What you need to know:
- It may now be normal and acceptable for women to flaunt their sports bras during workouts and competitions, but, a few decades ago, women couldn’t even let their bra straps show while on the pitch due to deep social stigma
- During that all-confusing period, new features called breasts developed across their chests, bringing with them novel pain especially for lovers of exercise
If you are a physically active female like me, chances are that you’ve taken a picture of yourself strutting in your sports bra. But have you ever thought more deeply about its origin and importance?
Can you imagine a world without sports bras? Personally, I can’t. Yet this paramount piece of equipment came about just 40 years ago. Before that, female athletes had to cinch and strap themselves in ordinary underwear that left their breasts bobbing and whirling like tennis balls.
It may now be normal and acceptable for women to flaunt their sports bras during workouts and competitions, but, a few decades ago, women couldn’t even let their bra straps show while on the pitch due to deep social stigma.
I was reminded of this last weekend when, in preparation for a pilgrimage cum hike to Subukia Shrine in Nakuru (the trail is hilly, rocky and steep), l went shopping for appropriate shoes. The vendors at the Bata shop whipped out a pair of nice looking sports shoes, which they called “super shoes”. They told me the shoe was ideal for a punishing course. I bought them, and they did what they were supposed to do. My feet were well protected throughout the day. But, I can’t say the same for my breasts.
For many women, physical activity was fun – until puberty. During that all-confusing period, new features called breasts developed across their chests, bringing with them novel pain especially for lovers of exercise. Playtime was over. Running shoes have undergone so much development since the first pair was invented, to a point we now have super shoes that have been scientifically proven to help with athletic performance. So, isn’t it surprising that there are no “super bras” in existence?
When they invented it in 1977, Lisa Lindahl, Hinda Miller and Polly Smith didn’t design the sports bra so that boobs wouldn't swing all over the place while racing down pitches. They created it because wearing the wrong bra actually hurts. It digs painfully into your skin, can irritate your skin, and can leave breast tissue hanging out embarrassingly. I witnessed it first hand in Subukia last Saturday.
Various research findings reveal that even with all the advancements since the first sports bra designs, more than 40 per cent of elite female athletes still report experiencing breast-pain during physical activity. This suggests that sports bras have not hit the mark for what they are designed to do.
I guess that is what they mean when they say women are super humans. Imagine that, with all the pain and discomfort of having breasts, women across the world still enjoy morning runs, break records and kill it across pitches!
My prayer as we continue celebrating women’s history month, is that someone will pick up from this 1977 invention and go one up by factoring in various aspects, such as, the left and right breast can be different cup sizes. That breast size can increase and reduce over the course of a month due to the menstrual cycle. That breast shape and feel can change permanently after pregnancy and childbirth. Over to you, designers.
Meanwhile, dear sister, the next time you pull that piece over your head, know that you are putting an important piece of women's history on your body.