Over a year ago, I decided to buckle down and get healthier. I wanted to lose weight and exercise regularly. I didn’t expect the process to be overly enjoyable, and it wasn’t. I loved my personal trainer, but I didn’t always love the squats, yoga stretches, and neighborhood runs. What I did like was seeing my pants get too big and the number on the scale drop steadily.
In a year, I lost over 35 pounds, but as collateral damage (if you can call it that), I also lost some of the punch in my décolletage. Busy with work and family life, I just kept wearing my bras that didn’t fit right. I knew the responsible thing was to buy new bras.
For someone who doesn’t routinely circulate her bra collection, I was astounded at how expensive bras were. I wasn’t in some high-end boutique. I was getting fitted at a suburban mall. Despite being a fraction of the fabric material that my jeans were, the cost increase was exponential. As I stood in the fitting room clasping my soon-to-be-discarded-in-three-months-anyways bra, I muttered exasperatedly out loud, “How do people afford these things?!”
Then it hit me. Not everyone can. The woman fitting me said that people often don’t donate bras, but homeless women desperately need them.
Later that day, at home, while my new bras lay in their shopping bags neglected, I did some quick online searching. There were countless clothing drives in my Washington, DC region. Those metal receptacles for clothing donation in parking lots dotted a map by the hundreds. Shelters and charities were within easy driving distance of me, but few of them specifically called out bras. Was it oversight? Was it discomfort? I didn’t care about the reason, but I knew that something had to be done. I had at least a dozen bras that no longer fit but were in perfectly good condition. Where could I donate them so someone else in need could wear them?
After reaching out to a local shelter and speaking to their Director of Community Services, I learned that bras were requested a dozen individual times each week, yet donations were extremely slim. For an undergarment, bras are an overlooked donation. I guess the reason I donate so many other essentials—clothing, books, toys—but not bras, is because bras felt personal. I wouldn’t throw them in the trash either, as that seemed wasteful.
Since I hadn’t know that bras were such a high demand item for homeless women, I wondered what else I didn’t know. So I asked and was told emphatically: Maxi pads and tampons were needed. Facepalm again. Of course, homeless women and teens have their period, and purchasing a disposable item monthly can be expensive. I figured if I was going to nudge my friends and family for old bras, then sealed packages of feminine hygiene products were a natural fit.
Bras quite literally support a woman in more ways than just holding up breasts. They are needed for health and employment reasons. They improve self-esteem. They make some women more comfortable, both physically and emotionally. From Free the Girls, a wonderful non-profit that helps prevent human trafficking, I learned that bras are seen as an economic luxury. In the United Kingdom, tampons and maxi pads even have a luxury tax attached to them. I guess I don’t think of a tampon in the same personal category as diamonds. As a passionate human rights advocate, I just couldn’t let that stand. A bra is necessary. It’s non-negotiable. So I decided I needed to do something.
I did what everyone online does—came up with a catchy name “Support the Girls” and put up a Facebook page.
I reached out to friends and family to petition for their retired bras. I had a big Rubbermaid box I began to fill with Ziploc-ed donations of bras, tampons, and maxi pads. It wasn’t contained to my carport. Friends hosted bras and feminine hygiene product drives at various organizations. Colleagues and even new organizations hosted charity events or became dedicated drop-off locations. People exponentially shared my social media posts, and my “other” Facebook inbox blew up, too.
But nothing was more powerful than an honest conversation. Homelessness is difficult for many people to talk about but personal for me. I have a family member who has been homeless a few times over the decade. I’ve sent care packages of high protein granola and energy bars, toiletries, and the Economist. Anyone can be homeless. Once people get past some of their negative associations, it becomes a real human rights issue.
I talked to friends, and those friends talked to their networks. And boy, did that get results. People mailed boxes from dozens of states, and as far away as Israel, France, and the UK, to my house. Their mailers were filled to the brim with bras. My basement became a feminine hygiene/bra wonderland. Most memorably, breast cancer survivors who had double mastectomies sent bags of old bras. That was a wonderful dimension.
It was truly a huge collective effort. When the big day came to donate, we loaded over 1,000 bras and 7,100 individual tampons and maxi pads. I met a few of the recipients and got to see them choose a bra that would support them. I still smile when I think about it. It’s nice to put a face above the headless torso of bras.
A woman shouldn’t have to choose between a hot meal and a tampon. Both are essential heath issues. With Support the Girls, I want to bust through the sexualization of bras and the gross-factor of tampons and maxi pads. These are crucial items that all women need. I’m raising my voice to make this conversation heard. So donate your bras! And pick up some tampons or maxi pads!