One morning I was getting ready for the day when LP walked into my room. I was wearing trousers and a vest top, sitting on my bed and trying to do my hair. She looked at me for a moment and said:
‘Mummy, why aren’t you wearing a bra?’
I explained that wearing a bra is a personal choice – not a requirement. I said that some people wear bras and other people don’t and that bras come in all shapes and sizes too. Basically, I didn’t want to wear a bra that day so I wasn’t wearing one.
She looked at me with a ‘huh?’ look on her face, as though she didn’t believe what I was saying and that, in her head, women wore bras. Knowing that once girls grew up they didn’t actually need to wear a bra unless they wanted to was news to her. For a moment her little mind was blown.
But, seconds later the moment had passed, she’d left the room, carried on getting dressed and spoke no more of it. But that brief conversation stayed with me.
I choose to not wear a bra most of the time now. I only really wear bras when my top dictates I need to. I don’t want my nipples on show and so I’ll wear a bra to cover them at times. But, if I’m wearing a jumper or a few layers I won’t bother with a bra. I’m not particularly large chested and I’m more comfortable without a bra on. This has been the case for me for a year or so now – at the point I realised, actually, bras aren’t mandatory. And I wish I’d realised that years ago.
What I didn’t realise was that in LP’s seven years of life she had already been conditioned to think that women must wear bras. She sees adverts in magazines or mannequins in shops showing women in matching underwear. She sees women wearing bikinis with tops and bottoms. She sees bras when we walk through the supermarket. So in LP’s eyes bras are a thing that women wear – and she hadn’t realised that bras were actually a choice. A pretty personal one.
This made me wonder what other subliminal messaging LP has been subjected to. I thought about the media, adverts and TV shows and realised it’s only a matter of time before LP grows up and has to make her own personal choices with much of her knowledge and opinions being based on what she sees in the media.
She’ll see women all of a similar size, with smooth legs, silky under arms and not a stray hair in sight. She’ll see women with perfectly tamed eyebrows, expertly applied makeup and not a scar or blemish on them. She’ll see the media’s idea of perfection and she could potentially see that as normal, real and how women should be.
But not all women remove their body hair – or they may just remove some of it or at certain times of the year – maybe even just for holidays. Not all women pluck, thread or wax their eyebrows – and I’ve never touched mine.
Some women wear a lot of makeup. Others wear none. And some, like me, wear it when I feel like it and wear different amounts depending on the occasion.
Most importantly though, women come in all shapes and sizes and every single women has blemishes, scars, cellulite, birthmarks, moles and so many other things that make us who we are.
We are not airbrushed versions of ourselves. We are real women who wear mismatched underwear, who sometimes skip a shower, who wear pyjamas all day if we want to and who use dry shampoo to make our hair last a day or two longer before we wash it.
It’s strange to think that LP’s perception of what women are like could be swayed and moulded so much by the media. That she could see these perfect women on adverts and TV shows and feel like that is what she needs to aspire to.
And that is a pretty scary prospect.
If a seven year old already sees that kind of perfection – from always wearing a bra – one that matches her knickers – to always having legs so smooth that they shine, will there ever be room to just be normal? And not just to be normal but to be normal and to be happy with that. To be perfectly accepting of who she is, the skin that she’s in and her place in the world.
I want LP to grow up understanding that being a woman is so much more than wearing a bra. That being a woman is about making your own choices, doing what is right for you, doing what makes you happy and doing whatever makes you feel comfortable – regardless of how the media says you should look or act.
Being a woman is sometimes about conforming with the stereotype in the media but it’s also about stepping away from those stereotypes when you want to and knowing that not conforming is totally okay. No-one has to conform to the pressures society and the media puts on them and I really don’t think it is ever too early to realise that.
So LP, at seven, knows why Mummy only wears a bra sometimes. In time she’ll also know why I shave my legs more often in summer, why I have never plucked my eyebrows and why, sometimes, I forget to wash my hair for a good few days.
LP will know, just like her, that I am only human and sometimes things just really do not matter. Sometimes we have to just do what makes us happy and what we are comfortable with. And that is enough.
Mummy doesn’t wear a bra because Mummy has the freedom of choice and that is something I know LP will grow up to really appreciate. The freedom to be whoever we want to be.