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Example of a handbra

A handbra (also hand bra or hand-bra) is a technique used by actresses, models and other entertainers to cover their nipples and areolae with their own hands or in some other way to comply with censors' guidelines, public authorities and community standards which require female breasts to be covered in film or other media. The technique can also be used by women to cover their private parts to maintain their modesty.

Social conventions requiring females to cover their breasts in public has been widespread throughout history and across cultures. Contemporary Western cultures usually regard the exposure of the nipples and areolae as immodest and is sometimes prosecuted as indecent exposure. However, the covering of the nipples and areolae in some manner is regarded as sufficient to maintain modesty and decency, at least within letter if not the spirit of the censors' guidelines.

In the media[edit]

Before toplessness and nudity became more common in cinema and other media after the 1960s, female models and actresses would cover their breasts, especially the nipples and areolae, with their hands, arms, towel, pasties or some other objects to remain within the censors' guidelines or community standards of decency and modesty.

The handbra technique became less common and an unnecessary pose in early 20th century European and American pinup postcard media as toplessness and nudity became more common. In America, after bare breasts become repressed in mainstream media circa 1930, the handbra became an increasingly durable pose, especially as more widespread American pinup literature emerged in the 1950s. Once bare breasts became a common occurrence in pinup literature, after the early 1960s, the handbra pose acquires less necessity in pinup media. As with pinup magazines of the 1950s, the handbra pose was a mainstay of late 20th century mainstream media, especially lad mags, such as FHM, Maxim, and Zoo Weekly,[1][2] that prominently feature photos of scantily clad B-actresses and models, and which avoid topless and nude glamour photography.[3][4][5]

Examples include Brigitte Bardot (1955, 1971),[6] Elizabeth Taylor in a Playboy magazine pictorial from the set of Cleopatra, [7] Peggy Moffitt modeling Rudi Gernreich's topless maillot and how Life magazine handled the story (1964),[8][9] and the emergence of handbras in publications such as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue by model Elle MacPherson (1989).[10]

Toward the end of the 20th century, the handbra gained exposure with numerous celebrity magazine covers. These include Janet Jackson's appearance on the September 1993 cover of Rolling Stone, which later named it their "Most Popular Cover Ever".[11][12] In Bikini Science terms, the second pair of hands in this image significantly advance the cases of the handbra beyond what is possible by a single poser. The hands may may operate alone or in conjunction of the wearer of the bra, and themselves have a wide range of differentiation, e.g., by sex, age, color. A second pair of hands accelerates the image to not just a costume or a pose, but also a situation.

In July 1994, Ronald Reagan's daughter Patti Davis appeared on the cover of Playboy with another model covering her breasts. Photographer Raphael Mazzucco created an eight-woman handbra on the cover of the 2006 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and a photo of Marisa Miller covering her breasts with her arms and her vulva with an iPod in the 2007 Swimsuit Issue.[13]

The handbra was the subject of a pointed parody advertisement for Holding Your Own Boobs magazine performed by Sarah Michelle Gellar and Will Ferrell on the May 15, 1999 episode of Saturday Night Live. The infamous braless pose was featured in raunchy music video "HandBra" performed by Sensual Sutton.[14]

There is a brassiere named the "handbra" that is fashioned in the shape of hands as a parody of the technique. Lady Gaga wore one in the music video for her 2013 single "Applause".[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Erotic photography: art or porno?". Shot Addict. Retrieved 2007-11-29. Recently several popular glamour magazines known as lad mags are reversing the trend by emphasizing glamour while showing less nudity, in favor of implied (covered) nudity or toplessness such as the handbra technique. Examples include FHM (For Him Magazine) and Maxim magazines, which launched in 1994 and 1995, respectively. 
  2. ^ "News from Paul Merrill - Editor, Zoo". Press Gazette. The deal has fallen through over a suggestion she do 'hand bra'. 
  3. ^ Janice Turner (October 22, 2005). "Dirty young men". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-04-10. The cover model's breast is partially concealed by her cupped hand. 'We call that shot "hand-bra",' says Paul Merrill, launch editor of Zoo and now in charge of international editions, 'We use that a lot.' He flicks to a cover showing a model whose hair extensions cover her nipples: 'This is hair-bra,' he says. 
  4. ^ "New Talent". Zoo Weekly. Retrieved 2007-11-29. Besides being amazingly bootylicous, the Shire gal loves to watch The Family Guy and drink vodka cranberries... all at the same time. Let's hope she does this like her Janet Jackson style profile pic. Three cheers for hand bra! [dead link]
  5. ^ "Girls". Zoo Weekly. Retrieved 2007-11-29. You can't beat a babe who is happy to sex it up with a hand-bra. [dead link]
  6. ^ Rosebush, Judson. "Brigitte Bardot Covers Her Breasts". Bikini Science. 
  7. ^ "Elizabeth Taylor, 'Cleopatra', Playboy - November 1963". 
  8. ^ Shana Alexander, "Fashion's Best Joke on Itself in Years", Life, July 10, 1964, p. 57
  9. ^ Peggy Moffitt and William Claxton, The Rudi Gernreich Book, Rizzoli, New York, 1991
  10. ^ Sports Illustrated, February 1989
  11. ^ Phil Rosenthal (February 3, 2004). "Cover story so bad, even FCC sees through it.". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-12-05. And Jackson, who has a CD coming out, is no stranger to using her breasts to sell her music. Remember the handbra on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1993? Or the nipple ring on the cover of Vibe in 1997? Or the cover for her last album, All For You, in which she was nude, obscured only by a sheet? [dead link]
  12. ^ Ogunnaike, Lola (February 4, 2004). "Capitalizing On Jackson Tempest". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-05-04. In 1993 she posed topless for the cover of Rolling Stone. Then, her nipples were obscured by a pair of male hands, not a silver brooch. 
  13. ^ "All-Star SI Cover Model Beach Party". SI Cover Search. Time Inc. 2006-02-17. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  14. ^ "Saturday Night Live: Sarah Michelle Gellar/Backstreet Boys". Retrieved 2007-04-23. 
  15. ^ "Handbra: Tired of the Wonderbra?". Retrieved 2007-04-26. 

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