To Bra or not to Bra: With Sons, That Is The Question
Today’s question is a great big issue disguised in a short little question.
I have 2 boys, 11 and 14. My husband doesn’t want me to be braless around them in my home any more. I am not large and I am wearing covering clothing (nothing revealing). I don’t think I need to wear a bra in my home under a total covering shirt. Sigh. I never leave the house without a bra and when my kids’ friends are over, I wear one. My mom said to wear one all the time and my husband is correct: rein them in or wear 2 shirts. What do you think?
I think I read this question fully through three times while doing my best Britney impression, is what I think.
Listen, different cultures have different body and modesty norms, and even within relatively homogenous cultures, different people feel different ways about certain things. Plenty of places in Europe have nude beaches and everyone there thinks it’s perfectly normal. On the other end of the spectrum, even here in the U.S.—land of the booty shorts—there are various religions and cultures which view an exposed knee or neck as aggressively sexual and/or inappropriate. Here in America we are also quite adept in the art of valuing youth and foisting a separate set of norms on older women. My point is: There’s a lot of variance in what’s accepted as “okay,” and this is (mostly) neither good nor bad. It simply is.
I have no idea if you belong to a culture wherein bralessness is seen as somehow inappropriate, but I am going to assume you don’t for the purposes of this response, because you’re asking the question, which indicates to me that you’re just a “regular” (whatever that is!) person trying to figure out what’s up with your husband and mom’s response, here.
Please allow me ramble a bit on a few different thoughts.
First: there was a time when a woman in public without a corset would’ve been seen as scandalous. Over time we have scaled back on what our society deems to be “necessary” undergarments for women. While I would agree that if there’s a norm here, it’s that most women wear bras, plenty of women never do. Have you ever seen a sign that says, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Bra, No Service?” You haven’t, because we no longer police people’s undergarments (thank goodness). Even assuming that the bra-wearers are in the majority, most women do not wear bras under pajamas or sleep in them, and most women with children do periodically move around the comfort of their private homes in their pajamas without worrying about scarring their impressionable children. You’re not talking about walking around shirtless; you’re talking about removing an uncomfortable undergarment while all of your should-stay-covered bits stay covered. Your husband’s and mother’s attitudes are baffling me, here, on this score alone.
Second: Our culture is second to none when it comes to oversexualizing breasts. I mean, show me a news outlet without a recent story about someone freaking out over a woman breastfeeding a baby where they might be seen and I will show you a bridge I have for sale. I have known many children and teenagers. I have raised two children who are now teenagers. I feel confident in telling you that as long as you are covered, the chances of your sons even noticing that you are not wearing a bra are somewhere between slim and none. Do you know why? Because even the most libido-fueled walking testosterone factories do not want to think about their mothers in that way. I promise. If anything, I find those cautioning you here to be the ones who maybe need to do some soul-searching about their sexualization of women in general and you in particular.
Third: I really believe in home being a sanctuary, personally. Sometimes I wear my pajamas all day long at home, even though I obviously wouldn’t wear them out in public. I wear old clothes and sometimes I let my hair do whatever it wants to do and sometimes I eat over the sink without a plate. My point is that I think it’s worth exploring whether your home is a place where certain behaviors are okay because it’s home/family, even if they’re not ideal for public consumption. If the conclusion is that yes, home is different from other places—more laid back, etc.—then feeling that children in the home mean you can no longer relax without a bra there seems counterintuitive to me.
Fourth: A great way to teach our children to be ashamed of their bodies and to oversexualize the opposite sex is to be ashamed of our bodies and act like the opposite sex should be shielded from them lest they become contaminated or something. Again, I’m not necessarily advocating parading around your house naked (although, again, in some cultures that’s the norm!), but refusing to ever be braless in their presence or habitually wearing two shirts lest your boys figure out that you have nipples is only going to result in men who believe breasts are both mystical and shameful. If you going braless is no big deal, your kids won’t think it’s a big deal, either. (I’ll caution here, though, that if your husband still thinks it’s a big deal, the kids will pick up on that.)
Fifth: No two co-parents are going to agree on everything. Negotiations along the way are par for the course. This is a unique situation, I guess, but I am troubled by the fact that your coparent is essentially policing your wardrobe in the name of “correct” parenting. I am not convinced that anything you choose to wear inside your house which would not get you arrested for indecency outside the house is up for debate. Again, I know there are cultural issues that can come into play, here, but from where I sit, this sounds an awful lot like body-shaming dressed up as a parenting concern.
For me, the bottom line is that going braless in the home is neither lewd nor unusual, yet two family members are projecting their own antiquated notions of appropriateness onto you. Unless your mother is raising your kids (assuming she’s not!), her opinion on this matter is irrelevant. Your husband, however, cannot just be dismissed. Much more important than his opinion on your wardrobe is why he’s taking issue with this, what fears this edict is covering, and how you move together in a united way to both raise your boys into healthy men and make sure that you’re both comfortable with yourselves and your parenting choices. This isn’t about your bras or lack thereof. This is about body positivity, gender roles, sexuality, and shame. Start talking now to get to the real root of this issue, so that you can teach your boys the lessons you want them to learn instead of the byproducts of your husband’s and/or your hang-ups. Good luck!
Readers! Don’t forget that you can submit your own burning questions to alphamomteens [at] gmail [dot] com!
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