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Bra Stories That Don’t Hold Up

11 Mar

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By Adam Welsch
Cupid Intimates

Over the past decade nothing’s fueled rumor and speculation more than the explosion of emails, blogs, and social-media postings found on the web.  Stories that used to be shared among friends and acquaintances in local communities now make their way around the world in a matter of minutes, their credibility bolstered by appearances in digital print (it must be true since someone took the time to write it down).  Questionable stories about even intimate apparel have gained currency and achieved “fact status” as a result of being told, retold, and referred to an innumerable number of times across the internet.  Four such stories involving bras have been particularly pervasive, so much so that they’ve attained notoriety as urban legends.

Titzling – The Inventor of the Bra

The development of the modern bra is a complicated, well-documented story involving the efforts of many different people, including New York socialite Mary Phelps Jacobs who, in 1913, obtained the first patent for any product called “brassiere.”  But despite what you may have heard, one person who was most definitely not a part of that story was German-born American immigrant Otto Titzling.  The notion that he was the bra’s inventor originates from a book written in 1971 by humorist Wallace Reyburn.   Bust Up: The Uplifting Tale of Otto Titzling tells of how Mr. Titzling, along with his assistant, Hans Delving, first invented the bra and then battled a competitor, Philippe de Brassiere, over legal ownership of the idea.  The book was a fictional account, replete with plays-on-words (just say these three men’s names to yourself a few times).  But the tale has become a part of American pop culture.  Have you ever heard Bette Midler sing about Otto in the 1988 movie Beaches?

Bra Burning

Long seen as a symbol of the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, bra burning is deeply ingrained in American pop culture.  We’ve all heard the stories about women “in opposition to a male-dominated society’s classification of them as sex objects” who decided to shed and burn their bras in organized protests.  While it’s certainly true that many women during that time made the choice “to go bra-less” as an expression of liberation, there’s no evidence that organized bra burnings ever took place.

So how was this legend born?  As The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia describes, in September of 1968, several hundred women staged a protest in Atlantic City against the Miss America Pageant, claiming that the event contributed to the oppression of women by emphasizing the importance of physical beauty in a commercially exploitive forum.  A “Freedom Trash Can” was placed on the ground (by the protesters), and filled with bras, high-heeled shoes, false eyelashes, girdles, curlers, hairspray, makeup, corsets, and other items thought to be “instruments of torture.”  Someone suggested lighting a fire, but a permit couldn’t be obtained, and so there was no burning, nor did anyone take off her bra.  Some have speculated that scenes of protest against the Vietnam War involving the burning of draft cards – which did take place during the same era – melded with pictures of feminist demonstrations to instill the image of bra burning in the American public’s consciousness.

Bras Cause Breast Cancer

In the 1995 book entitled Dressed to Kill, two medical anthropologists claim that women who wear tight-fitting bras are more likely to develop breast cancer than those who don’t.  They theorize that a bra’s constriction creates blockages in the wearer’s lymphatic system, causing toxins to accumulate in the breast and result in breast cancer.  Sounds plausible, right?  The problem is that, according to the American Cancer Society, “there are no scientifically valid studies that show wearing bras of any type causes breast cancer.”  Those that have reviewed the authors’ research say they failed to exclude important variables in arriving at their conclusions.  For example, the women they studied who wore tight-fitting bras may also have had other, known risk factors associated with breast cancer, like obesity or a family history of the disease.  Without controlling for these factors, the authors’ conclusions hold no merit.

The Exploding Inflatable Bra

As David Emery describes in his Urban Legends blog, a story has been circulating in one form or another for more than fifty years about an exploding inflatable bra.  Though its details have changed over time, all of the versions, starting with the first one told in a 1958 Readers’ Digest piece, center around the experience of a female airplane passenger.  The woman, unfortunately, chooses to wear an inflatable bra for the flight, and suddenly finds it expanding uncontrollably due to a lack of air pressure in the cabin.

In one version, reported by National Public Radio, an American named Betty Jenkins is in a plane flying high over the Andes Mountains when she feels her bra inflating on its own.  When the bra expands beyond its size-48 maximum capacity, one of its cups bursts.  The resulting noise is so loud that the plane’s co-pilot rushes into the main cabin with a gun drawn to investigate.  After the plane makes an emergency landing, police interrogate Ms. Jenkins on the assumption that the loud noise was caused by a bomb.  After showing them the hole in her bra and explaining what happened, she’s permitted to get back on the plane and complete her trip.

Another version tells of a flight attendant who attempts to deflate her expanding bra by sticking it with a hairpin.  Unfortunately, a passenger, who sees her poking herself, but is unaware of her apparel malfunction, wrestles her to the floor in an attempt to stop her from harming herself.

Inflatable bras do exist, of course.  But the facts associated with “explosion incidents” have never been independently verified.

Leave it to Lady Gaga to give to the world proof of a (non-inflatable) exploding bra.

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