About two months ago I was doing some time-sensitive freelance work, and, as per usual, waited until the last minute to pack my suitcase for my extended six-week stay in Berlin. I travel so much that I’m a pro at packing. And I also tell myself that it doesn’t matter anyway. If I have my wallet and my passport, everything else is taken care of.
Well this pro-packer conveniently forgot to pack bras, panties, and socks. Of course she did! Those things aren’t next to my wardrobe, and I had 30 minutes. I walked out of my door on the way to the airport and felt that I was forgetting something but wasn’t sure what. It was when I arrived in Berlin that it hit me. I had the one pair of panties that I was wearing. I had no socks, because – summer. And I wasn’t wearing a bra, as I had on one of those cute tank tops with the built-in support. Since I landed so late, there was nothing that could be done until the next day.
A fan of going commando, especially in the summer, I didn’t feel rushed to get to the department store. But once I did, I decided to go for the inexpensive variety pack of undies. Finding the nice panties takes me a lot of time and a lot of patience, both of which I was lacking that day, so I bought the panties that you wear when you know no one else is going to get a peek. And I threw in a pack of grannies too; I like to call them moon panties: for the cycle not for my backside. Bras, the more daunting purchase, would have to wait.
Later that day I had a meeting in a feminist art gallery, my reason for being in Berlin. I co-curated an art exhibition and event series dedicated to Black women artists and women artists of color, all to be held and hosted in this gallery. Feminist is not a label with which I clothe myself, mostly because I find it restrictive and exclusive to a certain appearance of woman, but most people would consider me one. While at the gallery I had the brilliant idea to make this whole accident a conscious act: no bra for the duration of my stay and no shaving as the cherry on top. Feminism: Here my roar! Or something like that.
Shaving, or the lack thereof, felt like it would be easy. My legs don’t get shaved but a few times a year anyway. The fine hair on my legs and my dry skin prevent more of that. Bikini waxing is something I’ve scaled back recently so that the march of the ingrown hairs could be defeated once and for all. But the pits. As a cheerleader in middle school it was requested of me to shave, and I’ve happily done so ever since. Not shaving my armpits during summer temps was actually a challenge. The straight hair of all of my nether regions and the salt crystal as deodorant meant that really nothing stood in the way. After three weeks, my hair reached its maximum fluff, and I proudly held my arms up, whether in front of a packed yoga class at Burning Man or in front of an audience at the gallery events. Proudly, consciously, but also aware that it could be a thing. So many of my white feminist friends, especially in Berlin, don’t shave anything. It’s almost like the membership card to the white feminist club. But I don’t know any Black women in Berlin who don’t, at the very least, shave their pits. Or do I?
My assumption was that going without a bra would be easier, require less thought or second guessing. I was wrong. With the help of athleticism and broad shoulders my breasts appear petite yet still large enough that I consider a bra necessary. (Yes, I read the French study on the subject.) I only had two of those nifty support tank tops. But I had a bunch of other tank tops that I wore under blouses and thinner tops in order to round the shape of my breasts so that one might assume I have on a bra. They’re luckily perky all on their own. Some of you might be wondering about nipples. Nipple prints don’t bother me; mine were pierced for eight years. When practicing yoga I use sport tanks that include the built-in support. And in everyday bike riding and general movement, I didn’t miss bras. When I got back to London and my full wardrobe, I even needed a couple of days to remember that I could wear a bra again, if I so desired. I haven’t yet. And I also haven’t shaved yet. I’m trying to remind myself of the cost-benefit-analysis of doing either of those things, regularly and unquestioningly.
Admittedly, there are some fancy outfits that I slay with the help of supported breasts, and I will use bras as accessories as well. The reason it takes me so long to buy them is, because I look for the ones that are perfect for my body’s attitude. But aesthetically I no longer see a difference between my hairless and my hairy arm pits. Some may see this as political, some may not. That’s a luxury of the privileged. Every time I walk out the house, my decisions of going out in a hoodie or heels, locs up or down, bra on or off, pits shaved or not is interpreted by someone somewhere as a statement. Let the statement be this: I decide for me and no one else.