that obese women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Since overweight women with large breasts wear bras to support their breasts, the outcome of the experiment looked as if people who wore a bra had higher chances of breast cancer,” Chung said.
Furthermore, Chung wanted to further clear up any misunderstandings regarding bra-wearing and breast cancer. Singer and Grismaijer declared that bras hinder the normal flow of lymph, but this it is a groundless statement, according to Chung. “Lymph flows into the breast and flows back out in other ways. Therefore, there has no relationship between lymph flow and bras at all, even though bra-wearing can compress the breasts,” added Chung.
The Truth of Whether Wearing A Bra Can Prevent Sagging
In 1972, The Journal of the American Medical Association debated on the link between bras and breast health. In the discussion, proponents affirmed that, "When the connective tissue in the breasts, which help maintain breast structure, are affected by gravity and droop down, the breasts will sag." They added that wearing a bra can prevent the sagging because it removes some of the burden of the weight of the breast. This discussion was what sparked the belief that wearing bras can prevent breasts from sagging.
However, much to the disappointment of many women, Professor Chung confirmed that this has not been proven. He listed several reasons for flaccid breasts. “The shape of the breasts keeps changing until the day women are able to breast-feed. Breasts can sag after nursing or as women start to gain weight. Genetic factors also cannot be ignored. For these reasons, the sagging of the breasts is a challenge to prevent even by wearing a bra. In addition, once the connective tissue in the breasts droop, they cannot go back in their original state. The only option is to get breast surgery."
Wearing Bras the Right Way
It has been proven that bras do not cause breast cancer nor do they prevent breasts from sagging. Instead of believing in such myths, it would be better for women to focus more on getting the appropriate bra size and wearing it properly. Although brassieres are unable to keep breasts from drooping, they can still make them look firm and attractive as well as bring comfort to women.
“To wear a brassiere properly, you should first accurately measure your perimeter of under bust and cup size, and then seek the right bra that fits you,” advised Han. This is because the size of brassiere is marked with the circumference of the area under the bust and cup size. For example, if the brassiere size is 80A, the number 80 indicates the measurement around of the lower chest and the letter A indicates the cup size. The cup size can be measured by subtracting the circumference under the bust from the perimeter above the bust. If the outcome of subtracting the perimeter under and above the bust comes to 7.5 centimeters for example, then AA is the corresponding cup size. If the total comes to 10 centimeters, the cup size is A, 12.5 centimeters is B and 15 centimeter is C.
When putting on a bra, one should put on the shoulder straps first, then lean the body forward and place the breasts into the brassiere cups. Next, the hook at the back should be connected, and finally, the shoulder straps should be adjusted for comfort.
Keep Your Breasts Healthy with the Right Facts
Instead of believing myths such as "Bras prevent the breasts from sagging" or "Bras can cause breast cancer", the best way to keep breasts healthy and looking good is to find the right brassiere size that fits properly and feels comfortable. As for keeping the breasts toned and maintaining shape, Han advised, "Instead of pressuring your breasts too much, allow your busts to move freely and do light exercises to maintain their elasticity."