Young French women are embracing “le no-bra” – a phenomenon where women go braless – in higher numbers than other countries.
The trend originates from a Western movement looking to free femininity from restrictive beauty standards, as well as better medical knowledge and – more recently – Covid confinements.
13% of French women under 25 go braless, according to a poll* in June 2022, a stunningly higher figure than Spain (3%), Italy (2%), the United Kingdom and Germany (1%.).
The figure falls to 6% when women of all ages are included.
It confirms figures from an older poll** that confirmed the trend during the first confinement, where 20% of similarly-aged French women were reported going braless during the first lockdown in March and 18% in June, once it was lifted.
Several women interviewed throughout French newspapers reported comfort as the number one reason behind the decision, joining others who had expressed with #freethenipples or #NoBraChallenge hashtags on social media around the 2010s.
It also feeds on a study from Jean-Denis Rouillon, a French doctor at Besançon CHU, who concluded in a landmark 2013 study that women’s breasts strengthen when left without bras, contrary to a popular belief.
French companies were quick to expand their range of bra offers to better entice this emerging new clientele.
‘It freed me from my complexes’
“It freed me from my complexes. It helped stop this endless comparison with what my breasts were portrayed to look like and what they actually looked like,” said Gala Avanzi, author of “No-bra, ce que ma poitrine dit de moi” (Flammarion, untranslated) on French radio RMC.
“[No-bra] bolsters on a neo-feminism promoting a liberation of a woman’s body and a body-positivity movement looking for increased comfort,” said François Kraus, a political science teacher at the Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense’s university, adding that the two phenomena originated before the pandemic and are important to younger generations.
Not merely a temporary trend
Dr Kraus said he believes it is part of a broader phenomenon, not merely a temporary trend.
French underwear companies seem to share similar feelings about the phenomenon, having turned to more products without underwire.
Etam, the leader in the French market, went from a 60/40 split between products with and without underwire to the opposite in favour of the latter during a three-year span period.
This is according to a report by France Info.
Likewise, Princesse tam-tam’s marketing director Laurence Duchiron, another lingerie manufacturer, said more clients are turned off by push-up bras because they see them as a mandate for unrealistic standards – with some French feminists even linking their use to a return to corset-wearing.
Not wearing a bra feels like a challenge
French women, however, also reported that there are still countless situations where not wearing a bra still feels like a challenge.
Youtuber Léa Rios published a video on the matter two years into her decision to transition to no-bra, listing medical check-ups, driving with a rubbing seatbelt, climbing stairs, cold temperatures and various life situations involving nipple-freezing as the many reasons that make going braless troublesome.
Nipple-freezing is the main one carrying a lot of social stigma, particularly as it often triggers ‘male gaze’, a term qualifying – in short – the act of depicting women from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects.
Facebook – now property of parent-company Meta – was not exempt from keeping the stigma circulating, having censored Eugene Delacroix’s 1830 painting “Liberty Leading the People’ (pictured, top) after it was used to advertise a theatre play – because Marianne’s naked breast is “of a sensitive matter.”
48% of French women interviewed in the 2020 Ifop poll said a braless woman is at risk of getting harassed or assaulted.
20% said it should be qualified as a mitigating circumstance for sexual assault offenders.
*Study conducted by Ifop for XloveCam, a free live cam website for adults, by auto-administered interview questionnaire from June 21 to June 27 on 5,039 people above 18 in Italy, Spain, France, United Kingdom and Germany.
**Study conducted by Ifop for Xcams, another free live cam website for adults, by auto-administered interview questionnaire from June 9 to June 12, 2020 on 3,018 French women above 18.