You are on intimate terms with it. Sometimes, you let the world have a peek at it. Other moments are spent wriggling in an attempt to keep it away from prying eyes. But one thing is for sure. You need it. Women have always had a love-hate relationship with the bra.
It was invented in the early 20th century to replace the tight and sometimes suffocating corset which was known to cause nausea, bowel disturbances and fainting spells.
But since a woman's 'ideal shape' changes as often as fashion dictates it should, the bra has altered several times too.
Natural fabrics, for instance, are often replaced with stretchier synthetics. And styles that once were based on the concept of 'support' are replaced by the concept of 're-shape'. Which means that these days, the bra can be as unsafe as the corset ever was.
However, since it is highly unlikely that women will ever give up style in favour of support, here's a guide to the brassiere and how to wear it right.
When international fashion dictated that lingerie should be created in all kinds of fabric including silk, lace, satin, knit and synthetics, Indian lingerie makers were quick to follow.
But, as Dr Anil Kumar Mallik, consultant dermatologist, GM Modi Hospital, Delhi, points out, there is a huge difference between the Indian and the European climate.
"Here, it is hot and humid for about eight months of the yeal:" says Dr Mallik. "Fabrics like polyester and other synthetics, even though they do offer shape and a good fit, simply do not suit our climate."
These fabrics do not absorb perspiration very well. "The constant rubbing of wet skin against the fabric causes rash," continues Dr Mallik. "That makes you itchy and uncomfortable."
And should you have sensitive skin in any case, you could be in real trouble.
"Ten to twenty per cent of women are atopics or allergic to synthetics and knits fabrics," claims Dr Mallik. But the litany of doctors' complaints against synthetic fabrics doesn't stop there. Synthetics generate static electricity. In other words, they emit heat, which adds to discomfort. This is not just a summer problem.
In winter, we tend to sweat beneath the layers of clothing we wear "Excessive rubbing and scratching can also make the skin lumpy, resulting in hard nodules on the surface of the skin," warns Dr Mallik. Acne and pimples can also flare up on the back and in the upper chest region. So what is the solution?
You can wear lingerie made with synthetic fabrics when you know you are heading for a temperature-controlled environment where you intend to stay Otherwise, stick to good old cotton.
Cotton lingerie in a variety of pretty, sexy styles is available in the market, says Rakhi Oswal, director, operations, Oswal Group, the company that owns the lingerie chain, Straps.
"Comfort is at its best with cotton, though it doesn't always give the most flattering fit and form," she says. What is the purpose of a bra? To support the breasts so they don't sag. But that little fact seems to have been forgotten. Now we wear bras according to fashion, which means they are often too loose or too tight to do our bodies any good.
"If you wear tight bras every day, the tissues and ligaments of the breasts get compressed, which leads to injury and pain," says Dr Devansh, senior plastic and aesthetic surgeon, Max Healthcare, Delhi.
An American study on the subject has found that restrictive bras block the circulation of the lymph system that plays an important part in the purification of the body. As a result, toxins in the area are not allowed to drain. Equally important is the problem of back pain. Large-breasted women who wear bras that don't offer enough support are at great risk of back problems.
To see whether your bra is the correct fit, check for strap marks on your body at the end of the day If they are clearly visible, you are in trouble. Bras that allegedly change the shape of your breasts should be avoided, says Dr Devansh. "Re-shaping is not possible. Breasts do not become pert because of bras. They only sag because of loose ones." And bras that are too loose are a also a big mistake.
"Women with large breasts in fact tend to wear ill-fitting bras to minimise the size of their breasts. The lack of good support leads to de-shaping," says Dr Ranjana Sharma, senior consultant gynecologist, Fortis la Femme.
Support group: There are a variety of straps available in the market, from criss-cross to transparent plastic, colourful to halter-neck. But how much support to do they really offer?
Without adequate support, we can develop poor posture or experience neck, back and shoulder pain. Dr Sharma advises against elastic straps. Cotton straps are the best, he says. Plastic straps should also be avoided because they do not absorb sweat Straps that are too narrow can cause nagging headaches because they put too much pressure on the trapeze muscle, leading to strain. But what about the styles: the halter-neck and strapless bras?
"They are safe as long as they give support," says Dr Sharma.
"Strapless bras should only be worn occasionally"
Underwired bras, usually, are a good option because they support the breasts well, but when the wires twist - as they tend to do when they are machine-washed instead of handwashed - they can lead to inflammation and trauma, says Dr Anita Gupta, consultant gynaecologist, GM Modi Hospital, Delhi. "And avoid underwired bras that are too tight," she adds.