50 years ago, today. “A protest would feature a “freedom trash can” into which women could throw away all the physical manifestations of women’s oppression, such as “bras, girdles, curlers, false eyelashes, wigs, and representative issues of Cosmopolitan, Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, etc.” Smithsonian Mag
The protesters tell the world, “All women are beautiful.” Not just those paraded through the Miss America pageant, but all women, all races, all shapes, all sizes. Not the “standard” of women so specifically selected that met certain criteria.
Women protest to no longer stand up to conventional beauty standards. The added pressures of society to dress up, apply make-up, and conform our bodies into subjects desired by the other sex do not define our beauty.
These voices echo back 50 years to this pivotal and controversial moment in history, the “Bra Burning” in Atlantic City. They still echo.
This may sound strange coming from me. A woman who rebuilt her breasts after breast cancer, and then designed beautiful lingerie to feel sexy again after the loss of something I didn’t even really realize I was attached to or defined as my femininity or sexuality. That’s just it.
I couldn’t help the striking comparison of the commercial “objects” that were thrown into the freedom trash can, and how those objects correlated so deeply to my treatment and recovery from breast cancer. Bras. False eyelashes. Wigs. So, I had to ask myself, are these objects of oppression? Or something that we, as women, enjoy and therefore do.
In today’s world women’s femininity is still largely defined by her breasts, her plump lips, her flirty eyelashes, her long hair. Things you lose as you fight for your life. Things are changing. I hear those voices echo from 50 years ago, with a different intent now.
The women “burned” their bras to be heard, to be represented, to be free. They wanted true equality. An equality that should have no attachment to what we do, how we feel, or what we want to look like.
I believe the “bra” to be the symbolism of the era for restriction, constraint, conforming to norms, that they wanted broken. The right to not have to wear a bra, and therefore “burn” it, levels the playing field in some sense. Not because women didn’t want to wear bras, or even enjoy doing so, but men don’t have to, so therefore “free the nip!”
It started an important conversation. Women should no longer feel the need to conform to the shapes desired by molded cups, and underwires that lift & separate, mostly, designed by men.
The desire to express ourselves, is up to us. It should not be molded into some “ideal” of some “woman” that holds the utmost standard of beauty, this could be breasts, eyelashes, or hair. Or none of this at all.
50 years ago, a conversation started, maybe in whispers, but now, I can hear it loud and clear.
The first mastectomy was reported in by William Halsted in 1882, the entire breast, pectoral, and lymphatic tissue was removed. It is not well documented, but I hope this surgery prolonged this woman’s life then as it does for so many of us now. But how far have we come?
Just several years after the “bra burning” protest, the first silicone breast form was made to give those undergoing a mastectomy, an opportunity of symmetry and what some may say “normalcy.” Because having two breasts was still deemed a requirement for a woman, masking the loss of a breast felt important.
This was the norm for women post-mastectomy for 40 years, until we started to hear those echoes from 50 years ago, listen to those cries, and turn them into our own voices, and our own protests.
January 2017, women lead the largest worldwide protest, a march, that would cover equality, politics, and human rights. On the heels of the Women’s March, breast cancer patients take the world by storm and show the aftermath of the disease in a way that had never been seen or discussed. Thirteen breast cancer patients stomp the runway at New York Fashion Week. Their voices told their stories, that we are breastless, strong, and empowered people. Beauty norms have directed much of our misinterpretation of what breast cancer is in the lives of the afflicted. We wanted to change this, we wanted the world to see what breast cancer really looks like. It’s not the bra, it’s not the breasts, it’s not your hair, and it’s not your eyelashes. None of these objects make you less than you, less than a woman. It is the what is seen by the outside, it is what tells the world that you have cancer. Now, we know these “objects” don’t define our “femininity”, but we like them. It’s how we chose to express ourselves. We don’t need to two breasts to feel “normal”, we are not one, we are many, and we want to do what makes us feel beautiful.
Let’s burn those old mastectomy bras. Let’s let our definition of beauty be defined how we wish. Let’s keep this conversation going, throw it into the world until they can no longer turn a blind eye. Let’s give nod to those brave and empowered women in 1968, who didn’t hide in the corners and stood up in protest to change societal norms, even if it took us 50 years to hear it.
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