Apr 12, 2013 5:42 PM by Patricia Collier
FRANCE - A researcher at the University Hospital of Besançon, has prompted a lively debate this week with a study that suggests women might be better off without their bras.
After a study involving 330 female volunteers aged 18 to 35, Professor Jean-Denis Rouillon concluded that "medically, physiologically and anatomically" breasts gained no benefit from having their weight supported.
What the French know as the "soutien-gorge" could, in fact, be positively harmful in terms of posture and muscle tone. Wearing a bra means "supporting tissues will not grow and even they will wither and the breast will gradually degrade," Mr. Rouillon, a sports scientist, warned.
The headline-grabbing findings were widely reported in the French press and prompted some wry comments about the fact that the study had taken 15 years of closely measuring female anatomies - "such was the hard task that Professor Rouillon took on," noted Mathieu Sicard in a blog post for Le Nouvel Observateur.
While some male social media jokers asked where they could sign on to help the professor with his research, others expressed astonishment that, after a decade and a half, the results were still being described as "preliminary."
The French daily Le Monde raised the tone on Thursday by offering a historical insight into the origins of the bra, quoting findings by Austrian archaeologists who have dated its development back to the 14th century.
Feminists have complained that women once again faced being reduced to their body parts, while one anonymous commenter at the France-Info Web site, who said she would not be burning her bra, asked, "Why can't we put our money into more serious and necessary studies?"
Mr. Rouillon's research was eminently serious, in contrast to some of the reactions it provoked.
Ahead of the announcement of his findings on Wednesday, he told France Culture last year that he had been inspired by the discovery that no previous study had looked at the medical effects of the bra.
He stressed on Wednesday that his preliminary research was not based on a representative sample of women and therefore it would be dangerous to advise all women to stop wearing their bras.
As commentators speculated whether the research would prompt a revival of 1970s bra-burning, one of Mr. Rouillon's volunteers, a 28-year-old woman identified as Capucine, offered her own testimonial.
Having dumped her bra two year ago, she told France-Info, "You breathe better, you stand straighter and you have less back pain."
But Marion Streicher, the broadcaster's correspondent in Besançon, suggested it might be too early to write the epitaph of the bra.
The garment's "social dimension" should not be overlooked, she said, neither should the "lovers of lace and décolleté" who would no doubt be advising women not to abandon their bras.