Ep.85: Bras and Breast Cancer with Sydney Singer and Soma Grismaijer
Did you know wearing a bra can cause breast cancer? That’s what we get to talk about today with Sydney Singer and his wife Soma Grismaijer. Sydney Ross Singer got graduate training in biochemistry and got a master’s degree in anthropology in 1981 from Duke University. He went on to do three years of medical school at University of Texas and became one of the first medically trained anthropologists in the United States.
In 1994, he founded and currently serves as the co-director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease with his wife and co-researcher, Soma. This pioneering organization is dedicated to discovering the culture-based causes of disease. Dr. Singer and his partner, Soma Grismaijer, did a bra and followup breast cancer study after their first study in Fiji which confirmed their findings, and I think you ladies who listen to the show and the men who love them would really want to learn about this because it seems to me like not wearing a bra is one of the most preventable causes of breast cancer.
LINKS AND RESOURCES:
Read Dressed to Kill: Click Here
Learn more: https://www.brasandbreastcancer.org/
Check out Sydney’s article, “How Bras Cause Lymph Stasis and Breast Cancer,”: HERE
Robyn: Hi, everyone. It’s Robyn Openshaw, and welcome back to Vibe. Today, I have a really interesting topic, and I told my assistant, “Go find Dr. Singer because I’ve been referring to his work for a long time now.” I’m super interested in what you’re doing.
Sydney Ross Singer got graduate training in biochemistry, and got a master’s degree in anthropology in 1981 from Duke University. He went on to do three years of medical school at University of Texas and became one of the first medically trained anthropologists in the United States.
In 1994, he founded and currently serves as the co-director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease with his wife and co-researcher, Soma. This pioneering organization is dedicated to discovering the culture-based causes of disease. Dr. Singer and Soma are integrating biochemistry, anthropology, medical humanities and medicine, so Dr. Singer has made numerous medical discoveries into cultural causes of various common diseases.
What we’re talking about is a very controversial subject, but I have recently gotten the book Dressed to Kill. It was published 23 years ago, but it’s back now, a second edition, and it’s called Dressed To Kill, The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras. So we’re talking about burning the bras, but we’re not doing it like the original feminists did. We’re talking about the health effects of wearing a bra.
Dr. Singer and his partner, Soma Grismaijer, did a bra and followup breast cancer study after their first study in Fiji which confirmed their findings, and I think you ladies who listen to the show, and the men who love them, would really want to learn about this because it seems to me like one of the most preventable causes of breast cancer.
Welcome to the show, Dr. Singer and Soma as well.
Sydney: It’s great to be with you, Robyn.
Soma: Thank you.
Sydney: Thank you.
Robyn: What gave you the idea that wearing bras could be linked to breast cancer? Will you tell a little bit about your own personal backstory?
Soma: Let’s start with my story. When we were doing some research in Fiji years ago, it was on a totally different subject. We were on a very remote island in Fiji, and I was hanging up some bras on the line to dry, and a young Fijian woman came over to me and said, “What are those?” Just curiosity. They’d never seen a bra before on this island, and I had to explain what it was and why I wore it. She asked that, and I said, “Well, wow, I just never really thought about it before,” and then she pulled on it and said, “Well, isn’t it tight?” and I said, “Well, I guess it is, but you just get used to it.”
Soma: About a week later, I discovered this scary lump in my breast, and we took off from Fiji, went back to California where we were living in a panic, not knowing what to do. I was pregnant at the time, in my 40’s, and didn’t want to go through the X-rays and all of the typical medical treatments that you would have to immediately look at. So we started doing our own research, trying to figure out what in the world had caused this and, when we first got home, I took off my clothes to take a shower, looked at my breast and just looked at all those red marks around my bra line, and that was a hint. And then I was thinking about the woman asking, “Isn’t it tight?” and Syd thought back in his medical school training and realized …
Sydney: Actually …
Soma: … that actually it was-
Sydney: … it was the vet school.
Soma: Vet school, yeah, he was practicing …
Soma: … pre-vet for a while, and that’s how you castrate a bull is tie off its testicles with something tight, stop the circulation and it deteriorates. So we started thinking about tightness, and how that could possibly be associated with the problem, and I’ll let Syd take over from here because he can explain the lymphatics and circulation problems that could be caused by bras.
Robyn: That’s the story I wanted, that you discovered a lump in your breast, you were pregnant, and so you started with a theory. You started by saying to yourself, “This seems like it might actually be bad for us,” right?
Sydney: Yeah. I mean, essentially, constriction is a really bad thing for circulation, and when we saw so much red marks, and indentations, left by her bra, well, we had seen those every day. Everybody sees those who wears a bra, but we ignore them because you figure, “Well, that’s just what clothing does to your body,” and you accept it and you figure, “It wouldn’t be happening. Clothing wouldn’t be like that if it was hurting you.”
I mean, nobody ever thinks about that until you have a disease, and then you start to wonder, gee, and you look for clues, and red marks and indentations are the signs of constriction. Then the question is, “Is constriction a good thing for your body?” No, it’s not obviously. Has anyone looked at this? That’s where we got really blown away by this, because the most obviously thing to look at when you’re considering the breast and asking about disease is, “What are we doing to them?”
I mean, breasts are made to be healthy. They’re designed by nature to do what they’re supposed to, to feed children and to last a lifetime, and they’re not supposed to be lumpy and painful and have cysts and develop cancer.
Now, some people have a genetic tendency towards cancers, a very small percentage of the public, and about 5% of breast cancer is possibly attributable to genetics, but the rest seems to be lifestyle. Even the World Health Organization says, “Most of our diseases and death is caused by lifestyle,” so you look at what you do, and if you had foot problems, you’d ask. If your feet were suddenly hurting you, you’d think, “Gee, what, what am I doing to my feet? Oh, yeah, I just bought a new pair of shoes that are kind of tight.”
It’s obvious. When you think about an organ, what do we do to it? When it comes to the breast, it’s the bra, and when you see red marks and indentations, you’re talking about constriction, and the first thing that gets constricted is your lymphatic system.
Now, most people never even heard of the lymphatic system, and most doctors don’t even think about it because, in medical school, the training on lymphatics is maybe a few minutes. It’s actually the circulatory pathway of your immune system. It flushes fluid from the cells, because all your cells are bathed in fluid in a matrix, a connected tissue matrix that hold the cells where they are, and there’s fluid that flushes around them, delivering oxygen and nutrients and removing waste products.
The cells are constantly flushing and flowing with this, in your body, with fluid, and the lymphatic system starts in your tissues as tiny vessels, tiny tubes and are microscopic that begin to drain this fluid. It’s a passive mechanism, which is why it’s so easily compressed and constricted. It’s supposed to send this fluid to your lymph nodes, and it does it with one-way valves to keep them moving in one direction.
Your lymph nodes for the breast are mostly in the armpit, so what the lymph nodes do, they’re factories for white blood cell production. That’s your immune system, and as it samples this fluid coming from the tissue, it looks for viruses or bacteria or cancer cells and, if it noses any of these, it mounts an immune reaction, produces white blood cells that go and attack the problem.
Toxins that are in your tissues, too, get flushed out by this, and, by toxins I mean, in our polluted world, everything we take in from our food, water, and air could be a potential hazard to your health, like plastics and petrochemicals and pesticides and all of these things which get into our body. They’re coursed through your body and they get flushed out, hopefully, and processed by the liver and kidneys, and you get rid these things.
If you constrict your body though, once these get delivered to your body through your bloodstream by either eating, drinking or breathing the stuff, it gets stuck in the tissues because if the lymphatics are compressed by a tight garment, the tissues are not properly flushing out, but the blood pressure is there from the blood stream to still provide blood that has not only nutrients, but also these poisons, so the tissue gets poisoned, but it doesn’t get the opportunity to easily flush it out.
They’ve just come out with new research confirming what they knew in the 1920s, which is that lymphostasis, or stagnant lymph flow, causes cancer. It’s essentially tying up your immune systems. If you have a compromised lymphatic system, you have a compromised immune system and a higher rate of all diseases, including cancer. This has been shown now in numerous studies in dermatology actually, but they knew this in the ’30s.
In fact, Robyn, what blew us away with the new book is we were able to do research analysis, when we wrote the first book, that’s easier to do on the Internet, and we found that they knew about bras causing breast cancer since there’d been bras back in the ’30s.
Dr. John Mayo, who started the Mayo Clinic, actually wrote in the Annals of Surgery that women in cultures where they don’t bind and constrict their breasts with garments have lower breast cancer rates. They noted that exactly, and we even found a patent from 1950 which says it was for a new bra design, and it said, “Bras are causing breast cancer, and our design is meant to stop that.” It was like widely known that bras were a problem and causing cancer, but that’s been forgotten.
We have a huge bra industry, and we have a huge cancer detection and treatment industry. When you come up with this type of information today, where women are so conditioned [to wear bras, it gets difficult]. In the ’30s, a lot women were still bra-free, and, today, they’re getting that way again since we’ve been doing our outreach for 20 years. But you’re dealing with bras. They’re assumed to be so normal, and you have to wear a bra, that the issue becomes difficult to promote because you have industries that are resistant. It took 30 years for tobacco and cancer to be linked, and 7,000 studies before the US Surgeon General announced cigarettes cause cancer, and, in fact, doctors were selling cigarettes in the ’50s because it was just the smoking culture.
That’s the nature of a culturogenic disease. That’s what we do as medical anthropologists; we step outside the culture and outside the box, and start thinking in creative ways, and looking at what’s really obvious when we think about it but were blinded to. Because, when you’re close to it, the eyes cannot see itself. We just don’t know our own foibles because we’re so used to them. We become blinded to [these things], oblivious to the obvious, and when you step outside of your culture and you start asking, “Why are we wearing these things? Gee, that looks tight. That could be causing a problem,” then you start to realize these are obvious things. But it’s resisted, and that’s why we’ve been 25 years fighting this.
Now, there are lingerie companies making new bras that are based on our research and our book. How’s that for irony? They are actually citing Dressed to Kill in patents for new bras, saying that their bras won’t be that harmful to your lymphatics. It’s got rid of underwire bras. Now, underwires are selling way down, and bralettes, these “nothing” bras, are the new thing.
More and more celebrities are bra-free for health reasons. They’re getting this message, and there are now studies around the world on bras and breast cancer showing the link that it’s causing breast cancer. But there is also resistance, and the mainstream is trying to keep a lid on this, so, in this way, you’re not seeing this as headline news, which it really needs to be.
Robyn: It sounds like you are making inroads, and it’s too bad that it’s taken 25 years to really land. I still feel, from my own posting about your research, that the findings are astonishing. I’m going to ask you for the specific statistics of what you learned about increasing breast cancer rates the more you wear a bra, the more time you spend in a bra during the day, but I want to thank you for your work.
It is because of your work I stopped wearing a bra many, many years ago. To play tennis or to run, I’ll wear a sports bra, but, besides that, I never do. I tend to wear form-fitting shirts, and I’m sure there are some lymphatic restriction there.
Ladies, if you’re listening to this, I’m definitely going to ask the question, “What the heck about all the National Geographic photos we’ve seen over the year? Aren’t we going to end up with saggy boob?” Hang on. We’re going to get there.
Let me ask you this. You said that there are people who are using your work to revamp the idea of what a bra is, and at least be less constrictive or whatever. I’m sure you have some mixed feelings about that because, like you said, it’s a little bit ironic. It’s like, “Wait a minute, I said no bras, and now you’re making bras, so…” but how many oncologists are talking to their patients about this? How mainstream is it to advise patients or advise people, women especially, preventatively to stop wearing bras? How is that being received out there in the oncology industry?
Sydney: I think like every other industry, there are people in it who are just by the book, do what they’re told, and then there are others who know how to think for themselves. I’ve been told by women who’ve heard about this information that they heard it from their oncologist, so more and more know it, and some are actually promoting it, but others will just go to the American Cancer Society, which will say, “This, this doesn’t even make sense. This should be ignored, and we did a study that shows it’s wrong, and just continue to wear your bra and come for mammograms.”
There are people who toe the line, but doctors have to conform to standard medical practice, and they’re told what to say, and the people who tell them are like the American Cancer Society that sets [the rules], strangely enough, and we’re just one nonprofit, but they’ve become the standard. If they say something, everybody listens, even though they get corporate donations — and they don’t want to alienate donors — which is why they never like to argue against industry.
There’s all sorts of politics in this, but the way it works is some doctors will tell them and some won’t. I maybe don’t have the numbers, but I have been told by many women that their doctors, including oncologists, are telling them about this. But when you have a funding source like the American Cancer, Susan G. Komen Foundation, and the National Institute of Health, the National Cancer Institute, they all are saying that this should not be researched. And it’s all controlled by the drug industry, of course, and they don’t like attacking the industry because there will be lawsuits like crazy, just like with big tobacco.
The more studies there are to verify this, the more they’ll stand up in court, which is what is scaring the lingerie industry; and the cancer industry is standing there with their pants down like, “Gee, why have we ignored bras all this time and been saying this is nonsense?”
How are they ever going to back out of this and admit that after 20 years of denial, knee-jerk denial, of this issue… After all those years, how are they going to save face and say, “Oh, well, we didn’t think about it that way. I guess maybe this is something women should be warned about.” By the way, we don’t tell women to just stop wearing [them]. I mean, if you discovered cigarettes are causing lung cancer, of course, your first inclination is stop smoking; but then, when you’re dealing with an addiction like bras, because they are both a psychological and physical addiction, women go into the same kind of reaction about it, where they’re afraid that you’re challenging something they’re addicted to.
Robyn: Let’s go to the results of your original bra and breast cancer study, because this isn’t a slight correlation here. These statistics grab your attention because they are so correlated. Let’s go back to the 1990s and tell us what you learned.
Sydney: Okay. There had been, up until that point, no real study of the bra and breast cancer link, so what we figured is, if bras are causing breast cancer, then you can imagine that women who wear bras would have a higher rate of breast cancer than women who don’t. So we interviewed nearly 5,000 women in five major cities across the US between 1991 and ’93 and we asked them about their past bra-wearing habits and behaviors. What we found was that once you clock over 12 hours a day of bra-wearing, your rates really start to go up very significantly.
Essentially, bra-free women have about the same rate of breast cancer as men, and the longer and tighter you wear the bra, the higher your rates rise to where women who are 24/7 bra users have actually over a hundred times higher rate of breast cancer than a bra-free woman, so these were astounding results. Essentially, three out of four women who sleep in their bras, according to our study, were going to end up developing breast cancer. This is something we felt needed followup, and we notified all the cancer associations and women’s groups and the government, and everybody ignored it. They didn’t even respond. They had no interest in this, which is why we felt we needed to get a book, Dressed to Kill, out to the public so women can really make a decision on their own, an informed decision on how long and whether they wanted to wear bras.
Robyn: Okay, so, recently, you’ve done some followup research in Fiji and continued to find confirmation of this link between breast cancer and bras. Can you talk about what you’ve learned since then?
Sydney: Yes, so what we did was we went to a culture where there’s more bra-free women, so you can see more of a difference. It’s easier to find bra-free women, so we went to Fiji and we went village to village looking for cases of breast cancer, and to see if they were bra-wearing women or not.
In fact, when we first came to Fiji, we went to the health ministry with our book and information, and they were really excited because they said, “This makes so much sense. Our working women are the ones now getting breast cancer. We never had it before as a problem.” They never had bras either, but, now, because of the westernization of Fiji, like all Second and Third World cultures, they try to emulate the west. Their teachers and nurses and secretaries and people who work in resorts, those women had to wear bras. So we went to the same village where they’re all related and they have the same diet, but the ones that are working in the resort, that are wearing bras, those are the ones who are getting breast cancer and other breast diseases.
They’re all even being told by bra sellers there, by retailers, that the bras will prevent disease, that they need a bra for support, so keep on wearing it, and they would wear them 24/7. There was a huge number of women wearing them all the time, figuring that, “Oh, this is from Australia or United States. This is the way modern women dress. It must be great.”
In fact, wherever the bras spreads around the world, breast cancer starts rising. I mean, if it’s a bra-free culture, they have virtually no breast cancer. Men and women have about the same rates. I mean, men have breasts, too, but it’s once they start binding their breasts with bras, once their culture accepts it or they move to the United States or some other bra-wearing culture and they adopt the styles and fashions of their new culture, then their rates start to go up. So it’s pretty clear that this was an important issue that needed further research, so we did our study.
Now, other studies have come out, a lot of them in China, a recent one in Brazil in 2016, and the title of the study is — in a peer-reviewed journal and everything – “Wearing Tight Bras for Long Hours a Day Increases Breast Cancer Risk,” and they actually were trying to measure the tightness as well, because different bras are going to have a different impact, and you have to really consider how long and how tight.
What really is interesting, and one of the reasons for the resistance to this is that, scientifically, once you understand this is an important variable, like smoking in lung cancer (which they ignored, as I said, even in the ’50s and ’60s), once you realize that this is an important variable, it puts into question all other research that ignored it.
All these other breast cancer research that looked at women and the breast cancer incidence related to diet, physical activity, they do studies on even using hair coloring. I mean, they’ve looked at all sorts of stuff, but they ignored the bras, the most obvious thing, and that means that all of those studies are flawed because you don’t know in their groups which ones of them are wearing a bra. It’s like doing lung cancer research and you didn’t ask if they’re smokers or not.
All the experts who have been doing these studies are resisting the fact that their study missed something. There’s ego involved here, and even those scientists should be always open to new developments. Unfortunately, there’s money at stake, and grants at stake, and so there is resistance even from researchers in the field, because they have to defend their research that ignore the bras.
Robyn: Interesting. Okay. If we establish that there’s a connection between women who wear bras a lot, women who wear the most restrictive bras, women who wear the underwire bras being the worst, and cancer, then let’s talk about the pushback that I get from people, and let’s address some practical concerns.
We need to wear bras less. We need to wear different types of bras when we do. Let’s start with this whole thing that, every time I post about your research — like I said, I did a Facebook Live where I talked about six things every woman should know about breast cancer that your oncologist will not tell you or doesn’t know, and one of them was about your research– everybody wants to say, “Yeah, but haven’t you seen the photos in National Geographic?”
Here in the United States, we want to eat candy all day for decades and then not have an impact on our teeth, so we have all these fake things going on in our teeth like root canals and metal fillings. We’ve learned and we’ve discussed on this show before what the impact is of having these heavy metals in our mouth, and what the potential impact is on our autoimmune disease risk and our cancer risk. A similar situation; don’t expect the dental industry to come out anytime soon saying, “Hey, so sorry that millions of you have toxic mercury in your teeth.”
That’s never going to happen. It’s never going to happen. They can’t. They’d be subjecting themselves to the biggest class action lawsuit in the history of lawsuits. You alluded to a similar situation that you feel, in theory at least, that there are some industries where it’s not in their best interest to highlight this link or to pursue it further, but you’ve told us you’re now not the only one who’s connecting the dots here and is documenting that the more we wear bras, [the more cancer we see].
So very similar to the dental issue: women want to look great. We don’t want our bodies to sag. We don’t want the aging to go on, so what do we do? Is wearing a bra less a good first step? What kinds of bras should we wear? What do you think is ideal here when you consider that we live in the real world, and it’s not entirely socially acceptable for those of us who are well-endowed to be walking around out in public without a bra?
Sydney: I’m going to let Soma address that issue as a woman dealing with this, and I just wanted to address the question you asked about the National Geographic women. It’s interesting because we’ve heard that a lot, too, and the thing is, in Africa, droopy breasts are not necessarily a bad thing. They actually find it fashionable and, in some tribes, they hang weights from the breasts to make them droop.
Some African women wear a type of baby carrier that has a strap, so the baby’s on your back and the strap goes across your chest on the front, basically pushing right down on your breasts, which probably isn’t a healthy thing to do, but that pushes their breasts down [as well], and they also nurse a lot of babies, and that’s going to stretch out the breasts, too. There are also pictures of African women with firm healthy breasts, so the whole African National Geographic thing is not what’s going on. I mean, African women, some of them desire droopy breasts.
In different times in history, that’s important to realize the breast shape has had different aesthetics associated within a different time. For example, in the ’20s, the flapper look: women wanted to look more boyish, they cut their hair into short haircuts and they pushed the breasts down. Large breasts were not desirable then, and they would wear a really tight wrap around their breasts, which is what doctors were recognizing was causing cancer. That’s why in the 1950s when they made the bullet bras –like Howard Hughes’ type bras, where the breasts are projected forward — that was actually an improvement over the compression of the ’20s and ’30s. So some doctors hailed the new bra, and that’s why the patent for that kind of a bra was saying, “Bras cause cancer. Our new bra is meant to be better.”
So now that we fast forward to today. When women get rid of their bras, by the way, they discover that their breasts lift and tone. They’ve written us about these things. I’ve gotten lots of testimonials. It’s because the bras is creating an artificial support. It’s like holding your arm in a sling and, over time, this causes the suspensory ligaments in the breasts, the Cooper’s Ligaments that keep the breast form, to get weak. Their attachment to the wall of the chest gets weak because of this artificial support from the bra. Realize, girls are wearing that from puberty onward every day of their lives, for hours and hours a day, so the breasts become weak essentially, and when they stop, the breasts are also heavy with fluid because of the lymphatic constriction. So their breasts become droopier and heavy and sore.
That’s why a lot of women keep their bras on all the time because, as soon as they take them off, their breasts hurt, so they think, “Oh, I got to put the bra back on to support them.” If they actually leave their bra off for a while (and a breast message would help in this as well), the breasts would decongest and actually, as the fluid leaves, the breasts get more toned and they firm up and the ligaments strengthen. After a couple of months, they feel like they have a whole new body, and they try to put the bra back on but there’s no way they could feel comfortable in that anymore. Once you stop wearing a bra, you get a baseline of comfort, but I’m going to let Soma take over on this part because that’s exactly what she did and discovered.
Soma: Right. When I first discovered the lump in my breast, I was in my 40’s. Like I said, I’ve been wearing a bra every day of my life for 30 years, and taking it off was difficult, but I had an incentive. We were worried about that lump and thought, “Maybe this would help. Let’s give it a try,” so my incentive was there. Otherwise though, psychologically, it was very difficult. I mean, I had already nursed a couple of kids. My breasts weren’t perky and the way they should have looked by the standards of this culture, so I felt very self-conscious, very uncomfortable, but I had to do it. I was going to do it anyway.
I kind of hesitated going out in public. I was just worried, but what I noticed was that most people didn’t even notice and, if they did notice, they didn’t care; it was my body, and I started feeling better and better about it as time went on. After a couple of weeks of that discomfort, it started to diminish and I started feeling much, much better. My lump started to get smaller, and that was even more of an incentive to go on, and actually my breasts did lift and tone slightly, even though I’ve nursed many children, four children now.
There was no way I could go back. I tried putting a bra on for a special occasion about two or three months later. There was no way I could wear it anymore. It was so tight and so uncomfortable, and my lump went away finally, and we were so relieved. That’s when we started our study and we said, “We’ve got to find out more and get this information out to women. This is important.”
Yeah, there’s an initial discomfort, especially if you’re used to wearing that bra. We have been conditioned since puberty to think we need one. We’ve been brainwashed to think we need one, and women in this culture, if they think they need a bra, it’s because of that conditioning, that brainwashing we’ve had as a young child.
I think we need to realize that we are all unique. We have different shapes all over, including our breasts, and we shouldn’t have to have artificially shaped breasts to be acceptable and feeling proud of who you are. And, without a bra, you feel so liberated, so much healthier, and you can breathe more deeply. You can move better and you just become just happier and healthier, and I really, really want to encourage women to give it a try, but take a couple of weeks to get used to it because it is difficult. If you’ve been wearing one every day, it’s not going to be easy in the beginning, but be brave.
Sydney: Do you think they should go cold turkey or should they just-
Soma: There are the new bralettes. When we first came out with our study, there wasn’t much available. Everything was really tight. The underwire was there. There were very few options, and now there are lots of options. There are little bralettes that are like little T-shirts underneath just to kind of cover your nipples, make you feel a little more covered and not so naked, so there are lots of options. If you feel totally uncomfortable without a bra altogether, then try them at least in the beginning, but the thing is any bra, no matter what the design, can be too tight. You have to check around the breasts after you take it off. Make sure there are no red marks and indentations in your skin because that’s a sign of constriction. You don’t want that. If you’re wearing anything at all, no matter what it is, if it’s too tight, it’s not good.
Robyn: Okay, I’m really glad that you’re covering these subjects because I did get some pushback from some ladies. First of all, they always want to know, “What do you do, Robyn? What do you wear?” and I usually have a tank-top on underneath a shirt especially when I’m going out in public, but, at home, I really just never worry about it. I’m home a lot, and we sleep a lot, and we don’t need to be wearing a bra when we sleep. But I got a lot of pushback from women saying, “Okay, I’m on the big side, and it’s painful for me to not wear a bra,” and so you’ve covered that well, and I appreciate that.
It reminds me of when people tell me, who’ve been meat eaters their whole lives and they start trying to eat a plant-based diet, they’ll say, “Oh, my body needs more protein because I don’t react well when I don’t eat it so much.” I’m just like, “Well, you know, that’s actually a transition and, if you stick with it, you’ll find that you’ll probably feel really amazing eating mostly or all plants,” and so it sounds like this is very similar.
I can’t remember. I quit wearing a bra in my 20’s, and so I really can’t remember if there was discomfort involved in my transition, but it’s really good to know that that is a temporary thing and that you’re breasts actually will tone and lift to an extent. Okay? We’re not going to necessarily look like we did when we were 20 if we nursed four babies.
Soma: Right. I’ve got very large breasts, too, not huge, but I would a D cup if I were wearing a bra, and my breasts are happy. They’re not perky. I’m in my 60’s, but they’re happy, and I’m happy because they’re healthy, and that’s the most important thing.
Sydney: Which really raises another subject that we should touch on, which is that the breast cancer issue is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems bras cause. The constriction of the lymphatics results in breast pain first, and there are tens of millions of women who suffer from breast pain right now, at this moment, and it’s because of their bras.
Even monthly menstrual pain.What we found is that women, because your hormone level rises during part of your menstrual cycle, it causes you to retain fluid, so your body actually gets a little puffy, and women feel that. You swell a little bit, including your breast size, but if you’re wearing the same-size bra all month, it’s going to be even tighter during that time, and then women get this real serious breast pain and, if they have cysts, which is this fluid, the lymph fluid, it can’t escape properly. It starts to back up in the tissue and creates a space for itself and form a cyst, and these breast cysts that women get are mostly caused by bras. I’d say 90% or more are caused by bras.
Breast pain and breast cyst are the bigger problems in terms of the numbers of women, and then the end disease of all this is they start to get cancer because the whole system is breaking down. If you have lymphedema of the breast, basically, the bra is causing chronic mild lymphedema of the breasts. We hear about the term lymphedema a lot these days associated with after a surgery where they remove your lymph nodes. You get lymphedema, and some people, some women, are just in misery over the swelling in their arms and in their chest.
Surgery in general is being shown now to increase cancer rates because it hurts the lymphatics, and then lymph issues result in immunity problems, so people with lymphedema have to wear these compression garments to try to squeeze the tissue down, and that might sound contradictory. Like if compression is bad for a bra to do to you, then why do these people who have lymphedema wear compression garments?
That’s an interesting question, and the important point is that, when your lymphatics are already messed up and you’re ballooning out, you need to push down on the tissue to get the fluid out. The problem is you need fluid to come back in to nourish your tissues, so, if you are constantly compressing an area, you might push the fluid out, but, eventually, you’ll deteriorate. You’ll get ulcers and all sorts of problems in that tissue because it’s never getting fed. It’s being compressed. You need to remove the compression once in a while.
I recently asked women suffering from lymphedema about what they do with their compression garments, and so many of them are leaving them on constantly. Just to wash, they take them off, and, of course, the end result of some of these lymphedemas is cancer. It increases cancer rates. Unfortunately, there’s not much these people can do because once your lymphatics are messed up, you can’t fix them with surgery or drugs. It’s like your drainage system is messed up. So it’s different circumstances, but, interestingly, the bra has been used as a compression device because some doctors will erroneously tell women, “If your breasts hurt, wear a snug bra,” like for fibrocystic breast disease, to control the swelling, instead of wondering why is this thing swelling in the first place, which is the bra.
There needs to be a greater awareness that compression is really a bad thing, even though it’s used in the extreme case of a disease, like chronic, major lymphedema. That’s another story, but when you’re a healthy person with a healthy lymphatic system and your valves in your lymphatics are working, one-way valves to keep things flushing, you want to keep movement and you don’t want to impair any circulation. [Without this, you can get to] where you have like elephantiasis of your arm. Anyway, you didn’t ask about that, but I think people need to know about that. We’re not just talking about breast cancer here. We’re also talking about breast pain and breast cysts and back pain and neck pain.
Large-breasted women, when they lift the breasts with a bra, are distributing the weight of the breasts to their shoulders and back, but if you ever see these large-breasted women’s shoulders, they have deep grooves from the bra. Imagine … and they’re permanent. You remove the bra and they have these grooves in their shoulders, so think about how much pressure that is causing — and that pressure, by the way, cuts down on the nerves, impinges on the nerves going down the arms and can cause numbness and tingling in the hands and arms and weakness. I mean, you’re compressing a nerve. So there’s nothing good about bras. They’re purely for fashion. They make the breasts weak and droopy because of artificial support. They cause cysts and pain, and they prevent toxins from being removed and the immune system from cleaning it up and, ultimately, can result in cancer.
Then you ask, “Okay, how much should I wear a bra a day?” If that’s your question after this, then you probably didn’t get it. It’s like saying, “Okay, how many cigarettes should I smoke then?” Obviously, you want to avoid these things if you can, but if you feel you can’t because of work or something and there’s a dress code, then you need to challenge that. Because, I’ll tell you, if a man was forced to wear jockstrap at work for some reason… I mean, I can understand wearing a jockstrap for sports while you’re doing it, if you want some extra testicular support, but you take it off afterwards obviously. Tight underwear causes infertility and testicular cancer, so you don’t want tight, except for maybe a little bit of time.
You probably want to pick the activities that are good for your breast, that you can do without having wearing a bra, that are still good sports like yoga, biking, swimming. You don’t have to do high intensity like tennis or something that bounces. Although, that said, there was a study done on athletic women. They were young, like in their 20’s and 30’s, and they had them go without bras, and these women found, once they got used to it, which took a couple of weeks, it was more desirable to exercise without a bra. They felt more comfortable, and they didn’t go back to bras, and they also found that their breasts lifted and toned.
Then there was another study where women came into a breast clinic in the UK. They went in there for breast reduction surgeries because their breasts were just hurting, and, at this clinic, they did a study.
A hundred women came in. They measured them for their bra size, and they found that every one of them was wearing the wrong sized bra. They were all wearing them way too tight. They actually fitted them for a better bra that wasn’t as constrictive, and they didn’t need surgery, and they found that the cause of this was the bra. And, now, in England, the National Health Service looks into bra size and fit when they deal with breast pain instead of just referring people to surgery. They’re finding it’s much cheaper and more effective than cutting women up and reducing breasts. Just look at the bra.
It’s interesting. It should be an easy thing. It should be easy. The question is why isn’t it? Why hasn’t it been? Why 25 years later are we still struggling with the most obvious health information and still having people ignore it in mainstream? That’s the real question.
Robyn: I think one of the exciting things about your work is that it’s not that hard. Of all the problems we have to solve, with the war on cancer and bringing our disease risk down, not wearing a bra just isn’t rocket science. Most of us can wear bras less or not at all. I only wear one when avoiding wearing one would look rather obscene, which is some pretty rare social situations, or as a competitive tennis player, occasionally, so I want to put a fine point on Soma’s story.
You did have lumpectomy. You did not have a mastectomy. You did not have chemotherapy or radiation, and by removing the bra, did you do anything else to change your lifestyle when you discovered the lump, or was it just you stopped wearing a bra and, over time, your body metabolized that, too?
Soma: The main thing I did was remove the bra. I was already very health conscious. We were vegetarian. We were eating healthy, but we focused on making sure I was eating nothing but healthy food. We did some breast massage, which I think helps relieve congestion and maybe gets the circulation going and the immune system functioning, but the main thing was the bra. I’m sure that that’s what it was because we’ve gotten hundreds and hundreds of testimonials from women who have very similar situations and, just by removing the bra, the lumps disappeared.
Sydney: We should clarify that, since we didn’t get it diagnosed, we can’t say it was a tumor versus a cyst or something, like a lymph filled cyst, so we’re just happy it went away. However, we have gotten testimonials from women who said that they did have diagnosed tumors, and they stopped wearing a bra and that went away. We’ve had doctors tell us that they’ve seen breast cancer cases coming right along where the underwire hits the chest wall. That’s like the tumor line, and so some of these doctors are pretty convinced it’s the bra as well because they’ve seen that.
Massage, I think that’s something, again, we couldn’t talk about 25 years ago, but breast massage is now [accredited]. You can do a self-massage, but, in some states, I know breast massage is still an issue. I mean, how’s that for being backward as a culture that breast massage is …
Sydney: … taboo, and women don’t even know how to do their own. So that’s something to learn, and there are videos on that that you could see. It’s pretty obvious. When you feel your breast, there should be no pain. The breasts shouldn’t have pain, and if they do, you just sort of gently massage it out and let it flow. Most of the flow goes to the armpit lymph nodes, so you’d want to flush in that direction towards your armpits with gentle stroking. With the lymphatics, you don’t want to do a heavy-duty massage. It’s very light, so that’s something women could research for themselves, and wearing the bras as little as possible, obviously, and bra-free is much more acceptable.
Then we have to talk about the two big points here, which are the left and right nipples. Nipples: there’s a nipple phobia in this culture that really is strange. I don’t know how you women feel. I’m going to leave the conversation for a moment so the two of you can discuss nipples and what happens if, God forbid, a nipple shows.
Robyn: Okay, Soma, what do you have to say about that?
Soma: If you’re worried about that, I guess the best thing is a bralette, camisole. You can wear a T-shirt. Men wear T-shirts. Wear a T-shirt under your clothing. There are lots of ways of dressing to de-emphasize the breasts, and my favorite is a blouse with pockets in the front over the breasts so it’s sort of a double layer in that area.
Sydney: You’re still hiding them. I mean, we men could be top-free and have our nipples erect, and it-
Soma: It doesn’t matter.
Sydney: It doesn’t matter.
Soma: Yeah, it shouldn’t matter.
Sydney: You women have to still … You’re mitigating. You’re still mitigating.
Soma: I know, but to start with, in some women’s minds, it’s difficult to go from a bra every day since puberty to nothing at all. I understand. I was there. I’ve been through it, so taking it step-wise can help, just wearing camisoles, T-shirts, whatever.
Sydney: Part of it also is that I supported you doing this.
Soma: Yes, so men need the support their women. Please.
Sydney: Yeah, men have to be part of this. I mean, I think this is a good question. When you do wear a bra, Robyn, do you wear it for you, or do you wear it for your viewer, for men? Maybe you don’t even think about it, and Soma, too.
Robyn: Yeah, it’s really the issue of social acceptability. There’s really no other reason.
Soma: That’s right. It’s the culture, the impact that culture has.
Sydney: How do we change that? Because until we change that, this issue is going to be resisted. Women should be up in arms that the cancer industries are having them dance in the streets and wear their pink ribbons and do all sorts of things for them, [yet] they’re holding from them this information saying, “This is absurd. Don’t listen to them. Don’t look at the men behind the screen.” They don’t want them to know about this, and women let them get away with it because, deep down, they’re more comfortable with their bra because they’ve been so conditioned to feeling that way. If they can break free of the conditioning, then the medical industry is going to have to accept that they need to do more research and start warning women that this is a problem.
As anthropologists, we’re trying to understand how to transform the culture to get it past this stupidity that keeps women bound in bras, keeps nipples these evil little things. You can’t even nurse a baby in public because that’s somehow considered crass, or worse, and we need to get past this whole breast phobia and obsession.
The bra is actually a fetish. It’s a fetish object. I mean, it’s ironic that some women, who don’t want to have the attention on their breasts, and are fearful of being without a bra, are willing to wear a bra which brings attention to your breasts. I mean, you’re cupping your breast for some reason.
Soma: Making them into an artificial shape.
Sydney: Yeah, so we need to address this cultural issue. I think it’s happening slowly with celebrities that are willing to be bra-free in public more and more, and I think even things like breast tattoos, and the whole culture of showing your breasts. I hate it when women pierce their nipples, it’s such a bad thing to do as well as tattooing, but the doing of that is making them go away from bras. But they’re still fetishizing the breast. They still have to use the breast as like a fashion accessory, and then you don’t even own your breasts. Your viewer owns your breasts. You’re doing it for them.
Women have been conditioned to feel that way. That’s why they’ll even get implants, and that’s what scares me, too. Some women are going to get rid of that bra, they’ll droop, they’ll say, “Oh, I can’t look like this. My breast aren’t up to my throat like they used to be. I need to, you know, I need to get implants,” so they’re going to opt for that, which is a whole another nightmare. The whole thing is a body image disorder in the first place, which is what we have to be addressing.
Robyn: This has been very, very interesting, and I appreciate you coming on our show to educate us about this. People can buy your book, Dressed to Kill, The Second Edition. You can get it at Amazon or you can get from your local bookstore.
Anything that we’ve missed that you want to share with followers of the Vibe podcast before we go?
Sydney: Yes. They can also get more information from our website, which is brasandbreastcancer.org, and you can join our international bra-free study, where we are getting a cohort of bra-free women who are going to be followed for the next 10 years to see if they have lower rates of breast cancer, as we anticipate, and to be available even for other studies that need to have bra-free controlled groups so that our research can actually progress responsibly in this.
Go the website, brasandbreastcancer.org, and you could see what that study is, and you could see our book, and you can see references and the whole thing.
Robyn: I appreciate that. I appreciate all the research that you’re doing, and the way that you’re advocating for and helping women worldwide. Thanks for being with us, Dr. Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer.
Soma: Thank you.
Sydney: Thank you for having us, Robyn.