Why I want India to celebrate International No Bra Day
Survival matters, more than breasts being seen as sexual objects.
“Did you know October 13 is International No Bra Day?” a friend asked, sharing a Facebook page link.
I haven’t heard of this campaign, I confessed.
Considering I have been sick for over a month, I couldn’t care less about the size and appearance of breasts, or whether one is wearing the right bra. Whether they are perky or sagging. T-shirt bra, underwire or padded.
And quite frankly, I’ve been mostly braless, which apart from being liberating has made me realise just how normal our breasts are. Maybe, three years before I turn 40, I am slowly beginning to get over that complex a woman has, since the time she gets her periods and her breasts take form: are my breasts actually beautiful? And my breasts are a part of me. Not perfect, maybe. Not the sort you see in glossy fashion magazines or in sex scenes in movies, or in porn videos, but rather adequate. And clearly above average.
For a cause
On the International No Bra Day Facebook page there is a post that declares: “Boobies are Fantastic… We all think so. And what better way to express the way we feel than to support a full day of boobie freedom? Women are magnificent creatures, and so are their breasts. Let us spend the day unleashing boobies from their boobie zoos. Ladies, free your breasts for 24 hours by removing those dreadful (but at times oh-so-helpful) bras. Our perkiness should not be hidden. It is time that the world see what we were blessed with. Your breasts might be colossal, adorable, miniature, full, jiggly, fancy, sensitive, glistening, bouncy, smooth, tender, still blossoming, rosy, plump, fun, silky, Jello-like, fierce, jolly, nice, naughty, cuddly… FREE!” (sic)
The campaign is not about not wearing a bra, but about raising awareness on breast cancer. A decade ago, cases of breast cancer zoomed ahead of oral cancer, in which India ranked number one worldwide, becoming the country’s fastest-growing malignant disease.
In fact, India is likely to lose $20 billion in economic output from 2012 to 2030 as a result of breast cancer, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston. A recent study conducted by breastcancerindia.net further reveals that there is also a shift in the age group for occurrence of breast cancer.
Twenty five years ago, out of every hundred breast cancer patients, two were in the 20-30 age group, seven were in the 30-40 age group, and 69 patients were above 50 years of age. Presently, four are in the 20-30 age group; 16 in 30-40; 28 are in 40-50 age group.
So, almost 48 per cent of the patients are below 50. The World Health Organisation (WHO) links breast cancer to choices like having no children, having children late in life, not breastfeeding, excessive weight gain and frequent alcohol consumption – practices that are common in more westernised lifestyles.
In India, despite these potential triggers not being as common and in many instances not existing at all, about 1.3 lakh fresh cases of breast cancer are being reported here annually; a decade ago the number stood at 54,000.
Is breast cancer largely about a woman losing her breasts – commonly perceived as the symbolic identity of womanhood; celebrated by artists and sculptors; seen as integral to a woman’s physical manifestation of her supposed inner beauty – the most favourite body part for attracting the opposite sex?
A popular image of motherhood – a baby suckling on his/her mother’s breasts – something sans which our sex is incomplete. Insufficient. Insipid.
Why is it that women shun mammograms thanks to age-old cultural taboos and the innate fear of being shunned by the family, raised as we are in a traditional hierarchy that makes it shameful for us to talk about our bodies openly, touch ourselves freely, or allow examination by a doctor, perceived as a strange man? Why is mastectomy widely perceived as an impenetrable loss of our femininity. The absence of privacy at Indian hospitals also intensifies the problem. I mean, everything about a woman’s breasts screams validation.
Ask yourself, when have you stood in front of a mirror in the intimacy of your own bedroom, alone, just feeling your breasts, squeezing them at the tips, gently raising your arms over your head, seeing under them? When have you shared your fears that your breasts feel too heavy? Or something’s not right? Told yourself that your body needs attention if it’s showing a warning sign – that as a woman, you don’t have to always put the needs of your family first, but value and prioritise your own health?
What if the fight against breast cancer is not a fashionable campaign supported by stars and Page 3 socialites in fancy five-star hotels, or just a day that is internationally determined, but more an attitude and an inner dialogue with your body? A disrobing sans shame or shudder? Or convincing yourself that cancer isn’t a result of bad karma in your past life, or it’s not always necessary that your daughter may get it, being passed on from generation to generation? That it’s not a hereditary curse, but a medical condition that could be treated provided there is early diagnosis. Over 80 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer are alive after five years. That’s compared to 64 per cent in the 1960s. And if the cancer is detected early, the number increases to 96 per cent.
Survival matters, more than breasts being seen as sexual objects. I want to celebrate International No Bra Day. So should you.