In Her Bra...

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7 May 2011 By Edyta Knapinska

In her Bra...

The most intimate piece worn by a woman, a significant symbol of feminine history, and often an inescapable source of distress for its bearer – the bra is more than just a woman’s necessary tool of practicality and uplift.
 In the very nature of its design and function are also significant reflections of the physical, emotional and social experiences of women throughout history, both for better and worse.
Edyta Knapinska relives her own emotional journey and the history of the bra, in this honest address to the piece that has always followed closest to her body.

Dear Bra,

People categorise people. Unjust? Yes. True? For sure. When it comes to fashion, they would say sometimes, you are either a shoe girl or a bag girl. And here’s when something needs to get out of the way right up front – I am neither. I am a bra girl. From the unforgettable moment when, for the first time, you gloriously blindfolded my 12-year old breasts, full-figured and lean, up to this very minute – we have successfully played on the same team.

At first you were thrown into one massive sack with everything pragmatic: you found yourself in a doubtfully amusing company of an Oral-B toothbrush and patent leather ballet flats. And for that I apologise. I soon realised that not only did you frame my body but also were a safe, warm cocoon of my then newly acquired womanhood, and later sexuality. I decided to take you on a journey: a very personal, sometimes even intimate one.

Back in the teenage days we were both so excited with the simple fact that we had something to feed you with, to fill you up with. You were into minimalism, clean forms and no-nonsense attitude. But then you turned up at my doorstep one day all flirty, lacy, in a lovely latte hue.

The exams came. You woke up so moody that day, so grumpy. When I was quietly overcoming my phobias you announced that you wouldn’t be white. You wouldn’t be white under my milky-white shirt. Like a naughty toddler you spilled diet Coke all over yourself. Powder pink it was, we both agreed.

That endless story you shared on a gloomy October evening was an attempt to make it up to me. You went on and on: your cups burning and rosy like cheeks of an embarrassed teenager.

You started with Greece, 2500 years before Jesus came with a mission to save us, apparently. Women got all the attention from men so in return they happily wore you in the way that lifted and proudly exposed their bosom. Today we’d call it sexual harassment or sexism but who cared back then? Well, it turns out that men had. You changed as quickly as men’s attitudes and moods. Funnily enough, the fashion for women was dictated by men. And that, sadly, didn’t change for hundreds of years.

“Until the 19th century”, you said. Ladies were fed up with chaps telling them what to wear. Squeezed in excruciating corsets, they went on a search for a feel-good substitute. In the U.S. alone, the government registered hundreds types of breast supporters. But the big thank you, you told me proudly, goes to Mary Phelps Jacobs who in 1913 loudly said basta to a corset once and for all and designed a first modern bra.

Poor Mary, didn’t realise that she might have hit a financial jackpot had she not sold her design to Warner Brothers Corset Company for just over a thousand dollars. Over the next years the Warner guys turned it into 15 million. But hey, she changed attitudes. You weren’t just about comfort anymore, about practicality. You were becoming beautiful, enduring, desirable. With the introduction of new elastic fabrics, you were suddenly all-so-famous. And admit it, you loved the spotlight. You acted like a diva sometimes: felt like being strapless, backless and like having your cup sizes standardised.

And then the slap in your chubby face: the 1960’s – when the ladies got feisty and, yes, burnt you. All for a good cause – a fight for equality and political rights was in a full swing. You shed a tear over a lovely silky version of you but in your heart you knew you were a silent hero.

You came back even stronger not long after the smoke of the last burnt bra still drifted in the air. You looked better than ever. And you made women look and feel better.

“You still do,” I said, caressing you with my short fingers, looking at an empty wine bottle.

Are you still mad about when I left you all on your own? I was only there for the free booze. The immense constellation of stars above my spinning head danced freakishly to Beyoncé. I abandoned you. What? The joke was just not funny? That’s what you said when we miraculously bumped into each other the next day. I didn’t remember much. Just that a bunch of young drunks convinced that jumping into the Baltic Sea in the middle of the night was the best idea ever.

Sometimes it all goes wrong and the most numbing and paralysing fact is not that things actually going wrong, but the fact that you don’t know the true reason behind it. Suddenly there are a million questions uncomfortably bubbling in your head. Their common denominator: your body. I take you off and shyly ask myself: am I enough? Or am I too much? It affects my well-being, it makes me miserable. And you’re still here. You are not holding my hand – you are holding my womanhood, my sexuality and now, sadly, my insecurities.

Oh how you try to help playing a lead role in this little masquerade of yours – in a blink of an eye you’re becoming a different persona. But all these push-ups, Ultimos and Wonderbras that you are don’t bring a relief. ‘It’s all mumbo jumbo’, I say angrily. So we try a different approach: fantasy frills, ruffles, all the repertoire of boudoir that can be found on the Fig leaves. We try kinky and silky. Nada. Fine, I’ll put the corset on, but you will find me nowhere near Madonna's cone bra.

Lady Ga Ga with bra visible

Dear bra, I’ll be fine. Even better, I’ve appreciated all the various stages of our journey. Everyday, in a fond embrace with my breasts, with this amazing puzzle of my body, together we build up my confidence and my identity. And there is Him, obviously, whose love answers many questions. He sometimes opens the cocoon and takes you off to reveal the puzzle and to detox my soul of insecurities. He’s on our team. With Him by my side I’m growing into my body.

There is just a little thing that slightly bothers me. The underwear as an outerwear trend that all the Wangs, Fendis and Berardis of this world do and that truly freaks me out, might work for Lady GaGa but it would never work for me. So forgive me if I decide not to show you off whilst walking a dog or going on a tube. But then, dear bra, even the naïve Little Prince knew that ‘anything essential is invisible to the eyes.’