I believe most Nigerian girls have heard the phrase “Beauty is Pain” several times in their life. I heard it a lot whenever I cried when I was getting my hair braided or relaxed. I heard it enough times that I started to believe it; I thought it was normal for a woman/girl to be in pain just to please society. So, I wore bras even though my shoulders hurt like hell. Over the next few years, I came to understand that beauty is not only pain, it is expensive; beauty products marketed to women cost more than beauty products marketed to men even when the amount of product is the same and they contain the same ingredients (coughs**Heads & Shoulders**coughs)
I don’t wear bras anymore; I wear bra tops. I stopped wearing bras because they hurt my shoulders. My first year of university was stressful and I absolutely hated all of it: I would say I was depressed my first year of university. I didn’t understand the university’s system so I was very lost. I found out that eating KFC and watching TV shows online cheered me up. Eating KFC every day is not economically sustainable so I decided that watching TV shows online would be my source of joy. The dorm I was staying in at that time didn’t have Wi-Fi and I wasn’t about to buy data on a modem just to watch videos online. There is Wi-Fi in my school campus so I used to carry my laptop to school every day. My laptop is heavy and so my shoulders hurt a lot.
One day, I wore a bra top to school and I noticed that my shoulders hurt less than usual that day. I decided to wear a bra top the next day to figure out if wearing a bra top was the reason for the reduced pain and it did hurt less that day as well. So, from that day onwards, I decided to stop wearing bras every day. I’m not anti-bra: I’ll wear a bra if the outfit I choose calls for one. I know someone is going to say if you buy the right size of bra, it won’t hurt. I’ve found that to be untrue; sure, it would hurt less but it isn’t completely pain-free (FYI, I got fitted at Victoria Secret).
During my most recent visit to Nigeria, my mother and eldest sister lectured me about my decision to stop me wearing bras: they told me to start wearing bras because not wearing a bra will make my boobs sag. I was also told that I was young so my breasts should be lifted. I didn’t say anything and for the sake of peace, I wore bras for the rest of my holiday.
Let me give another mini-PSA: wearing a bra doesn’t prevent or slow down the rate of sagging. Bras just temporarily lift the breasts. If you want to slow down the rate of sagging ( because it is impossible to prevent breasts from sagging), focus on improving your skin’s elasticity.
Whatever your take is on femininity, you can’t deny that is unfair that women/girls have to be in pain and spend a huge percentage of their income on makeup and the rest (even though we earn less than men) to be considered attractive and even professional. There have been several instances where female employees are asked to wear heels and makeup to work to be more professional.
Our ideas of beauty/professional looks aren’t innate; we are socially conditioned to accept certain things as beautiful/professional. Using my myself as an example, I used to think dreadlocks were ugly & unprofessional because I was raised in an environment that conditioned me to think that way. Now, I want to lock my hair but I am reluctant to do so because I know it will affect my employability; they are still a lot of people who have the same ideas misconceptions about locks that I used to have and some of those people could be a potential employer. It is unfortunate that what society has been conditioned to find beautiful/professional in women puts us in a lot of pain, consumes our time and empties our pockets.
Women have been made to feel ugly and inadequate without makeup. Everybody has seen memes making fun of women/girls that wear heavy makeup but has anyone ever asked why those women/girls feel compelled to wear that much makeup. The truth is beautiful/sexy women get treated better in society (Google pretty privilege). Who the hell wants to go through life being treated like crap when there are ways to make your life easier? Being made fun of for wearing too much makeup is not nice but that is way better than being called ugly and treated awfully for daring to go out with your bare face. Even though girls that wear makeup get made fun of online, they get treated better in society, for example, they are more likely to get employed/promoted.
Sidebar: I don’t like to call people ugly but when I see the pictures of the guys calling girls ugly, I’m just like “What hubris possessed you to call another person ugly? Have you seen yourself?”
My decision to stop wearing bras was not a ‘feminist statement’. I just noticed that a stimulus caused me pain so I decided to remove that stimulus. That is why our brain sends us pain signals. Our brains send us pain signals to indicate that something is wrong and to dissuade us from performing certain actions like touching a hot stove. I guess in a way, I’m making a feminist statement by not wearing a bra because I’m not going to put my body in pain/do things that make me uncomfortable just to appeal to do the male gaze.