On October 19, 2011, in Toronto, Canada, a medical event named BRA (Breast Reconstruction Awareness) Day was hosted by the plastic surgeon Dr. Mitchell Brown. Drawing inspiration from this event, an anonymous individual conceived the idea of No Bra Day and published the first website promoting the event. With time it has proliferated to become an international phenomenon. 

No Bra Day is celebrated internationally every year on October 13 to encourage women not to wear bras. Well, the reason is more profound than you think. It has nothing to do with bras being uncomfortable or irritating; this campaign intends to raise awareness about a grave issue that women deal with – Breast Cancer. It is a very innovative and thought-provoking initiative, a day to start a conversation about breast cancer, informing people of the symptoms, prevention, and cure. What began as an innocent campaign with an intention to spread awareness about a severe disease is often clouded by controversy, which takes away the purpose of the issue, pushing the campaign in a very different direction than initially intended. 

WHY DO WE CELEBRATE #NO BRA DAY?

Breast Cancer is a very common disease in women. In fact, it is the most common form of cancer. Some studies show that at least one in every eight women suffers from this disease once in a lifetime. Although the chances of recovery are high, not everybody is lucky enough. Moreover, the cost of treatment, the amount of time invested, the excruciating pain and discomfort caused by chemotherapy easily break the spirits of many. Early detection of cancer can significantly lower the fatality risk; therefore, awareness about this disease becomes very important. According to John Hopkins Medical Center, 40 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are found by women who feel a lump. If a woman is educated about the early symptoms and is taught sufficient self-examination, cancer can be detected early,   

Breast being a taboo subject is not discussed frequently in public, and people generally do not know much about the health risks revolving around this organ. Celebrating No Bra Day and not wearing a bra for one day becomes a great opportunity to stand in solidarity with people suffering from cancer and, at the same time, raise a concern about the disease. It sets a reminder to the women to take care of their breasts and encourages regular breast check-ups. 

Although the main aim for No Bra Day is about Breast Cancer, its not purpose is not restricted to it. Women, through this event, also try to shed some light on the physical and cultural restrictions imposed by bras, or a way to protest against the societal pressure that forces women to wear bras and view bras as a patriarchal tool to control women’s bodies and dress requirements.

HOW IS NO BRA DAY IS CELEBRATED?

The name of this campaign is self-explanatory. People abstain from wearing bras. Women are encouraged to take off their bras and give themselves a breast exam. They participate in parades wearing no bra, holding banners to inform the public of breast cancer. Some resort to social media and post pictures of themselves not wearing a bra with trendy hashtags like #nobraday. Some even document their experience with breast cancer, administering advice about dealing with the disease, creating awareness about cancer symptoms, or even enlightening the public about various charities and NGOs that work on this issue and encourage them to donate. Women who refuse to go braless and men are encouraged to wear something purple to support the campaign.

In 2012, about 4,00,000 people took part in No Bra Day via social media. This number has significantly increased. As of 2017, the day was observed by women in many countries, including the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand, Romania, Malaysia, Scotland, India, Ghana, and Groningen.

SEXUALIZING THE ISSUE?

#NoBraDay is supposedly meant to spread awareness about this life-threatening issue. Still, many people believe that not wearing bras and posting braless photos is not an ideal way to open a discussion around it. It has nothing to do with the actual issue. This campaign is often criticized for sexualizing breasts and objectifying women. The uncertain origins of the campaign add more hesitation and doubt around the real purpose of this day.

No Doubt hashtags of No Bra Day are always trending on this, but it is a shame to see how some people cannot appreciate the thought behind this campaign and find it as just another excuse to sexualize women’s bodies. 

“When you wait for the whole day, but your Twitter crush doesn’t tweet any picture of her without a bra. #NoBraDay”

“If she can’t post a topless selfie, her breast has obeyed the law of gravity at a tender age. #NoBraDay”

“Ladies, free your breasts for 24 hours by removing those dreadful bras. Our perkiness should not be hidden. It is time that the world sees what we were blessed with. #NoBraDay”

“Happy No Bra Day! But yet I still have a sports bra tan. So technically, I’m not “supporting” today. #nobraday”

Notice something common in these tweets? It has nothing to do about spreading awareness regarding such a serious issue. If anything, it just creates a mockery around the problem by belittling the disease and finding another excuse for sexualizing women.

Across social media, we see women posting photos of themselves going braless, but it’s a shame that very few of them miss the opportunity to talk about breast cancer. This event has led to plenty of tweets to be just about showing the world their braless body, posting obnoxious tweets and posts about breasts, demanding “braless photos” in the name of “celebrating” the event.

An informal study reveals that most of the hashtags around No Bra Day contain tweets about celebrity boobs and how uncomfortable bras are. No doubt some tweets actually talk about the issue, but they often drown under these senseless posts, and everyone seems to miss the whole point of the day. 

Even a popular magazine in their issue on the campaign a few years ago failed to mention the actual purpose of the campaign until the very end. The entire focus was on explaining the event as “meant to celebrate boobs for being fantastic.”

Many women who have actually suffered from breast cancer or have seen people close to them fighting this disease often criticize this event and find it insensitive that people fail to understand the gravity of this issue and disrespect it.

Though it makes sense, we would talk about breasts in a conversation about breast cancer. However, most conversations treat breasts as decorative objects. The focus of the discussion is more on “boobs” rather than breast cancer.

Even though The National Breast Cancer Foundation does not recognize the event, this campaign is observed during breast cancer awareness month. It serves as an opportunity to start a conversation about this disease and encourage women to be more conscious about the changes in their breasts and take regular check-ups. When people do not understand the seriousness of the issue and use the hashtags to gain more likes, it shifts the focus from something really important and disdains the problem itself. The fault does not lie in the idea of the campaign but in the way it is celebrated, and people having little knowledge around the real purpose make it worse. The fault lies in how we see women and perceive their bodies. A large portion of society views them as sexual objects. It is understandable why people have issues with this campaign and think it is offensive, and they are not entirely wrong. But we cannot deny the popularity of this campaign. Suppose people actually use its popularity to raise their voices and actually talk about Breast Cancer. In that case, it can provide us with a perfect platform to educate people.

by Aashna Verma

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