This post is by a very special guest--my mother!
I started running when I was 14—40 years ago. I run because
I feel wonderful afterward and sometimes even during. Since I was perhaps 21,
when my breasts reached their permanent size, until only a few years ago, the
lack of proper sports bras interfered with the pure freedom of running I
remembered from the early years.
have tried many sports bras, and only a few of them have worked. But I have
continued to run, wearing everything from underwire everyday bras to those
officially called sports tops, which barely supported me. I have sometimes
pressed my wrists against my breasts as I loped up my street in the early
morning. I have put up with a lot of bouncing to be in shape. (As addictions
go, I often say, exercise isn’t a bad one.)
world where engineers long ago invented bounce-free egg cartons, spaceships,
and even baby strollers, someone ought to be able to come up with a sports bra
that works. Lucky for us, a few are starting to hit the mark.
have concluded that a good sports bra is so rare because until recently, too
few well-endowed women haven’t insisted. And, of course, many haven’t insisted
because they didn’t find running very comfortable, the classic Catch-22
too have at times wondered if I shouldn’t run because I don’t look like Joan
Benoit Samuelson. But no, that’s silly. Humans, thin, padded, and even
overweight, were made for running through the savannahs. We can run without any
bras, as women no doubt did for millenia, but in a world with every available
technology, why should we?
any rate, I’ve always come back to running. Short of spending an entire day
going up and down a mountain, which interferes with things like making a living
at sea level, no other exercise comes close in terms of the joy and contentment
it delivers for so little cost. Running is the perfect exercise, aerobically,
financially, and practically.
a sports bra that holds the bottom of the breasts tight against the body is a
piece of equipment I won’t do without. And most sports bras on the market fail
to do this.
Why you will be glad you did not come of age in the
personal history with sports started early, when I didn’t need a good bra.
Which might be why I continue in my quest to run. I can’t forget what it was like
when it came so easily to me.
I started running in 1973 I wore a 32A bra. My friend Jane’s mother told a
group of girls that Title IX, the 1972 federal education amendment, meant we
could go out for the cross-country team. Jane and I both had brothers on the
team; my brother said I should go for it. Soon I was doing workouts of 5 and 10
miles and racing uphill against boys. In the first meet, I beat a boy in the
final sprint. I had unleashed a tigress within.
was 14. There were no sports bras. At all. But then, I hadn’t finished growing,
and I was fairly skinny and flat-chested—come to think of it, not unlike the
women modeling the cool and unsupportive sports bras in today’s Patagonia
catalog. The kind of women I have finally learned I will never look like.
I was 15, I placed seventh in New Jersey in the girls’ mile. The next year, I
suffered an injury, probably a stress fracture from unpadded men’s running
shoes that we wore then (that’s another story for another blog). I stopped
running for almost a year, then tried it again, but ultimately stopped team
running. That coincided with very normal growth in my breasts. I come from a
family of late bloomers. My breasts did most of their growing between age 17
the time I started running, some very negative messages started coming at me
from some very trusted people, including my own beloved mother, my ballet
teacher, and the ballet teacher’s husband. When I was 13, the otherwise nice
ballet teacher’s husband had once gone around the dance rehearsal with a
clipboard recording how many pounds each of us should lose. I should have
walked out! 7 pounds? My short career as a dancer is another story, but this
kind of scrutiny laid the groundwork for the attitude that a woman must work her
body to fitting some imagined ideal.
I found running as a sport, though, I forgot about all that. I was just borne
away on the pure high of competitiveness and endorphins. But in the greater
culture, most girls my age longed to look very thin. This was an age of
anorexia nervosa and bulimia, two problems I never had. This is relevant to
sports bras because, back in the 1970s, when I was going through all this, the
default attitude was that if you could not find clothing off-the-rack that made
you look good, or if that fashionable stuff didn’t fit, that meant something
was wrong with your body, rather than that the clothes were inadequate to
told myself then that I too wanted to be very thin, but my real goal had more
to do with feeling free and unselfconscious—the way I had felt at the top of my
my breasts began to grow into their 36C size—or, as I learned a few years ago
when my daughter took me to a proper bra fitting, 34DD or 32E—I wished they’d
be a little smaller not so much because I wanted to go on the stage or
screen—because I wanted to be an athlete and I didn’t think I could be a good
athlete with a chest.
college, when I did go running for exercise, my regular underwire (as I wore by
then) bras were all I had, but they chafed pretty terribly. I never would have
considered running the kind of distances that it turned out my body is best
suited to. I would have had to bandage my chest at the spots where it met the
I started to wish for a bra that would
mummify movement like a roll of tight gauze, preventing me from bouncing. Well,
the most popular sports bras that came out finally in the late 1970s claimed to
do that. They said they would compress the breasts—not quite like binding them,
but close. What they actually did was function like a large, loose-fitting
bandage, as a friend of mine once remarked.
was a reasonable goal, to prevent breasts from bouncing too much. It’s one
important element of freedom during sports, but it’s not the only one. More
about that in a second.
Jogbra: Two jock straps sewn together
ran only sporadically while in college (1977-1981) and didn’t own a sports bra
until the early 1980s, when my brother co-owned an athletic store. I bought the
first Jogbra, whose inventors literally sewed together two jock straps in the
design phase. Moving Comfort shelf bras, designed to compress, came next.
|Moving Comfort bra|
I wore a number of those through the 1990s, after I’d borne and breastfed two
daughters and was back to running on a daily basis.
early compression bras had nothing going for them other than compression and
then only if you bought a small enough size. The bands underneath the breasts
weren’t wide enough or strong enough to hold breasts close to the body. They
didn’t eliminate bounce. Most of them still don’t. Take the Patagonia bras of
yesterday and today.
|Patagonia shelf bra|
|Finishing a race in a Patagonia shelf bra|
bras really need to constrict. No bra will stop bouncing entirely. But good
ones can hold the bounce close in and prevent the breasts from spilling out the
bottom as you run.
first sports bra that really worked for me was a classic shelf/compression bra
made with a special fabric with 30-percent spandex. It was called the Frog Bra.
Title Nine Sports, a California catalog marketer, had it made for them for many
years. (The catalog copy went something like this: “Leap without bouncing....
This bra got the highest rating from our largest-breasted testers and, believe
us, they’ve tried every bra out there. One said, “It’s almost like not having
breasts at all. Well, almost.”)
Nine discontinued the Frog Bra some years back, but I still have a size medium
one kicking around the house. I tried it out the other day and found its magic
had all been in the spandex, which by now has lost its punch. You can see from
the design that this bra has nothing else going for it other than covering the
years ago, I discovered this Freya Active bra that encapsulates, uses little
elastic, and doesn’t chafe.
This bra is not a looker. But it has worked better
than any other sports bra I’ve tried, and it has held up amazingly well over
In the pictures above, I’m finishing a 7-mile trail race, and I look like
a happy woman, a real woman who isn’t wishing to be flat-chested. A woman who
is proud of who she is.
the seams show, and I’ve read buyer reviews blasting the company for that. Why?
I don’t care about seams in a sport bra, not at all. I care about being able to
run comfortably. This is sports, not fashion.
you examine the construction of this Freya bra, you can see it’s built on three
factors: constructed, three-dimensional cages (for lack of a better word) for
each breast, air circulation (the thick mesh fabric around the breasts), and
tough straps that do not stretch when you move.
|Freya Active design|
This bra holds the breasts
close enough to the body so that when I run, they run with me instead of
bouncing crazily downward out of the bra in protest.
a few days ago I visited Zoe and Co. and bought myself a new sports bra, also
by Freya. This one’s underwire and comes in a snappy red color. I’ll never lose
this in my drawer. I have high hopes for it. It fits very well and looks good
under my T-shirt.
|Freya Active sports bra|
|New Freya Active bra under T-shirt|
been running with a few Shock Absorber bras and tops. One (not shown) is the same model the blog master reviewed a few months ago
. It’s a variation on a
compression bra that works because of the second band and hooks mid-back, and
the key is that the band must be very tight. I think of this as the best
compression bra I’ve found, but I can’t wear it comfortably for more than a few
Shock Absorber bra I like, guardedly, is a full-body top that I have used for
yoga and when running the hot weather. See the photo of me after a Fourth of
This has an inner constructed bra with two bands that hook, one low
and one high. It takes ages to put on but works pretty well.
of my dark horse favorite bras combines the best of compression/shelf design
with the best of encapsulation. It’s a humble, almost homely design by Royce.
The band is much wider than most shelf bras, and that saves it. It covers the
breasts all the way to that bone that sticks out below my neck. So I’m glad I
got it in black for under black shirts, because it often peeks out. The Royce
has strategic seams, creating that cage for breast movement during running, and
two layers of fabric.
I wore this bra for a different 7-mile trail race, that
one on a hot August day.
It worked well. In fact, I’m wearing it right now at
more thought. I avoided a bra for years that looked like a cross between a
shiny corset and something you might wear after you broke your collarbone. I
avoided it because my beloved Title Nine Sports catalog, which has sold it for
years, named it the “Last Resort Bra.” I’ve learned that this bra is just
called the Enell Sport. It was designed by a Montana hairdresser who, like me,
wanted to run and found that most bras don’t work. It ranges in sizes from 00
to size 8. I would not buy it from Title Nine now that I have realized it sells
only 0 to 4 and renamed them “XS” to “XL.” My 32E or 34DD size corresponds to
size 1 in the Enell Sport.
I’ve ordered one—from Enell directly. I think I’m going to love it. I will let
your blogmaster know.
is a fine sport for the well-endowed. A bra that fits us is not the last
resort, but the first.