A Meditation On Padded Bras

Photo by Rayne's Avante-Garde
Article By E.S. Wynn

Why is it "weird" for a man to wear a padded bra but not weird for a woman to do so? The basic premise behind a bra as an article of clothing is that they are designed to support breast tissue. In some cases, it is absolutely true, but what about heavily padded bras? What about bras that are not so much for support as they are for emphasizing breast tissue? Is it okay for a bra to have a practical use (support) but not okay for it to have an artistic use (emphasizing)? If artistic and support uses are both considered normal enough to not be weird or problematic for women, then why not for men? It’s actually incredibly weird (when you think about it) that women are encouraged to emphasize their breast tissue while men are actively discouraged from doing so.

I am a man (well, this body is) and I have breast tissue. I have nipples. I'm lucky in that it's completely socially acceptable for me to run around with no bra on (being that my body is male) and I don't have to worry about people laughing, judging me or hitting on me when a cold wind picks up and you can see my headlights. With male bodies, breast tissue isn't really sexualized, certainly not like it is with female bodies. With a male body, I can run around any town or city totally stripped to the waist, with all of my breast tissue exposed for everyone to see, and no one would gawk or think twice about it. Now, if I had been born female, even if I'd been born with breast tissue as minimal as what I currently have with this male body, it would literally be a crime for me to be out in public with my chest exposed. The problem is so bad, in fact, and female breast tissue is so sexualized that women are chastised for breast feeding in public (not a sexual use at all!) and numerous women have photoshopped images of male breast tissue over their own chests in pictures as a means of protesting the hypocrisy. What is going on here? It's just breast tissue!

It's ridiculous that female breast tissue must be covered (with an encouragement to emphasize size and shape with padding) while male breast tissue is rarely covered (except with a shirt) and never allowed to be emphasized. As someone with a male body, it would be ludicrous for me to wear garments which emphasize my mostly flat breast tissue, for me to go out in public with my padded bra on, no matter how good I think it makes me look. In times when I have done it, I have been gawked at, as much a spectacle for the public as I would be if I were a woman with her breast tissue exposed. The only difference is that I can wear a bra in public without it being seen as indecent exposure. Even if I were a transman (someone who transitioned to male from another gender) I could expose my chest, (but only perhaps after top surgery, so my breast tissue would look more male and therefore be less sexualized.) Conversely, if I were to get top surgery in a transition from male to female, I would be giving up the freedom to run around bare-chested in public. My breast tissue would go from being “just a chest” to “woah mama! Look at those hooters!” and that’s just bizarre.

I would venture to point out that perhaps the problem isn’t with breast tissue at all, but rather with the beauty standards we have for women as sexual objects. To be appropriately beautiful as a woman is to meet standards necessary for you to be lusted after. These standards often include great skin, a thin waist, long hair, emphasizing makeup and large breasts. The further a woman strays from these ideals, whether by birth or intention, the less “feminine” she is. The less feminine she is, the less she is objectified by others. Since degrees of objectification are directly related to the value and worthiness of a woman in most social arenas (who would you rather say hello to, an interesting “beautiful” woman or an interesting “ugly” woman?) there is a great deal of pressure on women to emphasize their stereotypical feminine traits (breasts being a big one) to maximize their sexual appeal (and by extension, their social value.) Since female social value is still very much based on sex appeal, men who adopt the same ways of emphasizing parts of their bodies (makeup, padded bras, etc.) are seen as weird, because why would any man want to be a sex object in the same way that women are?

Going back to my article on feminism here: [link] we can see the deeper misogyny beneath what, on the surface, appears to be simply misandry (negative and hateful responses leveled at men for wearing whatever the hell they want) and transmisogyny (negative and hateful responses leveled at female-identifying transgender folks.) The question that we should be asking is not so much “why do people hate trans people?” as it is “why do people feel aggression and disgust toward men embracing their stereotypically feminine traits and sides?” I would argue (and have) that there are two reasons. The big one is that women are seen as being weaker than men, and since strength is prized and celebrated in our society, a man who identifies as female and/or embraces his feminine side is seen as worse than just weak. He’s seen as self-emasculating. Cutting himself down and choosing to be weak. Add to that the sexualization of womanhood (with heteronormative attitudes establishing a foundational idea that women only want to have sex with men) and you end up with a knot of homophobia (men who embrace their female side must be gay) with optional transphobia (if you’re not gay, then what are you into? Kids? Dogs?) In the end, nobody wins, and the only people not feeling the pressure are men who choose to be as masculine as possible. Women who choose to be as masculine as possible win second place for least oppressed in this area of consideration, as their embracing of stereotypically masculine traits makes them appear “stronger” (which is equated with better) though the more masculine a woman becomes, the more she may have to deal with oppression rooted in homophobia (being called dyke, etc.)

So why is it weird for men to wear padded bras (and a crime for women to go around shirtless?) I’d say, it all comes down to sex. Emphasized breast tissue is equated to female breast tissue and since women are sexualized to such a high degree (especially our breast tissue), emphasized breast tissue is seen as a sexual advertisement, or a trait indicating a desire to be lusted after. A woman who goes out in public bare-chested is seen as sexually advertising, an easy lay for the next available man, and all because of the sexualization of her body paired with heteronormative ideas about sexual preference. I would argue that if female breast tissue wasn’t sexualized, then it would not be weird at all for a man to wear a padded bra. Heck, there probably wouldn’t even be a market for padded bras at all. If feminizing garments and fashion stereotypes were not so associated with the image of what it means to be female (an image based on beauty standards rooted in sexual objectifying of women) then they wouldn’t be feminizing, and passing (appearing more feminine) is one of the reasons why some transgender women (assigned male at birth) choose to wear them. Sure, as with anything, I’m sure there is a spectrum of reasons why individuals with male bodies choose to wear feminine articles of clothing (padded bras among them) but the problem comes when people assume it is always a sexual reason, and simply because women are seen as sexual objects. When I wear my padded bra, I do it for art and activism. Sure, looking down and seeing emphasized breast tissue helps me forget in the moment (to a degree) that this is a male body (instead of a female one) but I don’t need “big hooters” to feel like a woman. I’d rather save my shocking (stunning?) female presentation ensemble to express myself like living sculpture (as a bad-ass modern punk valkyrie) or as a protest against pointless phobias and oppressive standards that define what society will allow us to wear without judgment and what it will not. In reality, I think fashion policing (judging people for what they wear) belongs on one of the lowest levels of inane things to do with your time, and really shouldn’t be a part of our experience as humans in 21st century America.

If you have a story about your own experiences as a trans individual or would like to be interviewed so that you can share your perspectives as a trans person with the readers of this blog, please feel free to contact me through the contact form here: [link]. Make sure you have javascript enabled or the form will just display a blank page. I’d love to hear from you, and I’d love to share your perspective with our readers. Thank you!

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