Good News for Girls: Building Pain-Free Generations
As a bra maker, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about bras. I studied anthropology in my undergrad, and that left me with a tendency to consider objects through the lens of cultural forces. The objects we use are not only descriptive of the culture we live in, but they are also prescriptive – they lay out subtle forces that act on us as we move through the day.
Have you ever thought about how we’re put in “training bras” at eleven years old? I remember my older sister telling me it was time. I can’t recall whether I had any breast tissue at all, and certainly I didn’t have enough that they needed physical support, but heading into sixth grade, she was trying to spare me any junior high embarrassment. You see, a bra is not just a garment. The bra has come to be a very complex social object, full of meaning, full of signals – to ourselves and others.
Now, with our oldest daughter turning twelve, I see a slightly improved version of my experience playing out for her. I’m trying my damndest to normalize her experience, and to contextualize for her what it means to wear bras. When we shop for her, we buy her bras based on comfort and fit. We don’t talk about how it looks, only how it feels. For her, she seems to be wanting mostly to ‘smooth things out’ while she gets comfortable with her changing body. Now, as we shop for bras and talk about what’s to come, I realize how important it is to be conscious of the messages we get about our bodies, and to be very intentional in building those messages more constructively in the future.
I don’t remember it being so gentle for me. Instead, it felt like the quiet message was clear: Introducing The Bra, a silent, cruel thorn in your side – a necessary burden of womanhood. Bras are going to hurt you, but that’s just part of it. Oh, and to really do it right, you should have a sexy little secret tied up with a bow, to be enjoyed by others, no matter how it makes you feel. (Yuck.)
And it wasn’t just my generation. I remember in my twenties, with a 34DDD, asking my great aunt, Bobbie, who also had big boobs, if she thought it was a good idea for me to get a breast reduction. “They can do that!?” She exclaimed, “Oh honey, yes, do it! I wish I could have. I’ve been lugging these things around for too many decades. I always felt like a spectacle. And, I’ve had to sew my own blouses!”
And just last week I was looking at a painted portrait of my great-grandmother that my Dad had brought down from the attic. I couldn't help but think, “No doubt she could have used an EB!” I wondered what hellish garment she had to wear when she sat there perched in place for that portrait.
My mother was next in line. She was a young mother, and had already breastfed three babies in her twenties. Until she started wearing Evelyn & Bobbie bras, my mother had shoulder indentations so deep you could put your entire thumb in them. She could fall asleep for seven hours, and they were still there when she woke up. We thought they were permanent. But, after a few months of switching to Evelyn & Bobbie bras, those “divots” disappeared entirely. And she’ll never have them again.
Having studied anatomy and physiology, I went deep in my bra development process to understand how our head, neck, shoulders, and back all interact with a traditional bra. And it’s pretty dismal. Those shoulder indentations are right in the middle of the trap, a muscle that inserts at the base of your skull and into your shoulder-clavicle joint, then spreads down to your mid back. It is really ergonomically inappropriate to hang a heavy load on that muscle. If you’ve ever gone backpacking for more than a few hours, you might have experienced just how painful it can be to carry a load on those muscles. And why experienced backpackers are so adept at positioning their packs so the load is on their skeleton and core postural muscles. Unlike your delicate neck and shoulder muscles, your “core strength” postural muscles are built for endurance. The more you use them, the stronger they get. Neck muscles are amazing in their subtle movements and flexibility, but they fatigue much faster.
That’s why you want to tear your old school underwire bra off after wearing it for about six hours. The straps and weight of your bust push down on your traps (shoulders), shortening that muscle, causing your neck to curl forward, and your posture to totally flop. You may not know why, but you can feel it: you physically have to work too hard to wear those bras.
Moving the load from the shoulders to your core was my vision for this bra. I needed a bra that felt great when I stood up straight. That gave more relief throughout the day. That I could literally forget about and fall asleep in. But that would never let me down. I still want to look and feel great, and I wasn’t willing to trade in a good silhouette for a mushy bra that left me feeling exposed. I wanted to have it all.
It wasn’t easy, but that is what we have created. Yes, a pain-free bra experience is possible now. Yes, I live that experience every day. My mom now has that experience everyday. If my Aunt Bobbie were alive today, she would say “Oh honey! You created something truly NEW!” I know she would be proud. I know she would be pain-free. And that warms me up.
So as I look back, and see that all the women before me in my family grew up with bra pain, it means so much to know that my daughters – they will not. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, having created a truly new generation of bras. Yes, bras that hug, lift, support. But also, a brand that goes further than better, comfortable, self-loving bras. We have built a brand that intentionally puts your experience at the center.
And I hear you…sometimes we take two steps forward and one step back. The world is far from safe for women. We hear stories in the news everyday that make it very apparent that women have problems much bigger than bras. But today, I want to take a moment to celebrate some wins that we have seen in our generation when it comes to this very symbolic garment: inclusive nudes; technological garments that let us grow and shrink with life; a big step toward beauty standards that celebrate women as they are. Cellulite, birthmarks, scars, and all.
I for one see optimism in the fact that someone like me, who knew very little about bras when I started, can set out to educate myself on the possibilities of better design and then use the tools at my disposal to make something that has positively impacted thousands of people. Yes, I was astounded that I had seen bras in every kind of lace imaginable, but not one that made me feel the way I wanted to feel. Not one that let me look and feel polished, without the trading of poking and pinching. But in the end, I made those bras. And now I wear them everyday.
Indeed, the American bra industry has had some dark moments. You may have seen a documentary or a TikTok video lately lamenting the dismal practices of the American intimates industry (specifically Victoria’s Secret). I, too, remember being rushed into a gaudy pink fitting room with piles of ill-fitting bras. At fifteen I stood in front of the mirror poking at the curves of my body, wondering why I didn’t look like the images that surrounded me.
But seeds grow in darkness. Those aggregate experiences sparked something in me. It took another decade to sprout, and yet another decade before it would bloom.