Pencil test (breasts)
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A pencil stick is placed in the inframammary fold, the point at which the underside of the breasts attach to the chest wall. If the pencil does not fall, the woman has "failed the pencil test" and needs to wear a bra. The supposition is that breasts that are not pendulous are self-supporting and do not need the added support of a bra.
No evidence has been offered as to its validity, but some people consider it a method to determine whether a young girl should begin wearing a bra. The theory is that if the girl places a pencil under her breast and if it stays in place, then wearing a bra is recommended; if it falls to the ground, a bra is not yet needed. Other, more relevant factors when choosing whether to wear a bra include physical support of very large breasts, pain when exercising, and general comfort, as opposed to social pressures such as the desire to present breasts as "perky" or preventing nipples from being seen through clothing.
Some women use the pencil test to determine if their breasts are sagging. However, some degree of ptosis is normal and natural. Sagging is partly determined by inherited traits like skin elasticity and breast density, which affects the ratio of lightweight fat to heavier mammary glands. Some sagging is due to the aging of the glandular tissues that produce breast firmness. The general public and the medical community define sagging differently. Plastic surgeons categorize the severity of ptosis by evaluating the position of the nipple relative to the inframammary fold. They don't consider a woman's breasts to be sagging unless the nipple is positioned below the inframammary fold. In the most advanced stage, the nipples are below the fold and point towards the ground.
Wearing a bra does not prevent breasts from sagging. Many women, in the mistaken belief that breasts cannot anatomically support themselves, think that wearing a bra will prevent their breasts from sagging later in life. Researchers, bra manufacturers, and health professionals cannot find any evidence to support the idea that wearing a bra for any amount of time slows breast ptosis. Bra manufacturers are careful to claim that bras only affect the shape of breasts while they are being worn.
In popular culture
In 1975, the student senate of the University of Texas at Austin passed a dress code that among other things made it mandatory for women to wear a bra if they could not pass the pencil test. The decision was filibustered by a female senate member, and she was physically removed from the room before the vote passed 11-9.
In the 1997 film Breast Men, the pencil test was demonstrated by a female performer as a method of determining the desirability of having breast augmentation or breast implants. If, when placed under the breast against the skin of the torso, a pencil does not fall to the ground (i.e., the pencil is held in place by weight of the breast against the skin of the torso), augmentation is desirable.
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- Manteuffel, Rachel (November 12, 2006). "Getting an 'F' in Biology". The Washington Post.
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- Younai, S. Sean. "Breast Sagging - Ptosis". Retrieved 2012-02-04.
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- Cawthorne, Simon (November 2000). "Bras, the Bare Facts". Channel 4.