My Sports Bra New Year's Resolution
Here it is. Another year, another tally of New Year’s resolutions. And, once again, “getting fit” will be on most of our lists. But for many women, that goal will be sabotaged before it even begins. Why? Not because of a lack of motivation but because exercising requires wearing a painful, ill-fitting sports bra. It’s remarkable how many women must endure uncomfortable, poorly performing sports bras as “just the way it is.” That discomfort then impedes their workouts. Last year was the 40th anniversary of the sports bra and I was struck by the number of articles written in tribute celebrating “how far the sports bra has come” in 40 years. Has it?
Certainly, the Jogbra invention in 1977, along with the passage of Title IX in 1972, deserve credit as impetuses which dramatically increased female participation in athletics. Since 1972, female participation in high school sports has increased over 1000%.
However, it is misleading and detrimental to suggest sports bra innovation has “come far” in forty years. Actually, the sports bra has only incrementally evolved over the last four decades. The realization that compression, as utilized in the original Jogbra, is a necessary ingredient for the reduction of breast movement was indeed a notable advancement in bra technology—for 1977. Decades later, compression is still the primary method used to reduce breast movement in sports bras. Although it’s effective, compression can also be uncomfortable and works best for smaller bands/busts. Yes, we now have more technical fabrics and a wider range of styles. Yes, some of those styles target those with larger busts. But more doesn’t mean better. Given the average women’s clothing size in the U.S. is a size 16, it’s outrageous that after forty years of “innovation,” those who are larger-busted routinely wear two sports bras to get proper support due to a dearth of adequate options. The industry creates a self-fulfilling prophecy which assumes those with larger bands/busts don’t exercise while at the same time denying those same customers the products they need in order to exercise. In addition, how many women struggle with chafing, shoulder pain, breast pain, or getting bras on/off? How can we applaud innovation in sports bras when manufacturers still haven’t even nailed the basic requirements of the garment?
A 2012 study of female runners in the London Marathon found that seventy-five percent had at least one fit issue with their sports bra which caused pain or irritation. Think about that. Most people participating in the London Marathon are not merely recreational athletes. If seventy-five percent of that highly athletic, mostly smaller-busted, population experiences fit issues with their sports bra, we have a problem. Imagine the fit aggravations faced by larger-busted, amateur runners who have a higher percentage of body fat. This study is not evidence of “how far we’ve come” but evidence of how far we are from an ideal solution.
Considering the astonishing breadth of technological advancements over the last forty years, the modern sports bra should be a garment that provides superior, comfortable, support to bodies of all shapes and sizes. Instead, many of today’s sports bras look nearly identical to the Jogbra released in 1977 and the majority of wearers find (performance) sports bras uncomfortable. By perpetuating the myth that the last forty years has heralded “vast improvements” in sports bras we discourage manufacturers from exploring needed revolutionary solutions.
As we appreciate the increase in athletic participation the invention of the sports bra has enabled, let’s also consider how many more might participate if manufacturers produced sports bras with better fit, higher support, and more inclusive sizing. We keep manufacturing variations of the same sports bra over and over and expecting that eventually one will magically solve all our grievances. After forty years of incremental change, the time is now for truly disruptive, groundbreaking innovation. It will take an investment of time and money, but that investment that will pay off for the manufacturer who seizes the opportunity.
So here are my sports bra New Year’s resolutions—to challenge the status quo and to stop “simply accepting” that sports bras are both uncomfortable and inadequate for many wearers; to find solutions that really work for all shapes and sizes; and to not rest on the laurels of “innovation” that has barely moved the needle in decades when it comes to comfort and support.
Let’s stop patting ourselves on the back and get to work. We’re nowhere near the finish line.