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Everything you never needed to know about bras (but Wikipedia will tell you, anyway)

By Mimmie

Having used a bra for some decades, I thought I knew a bit about them. That was until I hit the Wikipedia page for bras, called Brassiere (THL), which, incredibly, is perceived as one of Wikipedia’s best articles, and gets viewed 1200+ times a day.


As of this writing, the article looks like this. As I read it, my eyes just became larger, and larger … at the end they felt like the size of an LL-cup. The article is filled with statements about bras which make them sound like modern-day torture instruments, which women only wear because of social pressure or vanity.

Where to begin? Let’s start just at the introduction: “other research has shown that going braless may also eliminate pain,” it proclaims.

Really? Perusing the article, I find a section entitled Bra-free relief from pain, citing a hodgepodge of studies.

For instance: According to a study published in the Clinical Study of Pain, large-breasted women can reduce back pain by going braless. Of the women participating in the study, 79% decided to stop wearing bras completely.

Sounds credible? Right. It is cited to a book called “The Secret of Health: Breast Wisdom.” Alas, searching a bit further, you find that the book also promotes Dressed to Kill (book) (THL), published to promote a theory which has been totally debunked, that wearing bras causes cancer.

The reliability of this source just went through the floor. But that does not stop it being used on Wikipedia!

And so it goes.

Oh, but wait. There is a study that promotes the conclusion that back pain is reduced by not wearing a bra: Ryan (2000). Alas, that study does not have a control-group! And it is rather elementary that no conclusions about treatment can be drawn from a study without such a group. (Perhaps 95% would have had reduced pain with a bra in the same period. We simply do not know.)

Virtually every sentence under Bra-free relief from pain turns out to be wrong: Two studies have found that going braless can help resolve shoulder and neck pain and may be a preferred treatment over reduction mammaplasty. This is incorrect. It is sourced to Myint et al. (2012), and the above Ryan (2000). And Myint et al. (2012) simply report that women wearing large cup bras experience more shoulder/neck pain. (The “breast size” they use is in fact only chest size.)

Under Bras and pain you find: Among a group of 31 British women who requested reduction mamoplasty [sic], 81% complained of neck and back pain, while 77% complained of shoulder pain.

Quelle surprise!

Women want an operation, because they are in pain. But what does this has to do with bra-wearing? Nothing whatsoever, from what I can see from the cited source (Netscher et al. (2000)). A source that does not distinguish between those who wear bras and those who don’t simply does not belong in an articles about bras. It might belong in an article about breasts, but not here. It is included simply to create the impression that women who are ignorant enough to use a bra are headed for pain and suffering.

And: One long-term clinical study in 1987 showed that women with large breasts can suffer shoulder pain from wearing bras.[93] In the study, E. L. Ryan of the University of Melbourne and colleagues found that the inherent design of bras causes fatigue and possibly shoulder pain … This is a mixture of Ryan (1987) and Ryan (2000). It is fascinating to see how Wikipedia tries to “beef up” the credentials of Dr. Ryan by writing “E. L. Ryan of the University of Melbourne and colleagues”, when –

A: E. L. Ryan is not connected to the University of Melbourne. He is a private medical doctor;

B: he has done the research alone; and,

C: Ryan (1987) is not a study. It is simply a short letter to the “The Medical Journal of Australia”.

Myint et al. (2012) sum up Ryan (1987): “He suggested that the posterior straps of a brassiere act as pulleys over the shoulders, doubling the total downward pull on both shoulders. Associated neck, shoulder, and back pain could then be at least partially attributed to fatigue of the muscles …”

A 22-year-old letter which “suggests” a theory, and a survey without a control group: this is what is elevated to “The Truth” on Wikipedia.

And: Researchers in Turkey found that women with who wore bras with cup sizes D and above experienced upper back pain due to changes in the curvature of the spine. There is a study from Turkey about this, true, but that study links posture and back pain to the breast size, and nothing at all in it is linked to wearing or not wearing bras of any size. A slight difference.

Typical is the quote about the bra wearers who experience pain. (See note 96.) But they do not mention how many do not feel any pain.  In fact, you can read the whole article without finding anything positive about bra use. The article carefully cherry-picks only negative statements about bras, and includes them as if they represented the whole of the story.

The whole Bras may increase sagging section is based on studies made on women in their 20s and 30s. And what is more, breast size is not mentioned! Even the researchers themselves said that the results may not be representative of all women. Alas, this caution is of course not included in Wikipedia. Neither is any criticism of the study.

In fact, when you look at the sources, women above the age of 40 are hardly mentioned in the article at all. And the pictures! There are 10 photos of present-day users, none of whom looks over 30 … and needless to say, many of the photos have little or no “educational value”. The one woman who really needs a bra (the one illustrating ptosis) doesn’t have one. Of 11 illustrations, ten are eye-candy and one is a freak-show.

Women are either an object of desire … or an object of ridicule. Good to know!

And the purpose of wearing a bra? “[T]o conform to what [women] feel are appropriate societal norms and to improve their physical appearance”, or so Wikipedia tells me.

I give up.
Besides the false representation of sources, cherry-picking, and using sources that do not meet WP:RS (THL), the whole organisation of the article is … strange. What would a bra wearer want to know when she looks up this article? I would say a bit about types, sizes, measurement, something on health, and possibly a bit on history. Much of what I might have expected to see has been spun off to other articles, such as History of brassieres (THL)List of brassiere designs (THL), and Brassiere measurement (THL).

What has been kept is puzzling in its emphasis; we have huge sections on Culture and fashion and Social issues and trends and Legal issues. Why is this not also spun off to another article, say “Social, legal and cultural issues of bras”?

Who has decided that this is more important than history, designs, and measurements? Surely it was not any woman who is looking for information about bras?

Ah, I forgot. This gives the excuse for having pictures like “Alyssa Pallett wearing a vest that reveals her bra.

Now, that is educational value.

Image credit: Flickr/AJ Batac ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic


6 comments to Everything you never needed to know about bras (but Wikipedia will tell you, anyway)

  • Jed

    Bra is short for brassiere?!

    • Jed,
      Yes. “Bra” is short for brassiere. It is extremely uncommon to see “brassiere” used in the U.S.A. There is a well-known restaurant, extant for at least 40 years in New York City, called “The Brassiere”, which is likely a more common usage. If a woman in the U.S.A. were to want to purchase a bra, she would look online, or at a retail store, for

      * bras
      * lingerie
      * intimate wear, or
      * ladies foundation garments.

      In French speaking countries, soutien gorge is standard.

  • (as I already wrote in the gendergap mailing list at Wikimedia)

    In case you want to compare the page “brassiere” with other language Wikipedias, you can try Manypedia.
    Here is a starting link comparing the English version with the German equivalent version.
    You can have the text automatically translated but also a quick comparison of the images used in the two articles can tell you a lot I guess.
    In order to compare with other languages, you just have to choose another language in the dropdown list on the top-left near the words “Compare with the”.

    It might also be interesting to check how many editors editing this page were (self-declared) female or male.
    See the graph on the bottom right at
    Currently, there have been
    1299 edits made by male Wikipedians
    21 edits made by female Wikipedians
    (please consider that few users express their gender and that these numbers are number of edits and not of editors but this is still an interesting indicator, I think)

    • Some guy

      This article, and the Wikipedia article in question, inspired me to write a humorous pseudo-essay/guideline which aims to raise awareness about gender-bias on Wikipedia.

      I am not currently comfortable working on it in my own sandbox because I do not usually write this kind of stuff.

      If you (or anyone else) are interested in this kind of thing, and you have a Wikipedia account (I assume most people here do), would you be willing to work on it with me (as an IP) in your sandbox?

      I have a feeling you have a lot to add to the humorous essay/guideline, or suggestions for more sources for this topic. Thanks in advance.

  • Kaldari

    Thanks for cleaning up the article. It would also be nice to get some female perspective at femininity, dating, menstruation, rape, cosmetics, and domestic violence (as a start).

    FWIW, there has always been agreement on that article talk page that it needed better photos, but unfortunately, it is very difficult to find free license photos of women wearing brassieres that are not gratuitous eye candy.

  • […] late October of 2013, we published a blog post about the sorry state of the Wikipedia article on the brassiere. The Wikipedia article was bloated, […]