08. February 2014
The 3 B's of Posture for Women: #1: Wear the right bra
Why don't the majority of women wear bras that fit? Why are they surprised when I point out to them it is a big part of their poor posture and causing them pain? Why?! Oprah did shows about it. Tim Gunn begged us to get out of denial and go get fitted. We laugh when we see these calls to action by style icons to clueless make-over examples, and yet, we think it doesn't apply to us. In fairness, there is also a very good reason some of us don't go:
(Cue the theme score from Jaws)
Encountering the faux fitter.
I'll confess I've been fresh road kill from just such an encounter myself. This young gal (impersonating a professional fitter) insisted when I inquired that she was a "professionally trained fitter" and what can I say? I was weak from hours of shopping and thus began my dreadful, cautionary tale. At the apex of my story arc was the moment I stood there in the dressing room with her, having just taken off the bra she thought was "awesome" but I didn't and as I handed it back to her, she threw her hand up in the air as she burst out with a loud and enthusiastic "GIVE ME FIVE GIRL"! You know, it's tough to look indignant while topless in a small dressing room with a cheerleading faux bra fitter, but I think I pulled it off.
Clients are often surprised when we first meet that I might suggest (read: beg) to them to go and get a proper bra fitting. It's a predictable story arc: first they deny the need, insisting that their breasts really are supported in that very sad, downward-pointing, ever mobile state. Note: I can usually get two fists between their back and the strap without even trying.
Often, there's the "yeah but" excuse: Why does it matter so much if you aren't "busty" to begin with?
Sure, if you are petite in the bust, and only go braless now and then (or wear bras with such little support you might as well not wear one), maybe that's fine, but you do know that whatever tissue you do have is moving around as you move, and yanking on ligaments and muscles all the way up your neck, for starters. You might not love bras, but your aging ligaments do. Nuff said.
Go to anywhere that sells breast prosthesis for women who've had a mastectomy. Pick one up that is in your natural breast size and be prepared to have your jaw drop. Breast tissue is heavy! (Those prosthetic breast forms are weighted to replicate the weight of a natural breast - and that's a good thing because post-mastectomy, not wearing something that keeps the left and right sides of your chest evenly "weighted" means your spine will tend to shift in compensation over time.) Now picture that weight not being well supported. I know, again with the begging here.
As a Pilates instructor who is rehab certified, I can tell you that many women are unaware of how they unconsciously shift their posture to try and balance that breast tissue weight that isn't being well supported by a good bra. Trying to get them to stop doing that is pointless (pun not intended) unless they get some support to offset the weight.
With sufficient education in how this is impacting their posture and general health (again with the begging), they usually agree to go see a professional fitter, if for no other reason than to prove me wrong. Then they return to me with that new bra and without one exception over the years, the new bra is SHOCKINGLY more comfortable and a very different size than the woman was used to wearing. Not a little different - oh no, more typically along the lines of "I've been wearing a 34B and thought it was perfect but I am actually a 30D" and that isn't even the most extreme example I could give. In general, women tend to assume their back/rib size is much larger than it really is, and their cup size smaller than it really is. I'm sure that says something about society and body image messages, but I digress.
Maybe you too have bad experiences with faux bra fitters. If I've learned anything since my close encounter with the cheerleader, it was to ask the following:
Where and when did you receive your training? Are you a bra manufacturer rep or an employee of the store? Lastly, to trust one's instincts for a different kind of fit - personality fit. Do they seem like someone with whom you might have good rapport? If not, don't get half naked in a tiny room with them. The right fitter will become your new best friend, wow you with how at ease they make you feel, listen to your needs, and be creative in solutions that make you like the way you look and feel.
You know what I most often hear after women go and get a new bra that fits right? "This has changed my life." I'm not kidding, women are just wowed by how much better they feel, on many levels, even if they didn't realize they didn't feel so good before going! Face it, this is an emotional subject for many women.
What are my top tips for bras that help posture and reduce shoulder, back, and neck pain? General guidelines:
- Avoid halter or racer-back styles that have straps cut up high on the top of the shoulder by the neck base - they promote muscle tension there.
- Getting a size that is too big in the back just to avoid the dreaded "back-fat look" is not necessary. Snug bras can be found that are not only comfortable, but contour in the back so as to smooth out tissue not give you a bumpy back.
- Ask about gel or other types of shoulder strap pads if you are fuller-figured to reduce pressure at the shoulders - and do NOT take up much of the weight of your breast tissue by the shoulder straps. Ever see women with deep indents on top of the shoulders? It's good to avoid that.
- Insist on a style that is not only supportive but makes you feel beautiful too. Life is too short for lingerie that doesn't make us feel great, emotionally and physically! Great choices are out there in all price ranges, so get a top-quality fitting and shop around once you've learned what a proper fit really is for you.
Armed with knowledge, now go forth and bravely locate your fitter dream-date, and get on with it. Think of it like a shopping makeover for your posture, because it usually is.
Now that this is out of the way, let's exercise.