Bra-wearing is in the news again, thanks to the new Fred Hutch study. More women are saying “ditch the bra” because we’re concerned about breast health and cancer. Others are removing the underwires. We’re not just reading about it on the internet. We’re starting to hear it in our doctors’ offices, too. Philip Getson, DO warns women about bras every single day. He’s a board certified physician and internationally-recognized board certified thermographic researcher in clinical practice for 38 years. Advance this podcast on breast health and thermography to 18:35 and hear what he has to say about bra-wearing, lymphatic drainage, and cancer.
Going braless is catching on.
The no-bra bandwagon is a comin’
Maybe you want to unhook but you’re feeling self-conscious? Few of us feel perfectly fearless in the face of cat calls, eye rolls, or the icy glare. It’s tough to be in the vanguard when it comes to changing a deeply embedded cultural practice. But the reality of breast cancer is making us brave. It’s empowering. The women of Hollywood are taking the lead, with a wink and a smile.
Bound and trussed… this is not new
Bra-wearing is a holdover from an era when women “secured” more than their breasts. Corsets have been around since biblical times. Bound & Determined offers a visual history from 1850 to 1960. Check out photos of washboard stomachs, miniscule waists, and raised bosoms. There were rust-proof swimming corsets, short horseback riding corsets, elastic inserts for easier housekeeping, magnetic corsets that warded off disease, nursing corsets, maternity corsets, and more. Babies wore felt bands, 4 year-olds wore training corsets, and 12 year-olds graduated to the real deal.
Beauty and convention have their price. Corsets cracked ribs and ruptured blood vessels. They caused lower back pain and muscle atrophy resulting in an even greater reliance on the cruel scaffolding. Corsets were blamed for constipation, gallstones, and a prolapsed uterus. Is there any wonder that women were the delicate, weaker sex?
During filming of the TV miniseries North and South, the actresses wore authentic corsets while working 12 to 15 hour days. By the end of the second week, Kirstie Alley recalled: “most of us stopped having periods, half had passed out, and the rest were just mean as hell.”
Seems Kim Kardashian, however, never got the memo.
Corsets prevented women from taking a full breath. Men liked the way shallow breathing caused breasts to heave in a conspicuous fashion. Author Kristina Seleshanko penned:
“What a host of evils follows in the steps of tight lacing,” Victorian author Mary P. Merrifield wrote, “indigestion, hysteria, spinal curvature, liver complaints, disease of the heart, cancer [emphasis mine], early death!” The further the century progressed, the more the evils of the corset were accepted as fact. Yet women continued corseting! … [They believed] that a woman’s waist, left to itself, will grow larger and larger every year, until it measures nearly or quite as much as the bust! … [C]orset wearing also continued due to a desire [to] support the figure and make women feel less naked…”
There you have it. Women during the Victorian era (1837-1901) knew there were big health risks from trussing up, including cancer and death, but opted to wear them anyway because:
- they didn’t want to become misshapen
- they didn’t want to feel (or look) naked
- they wanted to be fashionable and attractive
Let’s not forget the corporate stakeholders!
A writer employed by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle e-mailed me a couple days before the Labor Day weekend. JoNel Aleccia, who also happens to be a senior health reporter for NBC News.com, remarked that my recent post was widely circulated on social media. She shared that there was a “new, rigorous study embargoed for release next week which finds no evidence of a link between bra-wearing and breast cancer.” She wanted to know if the new Fred Hutch study would change my mind.
Just like that, huh? Um, I don’t think so.
I was on vacation. When I made contact the following week, I asked JoNel for a bit of time on the phone to ask her some questions but, alas, she had ditched Bra World for an Ebola story and couldn’t oblige. JoNel sent me the Fred Hutch study and a link to her article proclaiming their decisive conclusion. In her article, she mentioned me and Fearless Parent by name and linked to my post. A quick Google search found extensive mainstream coverage, including USA Today, CBS News, and TIME. Fear not, ladies. Myth busted! Carry on. Keep doing what you’ve been doing. Bras are blameless!
Now this was interesting. Time for a bit of digging.
Fred Hutch is “a world-renowned nonprofit research organization working to improve the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer and related diseases. We are proud to be home to three Nobel laureates.” Pretty impressive. They’re a top player in the billion dollar world of Big C treatment. So why are they twisted up in their undershorts about bras? (I think I already answered my question.)
Sorry, Fred Hutch, your bra study falls flat
I reached out to medical anthropologist Syd Singer whose pioneering research I highlighted in my original post. He and Soma Grismaijer found that women who wore tight-fitting bras 24/7 were over 100 times more likely to have breast cancer than women who do not wear bras at all.
JoNel was the only reporter to contact Syd. She told him that Fred’s research “debunked” his. Syd’s rebuttal appears on his site: “The Cover-Up Continues. New Study Claims Bra-Cancer Link a Myth” along with five studies that support the bra/cancer link. Here’s a summary of some of Syd’s points and my own observations about the new Fred Hutch study:
#1: UH… WHERE’S THE BRA-FREE CONTROL?
I’m not the scientist here but someone has to ask… how do you draw a definitive conclusion about the absence of causation when you don’t have a bra-free control group? There was no baseline! All the women in the cancer group wore bras. All the women in the study wore bras. The lead researcher said she could find only one study subject who didn’t wear a bra. I guess the National Cancer Institute’s grant wasn’t big enough for Ms. Chen to make a few more calls (Syd notes that the study’s lead author is a PhD candidate).
#2: HELLO? WHAT ABOUT PRE-MENOPAUSAL WOMEN?
I don’t get it. Fred Hutch actually mentions the 1991 Harvard study. You know, the one that found that bra-free pre-menopausal women “had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users.” You read right. Younger bra-free women were 50% less likely to get breast cancer than their bra-wearing peers. So why did Fred’s study focus solely on post-menopausal women, aged 55+? Weird, right? Their study is artificially circumscribed. Why not own up to it and call for more research? What’s the rush? Why the bra-love?
#3: “BRA DASH” LOVES FRED HUTCH
Fred Hutch disclosed no conflicts of interests. Oops, Chen missed at least one. The “Bra Dash” 5K. Men, women, and kids of all ages wear decorative bras over their shirts in the name of loved ones fighting or lost to breast cancer. Here’s the organizer amidst a profusion of dozens of frilly, feathered, and beribboned pink bras. The event raised $130,000 in 2013 and the 2014 goal is $150,000.
Guess where 100% of the proceeds go? To the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. SCCA = Fred Hutch! (with the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital)
I’m not suggesting that this modest fundraiser inspired Fred’s pro-bra zeal. But let’s continue to follow the money.
#4: BIG BUCKS, BIG BRA, AND THE BIG C
Fred Hutch notes that 675 million bras are sold annually in the U.S.. A bra costs about $10 at Walmart and $200 from La Perla, with an average $58 price tag for a bra in the new Fearless line (I kid you not) from Victoria’s Secret. Did I do the math right? If we assume an average cost of just $10 each, American women are spending almost $7 billion on bras every year. (The Marks & Spencer bra ad says “Not Actual Size” in the model’s cleavage.)
That’s a drop in the bucket compared to cancer care, however. We’re talking about $125 billion in 2010, according to the American Journal of Managed Care. Breast cancer accounted for 13% or $16.5 billion of all direct medical spending on cancer.
And Fred’s study grantor, the National Cancer Institute at the NIH, reports that its budget for cancer research funding averaged $4.9 billion per year for the period from 2005 to 2013.
Bras and cancer are big business.
#5: SHAME ON US… BRA ANXIETY IS HARMFUL!
I’m having a hard time writing this with a straight face. The Fred Hutch article says we’re stressing women out and it’s “misguided and harmful.” Ted Gansler, MD, director of medical content for the American Cancer Society chides:
“Among women who do not have a personal history of breast cancer, this concern could be a source of anxiety and a distraction from proven strategies for prevention and early detection. Among women already diagnosed with breast cancer, this claim might be a source of guilt.”
So there you have it. Breast cancer kills. No real insights about the cause despite $ billions spent on research. Prevention doesn’t work. Mammograms may be part of the problem. The treatment sucks. Research linking bra-wearing to cancer raises real questions. Make no mistake, Big Money wants to keep you in a bra.
Louise gives Fred’s study on boulder holders the cold shoulder.