I found this question on my Quora feed and it’s funny because it is actually something I can relate to a lot. I also have an 11 YO daughter. My experience with this issue is a bit different in its origins but similar at some point. So I decided to answer the question, and share it with you, who might be in a similar situation with your tween.
The original question was: How do I deal with my 11-year-old, who is reluctant to wear a bra? She has the developed body of a 17-year-old teen and doesn’t fit in training bras. Her school counselor told us her teacher has concerns about her not wearing a bra to school.
Let me tell you the backstory
When she was like 8 or 9 years old, she timidly asked me if I would buy her a “training bra”. She didn’t need it yet but I told her “sure!” and she couldn’t believe it. My guessing was one of her friends, who is taller and more physically developed told her about her wearing the “training bras” and my daughter wanted to do the same, although she knew it was something that “big girls” do that makes them clearly different to the younger ones. Remember, at the time she was in 3rd of 4th grade.
I didn’t want to make a big fuss about it. I remember me being pretty much flat-chested until I was 14 (and with baby fat around my belly, OMG I was a totally uncool kid). I was DYING for being able to wear a real bra, but my mom wouldn’t find it necessary and would say no until I really needed it.
Time passed by for me and now I am a mother. And my girl is clearly growing physically. But she has realized she actually doesn’t like that training bra thing and she is basically happy wearing her t-shirts and leggings without any breast support. She would sometimes wear an undershirt but not every day. And I knew that would change at some point in her life, but I also knew I won’t force it to make it happen before she was ready.
I would let her get away with it most of the time because I really don’t want to force her wearing something she is so uncomfortable in, and also because I don’t need another subject where she can get rebellious and start a fight.
But at some point, I was not feeling extremely happy with the situation, because she started playing basketball and I know it will hurt not having any support or protection. I talked to her trying to understand what is going on in her mind. I really want to understand why she was not willing to wear undershirts or any kind of breast support. She told me something very specific: “I don’t like wearing them because they are too tight and hurt after a while”. That made a lot of sense. I have been getting her bralettes and training bras from brands aimed for girls who are straight-sized. My daughter did gymnastics for three years and she has a broader torso. She is definitely not a straight-sized girl and by mistake, I had been choosing clothes that are not large enough to fit her.
What I did instead
What I did instead of following the arbitrary rules of sizing from brands and stores was taking measurements of her torso and her breast, just like you do when getting measured for a bra fitting at some places, and started checking out which stores aimed for tweens and teens had sports bras and bralette options with sizes in inches.
It took me a bit to find them but stores like Justice and Old Navy actually carry sports bras and bralettes in sizes you can easily recognize in inches. I bought a couple of them and brought them home so my daughter could try them comfortably in her own room. She picked the ones she liked the best and returned those that didn’t fit well.
Now she is willing to wear them when she plays basketball and some other times, but I know she still won’t want to wear them every day, especially if I insist on it. However, because I am not making a big deal of it on a daily basis, she is more willing to wear that undergarment when I ask her to do so. This works because of the type of clothing she is going to wear or the activity she is going to be in. (For example, when she is going to play basketball or train parkour, when the t-shirt of her choice is too sheer or when wearing a party gown…).
Here are my conclusions regarding this whole issue, which I think can help you decipher your own child’s situation:
If I push her, she will push back because she is a rebellious kid and I know that. I also think she, in a very interesting and different way than other 11 years-old girls think, doesn’t want to feel she is growing up as a woman while she is still interested in stuff that is usually linked to younger children, such as unicorns, pokémon, slime, and “squishys”. I am working with her so she doesn’t feel that growing up physically means she has to give up the things she likes to play or that makes her happy, even if that means she has a good time with younger playmates.
If someone else tells her to do so, she will feel uncomfortable to learn other people is judging her body. And I totally understand why she would think that is so unfair: My daughter (and I suspect this can be something that can happen o your daughter too) doesn’t want to feel pressure to grow up, even if her physical development is clearly happening under her nose (pun intended). And let’s be clear: although there is some level of comfort while wearing a bra, it is indeed a social construction aimed to make women look more appealing to others while their breasts are up and look firmer. Even if that is not comfortable for the girl, people are pushing her to wear something to cover her nipples so OTHERS feel comfortable around her. That is totally sexist and unfair.
I know it is the usual thing, but it’s nobody’s business.
Yes, it is the usual thing for girls to wear a bra when their breasts grow. Yes, that will help with support. Yes, it can be very uncomfortable to put on, to wear it all day and take it off at the end of the day. No, I don’t think it is anyone’s in the school business to address this issue with her. Also, I don’t think you should get too worried about it right now. It might take time for her to decide to wear the bras. But it won’t help if you push her into doing it because people are uncomfortable with her not wearing one. Once her girlfriends start wearing one themselves, she will fill more interested in wearing one herself.
Finally, I would like to talk from my professional experience as a personal stylist. I can assure you there are a lot of young women who have boobs in all shapes and sizes who don’t like to wear a bra. They are still feminine, and most of all, they feel more in control of their own body and sexuality. These women would tell you they obviously feel the social pressure of “fitting in”. But they can recognize the signs of it and decide not going with it if they think it is not beneficial to THEM. I see these women on a daily basis and I respect them for that.
I don’t know you, but I want to raise my girl to be a woman that feels comfortable with her own body in any shape or circumstance. If not pushing her constantly to wear an undergarment just to comply with a social convention helps her to become that kind of person, I am totally down to it.
A final tip that also works for older women
If she doesn’t want to wear a bra but she still needs to conceal her nipples (we all know middle school and high school kids are the worst and might make fun of her for letting them being shown, especially on chilly weather), she can wear breast petals of the silicone option that are reusable.