Normally, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Forty years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about making a quick trip to the lobby of my apartment building without wearing a bra. Being braless is more comfortable, and if it were not for our nipple-hostile society, I would go about my daily business sans brassiere. Unless I were at work, or maybe meeting a boyfriend’s parents or attending a funeral, as I feel I owe it to employers, boyfriends and mourners not to come bouncing into the room. (Because, you know.) As I approach 60, I still pop down to the lobby braless to pick up my mail. (Because, whatever.) But the difference is, now I feel self-conscious about it, and it’s not because my breasts have changed. They didn’t change, but people’s perceptions and expectations did.
If I went for a bra-less nip down to the laundromat in decades past, anyone who cared to care might think I looked slutty (boo!) or think I looked slutty (yay!). Since I put on a bra before leaving home 99% of the time, I’ve given little thought to bra-lessness — until recently. I noticed feeling uncomfortable about a braless nip (no pun intended) to the lobby or stroll in the park. It wasn’t out of any personal embarrassment but rather a recognition of a change in context that would shame me more than being labelled a slovenly dresser. I realized that our society sees a young woman without a bra as a young woman who isn’t wearing a bra, which may have negative or positive connotations, varying widely depending on the individual doing the gazing. But an older woman without a bra — that’s something else.
When people see an older woman not wearing a bra, sexuality is plucked from the occasion and inferences are inserted. Be honest with yourself. If you see a post-menopausal woman wearing a t-shirt without a bra there may be a range of assumptions. She’s homeless. She’s a drunk. She’s your alcoholic aunt who embarrasses everyone at Thanksgiving. She’s that delusional divorcée who doesn’t know when to hang it up. (No pun intended.)
In a life spent doing lots of bodybuilding and zero child-having, my actual Woodward and Bernstein have stayed remarkably similar throughout the years. What has changed is the context. These babies are attached to an old/older woman. It’s that changed context and the inferences that come with it that give me pause before I go out the front door. Before, if you want to judge me — “See nipples and die” — I could live with it. Call me crazy, call me thick-skinned, but I didn’t mind looking like a woman who happened to have two breasts. But now I risk looking like someone who’s had too many. I may come off as someone who has a screw loose, or a sort of sad Diane Arbus photo. Though my bosoms are blameless, now if they’re braless they say I’m a loser.
I became aware this was true when I saw that older women’s braless breasts might be weaponized.
Hypothetically, someone — let’s call her, uh, Trixie — felt her co-op board’s President had been hostile to her and she wanted to annoy said President. It looked like he wasn’t going to let her and her husband sell their co-op. Trixie felt powerless. Knowing he was a snooty, classist sort of man, Trixie thought she might have no recourse but to plant herself in the lobby of her building in denim cut-offs and a halter, and just sit there reading a book all day, every day. She hoped the horror of an informally dressed older woman would prove so abrasive and déclassée she might gain some blackmail leverage. “Trixie” was convinced that what had once been assets might now be frightening liabilities.
Nora Ephron famously wrote, “Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six.” Perhaps Trixie, perhaps I, will one day regret not having gone braless this entire year. Not to be a threat, not to be an eyesore, but because what goes in our bras — what goes in any bra — are perfectly lovely. This year and any other.
If you’ve read Dixie’s Age Against the Machine column, you know she’s self-reflective, thoughtful, and tells it like it is.
Over the years, Dixie’s shared her advice for many women in person and for Oxygen, AMC, and other media outlets. Now she’s graciously offered to share her advice and insights for you.
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Dixie Laite has been a second-grade teacher and mechanical bull operator, and for the past 25 years she’s worked for a variety of TV networks as a writer, editorial director, trainer, advice columnist, even an on-air personality. But primarily she’s trotted around New York City in one cowboy shirt or another, lurking around flea markets, gyms, and anywhere they’ll hand her French toast. Currently she lounges around her apartment with one husband, one dog, five parrots, and roughly 2,000 pairs of shoes. Dixie is the main lady behind Age Against the Machine, a column about empowering women over 50. Sign up for the Jumble & Flowdown newsletter to stay in the know about Dixie’s latest columns.
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