Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: Recently I discovered to my horror that my mother-in-law has given up wearing a bra. The family is mortified. No, she is not losing her marbles. In her younger years she was very stylish and beautiful. I know there is a Chinese thing about getting huge respect for being an old lady, but why would she start seeking shapeless clothes and stop caring about her appearance? I brought up the bra issue and she said she finds them uncomfortable. Should I take her bra shopping, or would I be overstepping by laying down the law about not letting it all hang out?
Has she stopped washing, cleaning her teeth? Taken up with two dozen cats? No, she's stopped wearing a bra and freed herself from something she doesn't like. Just watch her ... maybe she'll free herself from more discomforts in her life. Next on the list might be the "mortified" family. Sweetie, the problem is you. Could you try doing a small liberating thing for yourself? As your mother-in-law has shown you, it is never too late.
-Penelope Hill, Dundas, Ont.
Forget your discomfort
Elderly skin is much more sensitive, and bras can cause serious chafing. Perhaps the mother-in-law hasn't shared how serious her discomfort is. The reader should forget her own discomfort and offer to help her mother-in-law find some stylish tops that camouflage the fact she is not wearing a bra.
-Molly Oleson, Victoria
It's your issue
I'm a 21-year old male and I'm no bra-burner, but I do think it is inappropriate to "lay down the law" and tell somebody to do something they find uncomfortable. The real issue is that you are embarrassed by her, and that kind of negativity is a far worse menace than a pair of breasts obeying the law of gravity.
- Taylor Ashton, Toronto
The Final Word:
Oh, there is a law that needs laying down here - and trust me, it's about to be. Unless your mother-in-law grabs hold of your head and sticks your face between her unencumbered breasts exclaiming "Get a load of these!" you are not to say word one.
North America, we are a culture of 14-year-old boys, alternately sniggering, drooling or making throw-up noises at the female bosom. We need to get over it, now.
Don't worry: I'm not proposing we stop using them to sell beer or make female video-game characters more interesting, as God knows this is practically the foundation of our society.
I'm saying we simply have to acknowledge that breasts are, for half the population, like toes. They're just there. They serve a function. They're also cute and fun to play with.
But people, we need to stop being horrified or outraged every time we encounter a breast that isn't as smooth, pneumatic and inhuman as the pair on that robot woman from Metropolis, whose breasts looked like if you tapped on them they'd sound a hollow, metallic, pong-pong-pong.
Let's take a vow: We'll stop treating women with large breasts as if they strapped on their bosoms this morning specifically to attract creepy leers and comments. We'll stop treating small-breasted women like war-amps.
We'll stop being "freaked out" at the women breastfeeding in public whom we glimpse on our way to catching the wings special at Hooters. We'll get over our terror of nipple outlines emerging from beneath our clothes: Nipples are protuberances on top of protuberances, okay? They're going to protrude! Nip happens! You'd think we were wandering the streets wearing tassels and a G-string.
Finally, we will stop being appalled that women over 40 presume to even have breasts - let alone that they aren't doing everything short of donning Kevlar vests to keep decent people from having to know about them.
In short, Penelope, Molly, Taylor and I are speaking with one voice on this issue: The problem, sweetie, is yours to get over.
Next week's question
A reader writes: I am a 47-year-old divorced woman with two teenaged daughters. I have been dating a divorced man for a year and a half, and we are planning to move in with him next summer. His children are 24 and 28. Every year since his divorce, 20 years ago, he has celebrated their birthdays with both of them as well as his ex-wife. At the last gathering, his children's significant others were present. I found it hurtful that I was not included as his significant other, if I am to give up my home and move in with him. Advice?
Let's hear from you
E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are published anonymously, but we will include your name and hometown if we use your response (it will be edited).
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy.