National No Bra Day: Empowering or Objectifying?
Last Monday, July 9th, was National No Bra Day (NNBD). Started in 2011 by the mysterious Anastasia Doughnuts, the group’s Facebook page encourages women to “unleash those magnificent breasts from their boobie zoos.” Apparently last year’s event was a smashing success, with the website reporting 400,000 participants (250,000 of them on Facebook) from around the world, and based on the volume of news coverage, this year has gone great as well.
The idea is self-explanatory: don’t wear a bra. And although the website is down, we also know the day’s purpose — according to Yahoo, it’s breast cancer awareness. This is borne out by a statement at the bottom of the group’s Facebook page: “Breast Cancer is something you should take seriously and be checked for,” and is mentioned in most of the news stories about the event.
Breast cancer awareness is great — obviously it’s a serious problem, affecting 1 in 8 American women, and the recent Komen scandal shouldn’t detract from its importance. However, the conversation about NNBD doesn’t really seem to be focused on breast cancer. And while a few lewd Facebook comments (“Boobies make me smile,” reads one) are only to be expected, this year there are more than a few.
The first Google search result for “National No Bra Day,” for example, is a Huffington Post story titled “National No Bra Day: Celebrate With Celebs Who’ve Gone Braless.” And while I understand that the HuffPo’s Style Section isn’t a bastion of feminism, I had hoped for a little bit more than just a 32 pictures slideshow showcasing various braless celebrities. (About half are awards show pics, where backless or cutaway dresses make bras impossible, and the other half are shots of normal-looking stars who, apparently, didn’t have time in the morning to put on a bra. Look, everybody, that’s how a nipple looks underneath a shirt!)
The most problematic content, though, comes not from an outside source but from the NNBD’s own Facebook page, near the bottom of the informational writeup: “P.S. Ladies…. Wearing a white t-shirt on this day is not only acceptable, but encouraged!”
Wait… what? I thought this was supposed to be about breast cancer, a disease that kills around 40,000 women yearly in the U.S. alone. How does objectifying women’s bodies fit into that? What about all the women whose breasts are disfigured from surgery? What about all the women who go braless because it’s comfortable, or to make a political statement? What about every women, braless or not, who doesn’t think that a natural part of human anatomy, used for feeding children, should be fetishized by the media and offered up for men’s enjoyment?
Considering that women are viewed as objects while men often are not, 1 in 3 11-year-olds have tried to diet, and media representations of women have become progressively more sexualized, the last thing we need is more objectification. Truly, it’s a sad fall from the original, legendary “bra-burnings” of the 60s (which didn’t actually happen; the bras were thrown away, not burned) that a day to remove society’s trappings and honor those suffering from a horrible disease has instead become just one more opportunity for women’s bodies to be paraded around for men’s consumption and enjoyment.
Just like with the “I Heart Boobies” bracelet controversy, women’s bodies are being sexualized under the guise of “awareness.” After all, saying that your day/cause/product is helping those suffering from cancer is a lot better than saying that it’s a chance for men to ogle women without consequences.
I myself did not participate in National No Bra Day, but that was mostly because I didn’t find out about it in time. If I had, would I have freed myself from “boobie zoos”? I can’t say. I did go braless once, at a public beach in Greece, and although the experience only lasted for about 6 seconds, it did feel strangely… liberating. If NNBD happens next year, would I participate? Yeah, probably. It sounds like fun. But I can say this for sure — I’ll leave the white shirt at home.
Photo credit: courtesy of think stock.