French Scientists Suggest Women Should Stop Wearing Bras

should women take bras off

Science puts a new view forward in the anti-brassiere argument. 

Women have bound their breasts since antiquity, for modesty’s sake or to conform to an aesthetic ideal. Exposing the breast for human survival in breastfeeding is supposed to be kept politely minimal, even with the known multiple benefits of breastfeeding.

In the Western world, women avoid the free-swinging breast, a point of view encouraged by the multi-billion dollar brassiere industry. That began to change in the 1960s, when the Women’s Liberation movement proclaimed brassieres to be as oppressive as the corsets our grandmothers wore. Still, the majority of today’s women continue wearing the bra, conforming to societal norms and to fashion. Recent research conducted in France may influence women to change their minds again.

Professor Jean-Denis Rouillon, professor at the University of Franche-Comté in Besançon, recentlt concluded, after a 15-year study of 330 women, that supporting breasts in a bra helps not at all, neither “medically, physiologically nor anatomically.”

Rouillon argues that chest muscle and ligaments that support the breasts atrophy over time if the breasts’ natural motion is restrained by a bra. He claims that the women under study actually developed stronger supportive muscle while going bra-less. (Breast ligaments, which give the breast elasticity, do not regain tone as muscle does; like rubber bands, once they stretch out, they remain limp.) Rouillon proved his claim by the research participant’s nipples lifting 7mm towards the shoulder in one year. According to Rouillon, the women’s breasts became firmer and stretch marks faded.

Apart from wishing to improve the silhouette, women should be asking questions about bras versus female health. Some defenders of the no-bra cause  claim that bras restrict the drainage of the axillary (armpit) lymph nodes. Lymph nodes help move bacteria, dead viruses and other blood toxins out of circulation. The implication is that these toxins simply stay in the armpit and breast area when a bra is worn, degrading health.

Others say that bras retain the heat naturally generated by the breast during movement, thereby increasing the chance of inflammation of the breast tissue and subsequently, cancer. With breast cancer rates rising almost visibly, it may be worth investigating that idea.

Although these issues are valid and deserve more research, there are no definite answers to anti-bra arguments based on health concerns. Respected institutions like the American Cancer Society invalidate the theory that bra-wearing increases chances of getting breast cancer. Proponents retort that as parallels between lung cancer and smoking were vigorously denied for decades by bodies with big financial interests in tobacco, so does the brassiere industry have interests in squashing that theory.

In the meantime, Rouillon is reluctant to advise all women to take their bras off. He said that the research participants didn’t represent the population at large  – his study was conducted on women between the ages of 18-35. Further, he says that older women who have worn bras since early adolescence would gain nothing from removing their bras.

Presumably, Professor Rouillon means that if it’s too late to rebuild breast-supporting muscle, a woman might as well look good in her clothes and wear a bra.

More on breast health on Green Prophet:

Image of woman removing bra via Shutterstock.

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40 thoughts on “French Scientists Suggest Women Should Stop Wearing Bras”

  1. Tiggy says:

    They are basing th is on French women who do not generally have large busts. All very well for them!

  2. John Pierre says:

    Yes even my underwear makes feel my ***** with more heat which is bad for my testicles so better to sleep we guys naked and women with no bra

  3. Boobs says:

    I heard in the past that in Japan where women do not wear bras, they do not have a high number of women suffering from breast cancer.

    1. They also have diets that are low in red meat and milk products. They eat a lot of seaweed. Japanese women also tend to have smaller frames and smaller breasts, but that could change as their diets become more western.

      1. Yumika says:

        Women not wearing bras in Japan is a mistaken notion. They do wear bras. And the size of their breast is as much in proportion or not to their frames as in other cultures.

  4. Sasha J says:

    Have you ever gone bra-less for a whole day? Not only do your nipples chafe but if you’re large-breasted like me your boobs actually feel sore from the strain. Not just exercising, but going about my day. I’m a DD but even as a D and before that a C while growing up it is far less comfortable to wear no-bra than it is to wear a bra that fits properly.

    1. Sasha J says:

      I’m saying it’s not just a matter of vanity, it’s a matter of comfort as well. Especially in the summertime when going without a bra creates serious discomfort and more sweat around my breasts.

      I really resent that this article frames bras as a society-mandated clothing solely used for vanity. Women have a choice to wear or not wear bras, it doesn’t have to be a matter of conforming. Now if there’s any case for the possible-cancer-connection it should be seriously investigated, but women have worn bras for about a century and that doesn’t coincide with the recent increase of breast cancer in the last decade or two.

      1. Until the last decade there was really no great test for pinpointing breast cancer. So Sasha, your argument is a little flawed. Bras stop the flow of lymph fluid so just like eating chocolate causes people to gain weight; it seems really intuitive that bras can cause breast cancer.

  5. chava says:

    What about the possibility that increased cases of cancer (breast cancer as well as other kinds) are due to the unnatural foods that we’re eating. Recently foods have been genetically modified, and we have no idea how that will affect us. But even before that began, companies were putting all sorts of chemicals into our foods, and feeding hormones to the animals that become food. I’d blame the unnatural foods before I’d blame a piece of clothing!

    1. I’d imagine it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that. All together = higher rates of cancer. Also not nursing, postponing childbirth…

  6. Mario says:

    If you think women are going to choose some minor muscular health over the vanity of perky youthful breasts, you are mad. Not only do they preserve tissue, prevent sagging, they help to make the appearance of extra volume and youthfulness.

    The cancer/oppression/anything else debate is a futile one. They’re are, and will continue to be worn for aesthetic reasons.

    1. The cancer risk is not minor. It is more comfy without, unless you are running.

      1. Helen in CA says:

        As to comfort w/out? Totally individual….and in my eperience size and “texture” make a huge difference.

        DD w/ soft breasts even when a teen…….yes. A bra that fits well is more comfotable.

        As for the medical discussion, I think that well-fitted bravrs poorl fitted may be an important distinction.

  7. Scott Kelly says:

    Keep wearing the bras. I don’t care for sloppy looking women. Who wants to see older women’s breast hanging out the bottom of a tee-shirt?

    1. j says:

      You’re being sarcastic, right?
      If not, your egotism and degradation of women is disgusting. Support women choosing either way for themselves based on health and their own comfort, NOT to please you, whoever you are.
      p.s. respect your elders.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    When I was developing, my mother gave me an antique piece of clothing to wear instead of a bra – it was a satin/lace camisole. Fairly loose, and pretty, it was just to hide the nipple effect. She had no interest in me wearing a bra, as she (lean person with small breasts) didn’t wear one herself. I never noticed that – it took one of my boyfriends to point out that “I think it’s really cool how your mom never wears a bra”. The camisole worked just fine, until my appearance-conscious older sister started nagging for me to get a bra, so I worried about it, and mom caved in.

  9. Reef says:

    Yes, a study has also shown that it is better for women to simply go topless.
    As a man, it clearly reduces stress, puts a smile on my face, produces cancer-fighting vitality, and just prolongs my life expectancy.

  10. Josetta says:

    Maybe women under 35 could split into two groups, one group not wearing bras for 5 years and see what happens?

  11. I have been wearing a bra for the last 20 years and have been practising Yoga for 10. In my opinion, Yoga helps to keep your body in shape, besides many others benefits, so it’ll also build supporting muscles around boobs. I am 40 years old and my boobs look like they did at age 17. Nursing my child did not affect them in the long run although it took about a year after weaning for them to “come back”. Apparently that’s perfectly normal. As for bras, I love them. They make me feel supported, I love the look of nice underwear and I am not a big fan of having my nipples be visible through a T-shirt. I agree with other readers that the fit is important! And on another note, I suggest to switch from commercial deodorants to healthy mineral deodorants since that is definitely related to breast cancer. Antiperspirants (found in most deodorants) could be linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. I’d take that more seriously than underwear.

  12. Karen Pittenger says:

    Well maybe you will listen to a female ‘researcher’. I am now 48 years old and have not worn a bra in 20 years. My boobs are probably the size of medium grapefruits (Gee I thought they were smaller, but I just checked) and are in great shape. Nipples point straight forward. Because I don’t wear a bra, my boobs and surrounding tissues are strong and do what they are born to do. You would have less pain if your chest was free. Much pain goes away when you free yourself in any way. Are any of you REALLY saying that our bodies have evolved to need support from our clothing? Read that sentence again. It might be true, but that is not a good thing, but a bad thing. I also do not wear shoes unless it makes businesses uncomfortable. I have met people whose feet have been so weakened by shoes that the people hate to even take a shower. As to those of you who claim to get pain from your regular clothes rubbing you raw if you don’t wear a bra, wow. That is a misfortune indeed but not exactly typical. I can imagine bras cause these problems for more people than they solve. As for those complaining that they won’t let a male scientist tell you what to do with your body, you are already letting a ‘male dominated’ society tell you how to look by wearing a bra in the first place. I do indeed see the irony of appealing to other people to free themselves….In this country, women have a look at me/don’t see me complex. The bra is an irony of look at my boobs, don’t see my boobs. They create a cartoon image/shape suggesting a boob that has gone through the flattening of the 1920’s, the bullet boobs of the 50’s, and the lift in the 90’sthat seems to be losing popularity. For decades now it is even acceptable for our girls to modify their breasts with surgical implants to make them more noticeable and competitive only to slap a BOOBY BURKA on them after all that misery and health risk. All highly accentuating, but go without a bra, and where is the love? Behind the fear. I said it, bras are ALL ABOUT FEAR. I ‘own it’ when I am in public and have never had anyone look at me funny or care so little if they did that I would not notice. I do know that some men are fascinated enough by not seeing a brastrap across my BACK that they sometimes cannot help rubbing that spot on me, clearly they love an unbound back! I am married by the way. Been together 21years. There is not very much to miss about the 70’s, but women were freer in some ways. And now if you will excuse me, I am going to go discover a new way that I can find my freedom today.

    1. mary says:

      Ha ha! The above comment says it all. It should not be taboo to go braless. The less “binding” material on my body the better I feel. physically and psychologically.

    2. JC says:

      I have done the exact same thing. Threw out the bra years ago (along with my high heels) because it affected my posture and breathing. I haven’t looked back since. As long as I am healthy and comfortable, who cares!

    3. Lesley says:

      I absolutely love and agree with your observation about the look at me/don’t see me complex in our society, I think you nailed it.
      I am just as guilty.
      I can’t stand wearing a bra and I am consciously searching out clothes that don’t make it so obvious when I am not wearing one. I have very prominent nipples and firm small breasts, the effect is very sexual so I wear booby burkas in order to maneuver in our male dominated society without feeling slimed in public. The first thing I remove after my shoes, is my bra when I get home.

  13. anonymous says:

    Lord knows when i’m menstruating, going up the stairs without a bra can be INCREDIBLY PAINFUL. I’m not a huge fan of bras, but when they’re sore from hormones, its a lifesaver.

    worth the cancer risk, imo.

  14. layla says:

    I seriously do not believe that wearing a bra causes cancer. A bra that fits correctly is a comfort not a burden. for women that have large breasts, a bra is needed or there would be alot of jiggling going on and unwanted attention. we must keep our girls secure LOL

    1. Well science seems to be saying something else.

      1. Yumika says:

        Pseudo science and quackery inspired.

    2. Anneke says:

      It’s not just causing unwanted attention. My boobs are pretty big. Even walking a bit springy without a bra on is painful. Let alone walk up or down a set of stairs, and let’s not even mention running. My boobs already hurt if I run WITH a bra on.

  15. Susan MacNichol says:

    A book I read 20 years ago postulated the theory that the underwire in bras was cancer inducing. It was quite convincing,but I don’t remember the reasoning. I have steered away from underwire bras ever since. I don’t remember the book or author.

    1. layla says:

      I remember hearing that if your breast gets pinched it can cause cancer. lol i dunno. I also read about the underwire thing and dont remember the reasons.

      1. The opposite: pinching and stimulating breasts has been found to reduce cancer.

  16. Who says we wear bras to “look good in our clothes”? Without a bra the skin on my breasts would be rubbed raw by my clothing which is, of course, very painful. Also mobility is restricted with all that flopping around. Running would be impossible. Climbing stairs is even uncomfortable. There is a reason women have bound their breasts for hundreds of years. I’m tired of male researcher telling me what to do with my body.

    1. layla says:

      I agree 🙂

    2. Elizabeth says:

      Actually they have not been binding their breasts for hundreds of years – I take issue with that. It depends on the culture. Cretan women didn’t even cover their breasts. I highly doubt that ancient Celtic women wore bras. There have been some bras from medieval times found in a castle, in England, but that’s only one place.

  17. Cancer isn’t something that happens overnight. It can take decades. Studies of that length of time are hard for researchers to take on. What needs to be done are retrospective studies on women survivors of breast cancer, surveying them to see among them who wore a bra …

  18. Phil says:

    I know here have only been a couple of studies on bra-wearing vs cancer, but both of them show a positive link. I can see the American Cancer Society saying that there isn’t enough evidence at this point, but I don’t understand how they can justify denying that any link exists.

    1. layla says:

      how is a piece of clothing going to cause cancer? unless it made out of hazardous materials. when im wearing a bra i forget im wearing it its not a corset.

      1. Underwires stop the flow of blood. Blood carries oxygen and circulates lymph fluid to clean your body from toxins. No flow of blood and lymph means toxins build up. Over time this build up can lead to cancer.

        1. Yumika says:

          Almost 2 years later now we know better. Let’s not perpetuate ignorant beliefs.

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