A training bra (also trainer bra, starter bra, first bra or bralette) is a lightweight brassiere designed for girls who have begun to develop breasts during puberty when the girl's breasts are not yet large enough to fit a standard-sized bra. Breast growth is usually defined by the Tanner scale. Girls who are developing breasts are at Tanner stage I and II. Training bras are usually a lightweight, unlined, pullover style bra and feature a soft, elastic bra band and soft bra cups. Prior to the marketing of training bras, a preteen or young teen girl in Western countries usually wore a one-piece "waist" or camisole without cups or darts.
When a girl receives her first bra, it may be seen as a long-awaited rite of passage in her life signifying her coming of age. Bras for pre-teens and girls entering puberty were first marketed during the 1950s.
Training bras are usually a lightweight, soft-cup design, unlined, and may resemble a crop top. They are often made of a mixed cotton spandex or cotton Lycra fabric with thin straps and elastic under the growing breasts to hold the garment in place. Training bras for pubescent girls may be sold in small, medium, and large sizes, and help conceal a girl's nipples and her breast buds under outerwear. Some are built into camisoles. They are made in a variety of colors and prints, including lace. As a girl continues to develop, usually around Tanner stage III, regular bras are available in sizes 30AAA to 38B. The initial training bras offer little if any actual support. Some styles are padded to hide the girl's developing breast buds or to increase the perceived size of the girl's breasts. The training bra is intended to help young girls become comfortable with the idea of wearing lingerie.
Prior to the 1950s, girls in Western countries typically wore undershirts until their breasts were sufficiently large to fit an adult bra. During the 1940s and 1950s, western media created a "mammary fixation" that shaped teen perceptions of breast size. Boys noticed girls who were more "busty," and particularly American girls were more aware of breast size and their weight. Popular American culture in the 1950s was notable for its focus on full-breasted women like Lana Turner and Jane Russell. The emphasis on the female figure came from several sources: girls wanted bras at an earlier age than ever before, while their mothers felt they should help their daughters develop a "good" figure; doctors who valued maternity over all other female roles; and companies who saw a profit in persuading girls and their parents that adolescent breasts needed support. In some social circles, a girl's ability to fill a bra became central to her status and sense of self.
During the 1950s, doctors in the United States wrote that teen girls needed to wear a bra to prevent sagging breasts, poor circulation, and stretched blood vessels. In magazines like Seventeen and Compact, adolescent girls were encouraged to purchase undergarments like "Bobbie" bras, Formfit girdles, and "Adagio" by Maidenform that were "teen-proportioned".
It became common in the 1950s for pre-teen girls in the United States to begin wearing training bras even though their breasts were too small to actually require support. The American Academy of Pediatricians published Puberty: Information for Boys and Girls in 2002. In it, they advised girls:
As your breasts develop, you may need a bra. Some girls feel that wearing a bra for the first time is exciting—it is the first step toward becoming a woman! However, some girls feel embarrassed, especially if they are among the first of their friends to need a bra. If the people around you make a bigger deal of your first bra than you would like, try to remember that they do not mean to embarrass you, they are just proud of how much you have grown. [original emphasis]
The author points out that young girls are socialized to be more concerned about what other people think about their wearing a bra rather than their own feelings. As a result, young girls may be anxious to acquire their first training bra before their breasts actually need support, if only for social purposes. Girls are then faced with the challenge of keeping current and wearing the latest, fashionable bra. Some young girls avoid wearing a bra, fearing an end to their childhood freedoms, such as going topless. Girls who develop breasts earlier than their peers may be sensitive to comments and teasing. Because bras are built to manufacturers' standards, if the girl's body does not conform to the shape and size of the bra, she may blame herself.
Firm, upright breasts are typical of youth. As such, they may not physically require the support of a bra. A Pencil test, developed by Ann Landers, has sometimes been promoted as a criterion to determine whether a girl should begin wearing a bra: a pencil is placed under the breast, and if it stays in place by itself, then wearing a bra is recommended; if it falls to the ground, it is not.
Oleg Cassini made a provocative "Room at the Top Bra" in nylon and Lycra spandex for Peter Pan. In the early 1960s, bra makers marketed to girls 13–19, and later in '60s they targeted pre-teen girls age 10–12. New labels like Teenform, Teencharm, and Heaventeen catered to their market. Some companies' advertisements showed girls waist up wearing only a bra. Mercy Dobell, editor of Corset and Underwear Review, wrote that "the bra has joined lipstick and 'heels' in becoming one of the beloved symbols of growing up.:151 Mass media encourages teens and tweens to begin wearing lingerie at a younger age, before or as soon as their breasts begin to develop, as a way to advertise their sexuality.
Young pubescent girls may have ambivalent feelings around the experience of buying and wearing their first bra. Some girls avoid wearing a bra because it means they must deal with teasing and other issues with the onset of puberty. Other girls welcome the experience of being able to show the appearance of a bra through their clothes.
The young girl may feel pressured to wear a bra before she actually needs any support so she can "fit in". Once she begins to wear a bra, she may also be pressured to wear clothing that makes her appear older than she is. Girls may experience the opportunity to begin wearing a bra with mixed feelings. On one hand, they may feel "grown up", but with that status comes a host of expectations about keeping up with the latest styles or colors. But some girls hesitate to accept that some of their childhood freedoms, like going topless or engaging in certain kinds of boyish activities, may be ending.
Some girls are embarrassed about wearing a bra and resist parental pressure to take this step, turning the event into a potentially traumatic experience. If a girl is one of the first or one of the last among her peers to begin wearing a bra, she may be teased. Some welcome and others dislike the new attention they receive because they are wearing a bra. Because bras are mass-produced to fit industry standards, a young girl may not understand that an ill-fitting bra is not her fault and may blame herself, thinking something is wrong with her body.
Opposition to training bras
Training bras and the age at which girls first wear bras is sometimes controversial. Some people regard training bras as a way to sexualize young girls, and that training bras serve no functional purpose, that businesses benefit financially from, and even encourage, precocious sexuality in girls by exploiting their fears about self-image and social norms. Still, others recognize developing tissue in breasts as sensitive and, at times, needing cover to maintain comfort, even if only psychological, for the wearer.
Bra opponents believe training that bras are used to indoctrinate girls into thinking about their breasts as sexual objects. In their view, bras are not functional undergarments but simply exist to make the body more sexy and appealing.They believe that training bras exploit young girls and encourage precocious sexuality.
Within Western cultures that place great value upon youth, bras are marketed to emphasize their ability to preserve a youthful appearance. The design of fashionable rather than solely functional bras has been influenced by changing fashions in outerwear and undergarments. The bra is sometimes viewed as an icon of popular culture that eroticizes girls' breasts as sexual objects.
Marketing to young girls
The tween demographic consisting of pre- and early adolescent girls has become a new niche for selling bras.
In 2006, Target stores began stocking a range of bras for three- to four-year-olds, Bratz bras for three- to four-year-olds, Saddle Club bras for four- to six-year-olds, and a lightly padded Target brand bra for eight- to 10-year-olds. Australian retailer Big W's added a Just Girls padded bra for eight- to 10-year-olds and a My Little Pony bandeau bra for two- to three-year-olds, and Bonds in February 2006 marketed the "My First T-Shirt Bra" for ages eight and up.
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