Thursday, November 14, 2013

A man's appeal for a special kind of bra

(From the November 14, 2013 issue of the Grand Haven Tribune)

This column started out as a joke. I mentioned to my wife that I should write a column about bras. I was only half serious.

But then I saw an article about bras in the Wall Street Journal last week. This seemed like more than a coincidence. So I thought maybe I should actually write about bras.

I should stress that I don’t have a personal interest in bras, and I’m not writing about “man bras” or anything funny like that. This is a serious column about the need for businesses to manufacture bras for women who are breast cancer survivors. If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that my wife is among those women.
Like a lot of men whose wives have breast cancer, I try to be very supportive. I go to most of her medical appointments. I try to comfort her and make things easier for her in any way I can. I know all of her complaints. And one of them has to do with bras.

Even before my wife had cancer, she would complain about how difficult it is to find the right bra. I would normally just nod when she said this. Now I listen with more attentive concern because this is related to the many issues related to her disease.

The problem of finding the right bra for breast cancer survivors is even more acute. Women who have had mastectomies need to go to a special boutique and purchase a “post-surgical garment” immediately after surgery. There is a limited number of styles for these bras. They come in white only, and look like they were designed for old women. They hook in the back, which is hard to deal with after surgery. They also can be very hot.

After surgery recovery, women have to find a mastectomy bra. This is a bra designed to accommodate a prosthetic breast to fill in for what was removed in surgery. These also have limited options in terms of colors, styles, and sizes. Often the design includes a band that goes right over a sensitive surgical site, and is tight and painful. Even so, these bras are expensive, and insurance only pays for three per year. They also don’t make bras for younger, active, even athletic women. My wife is a runner, and knows other survivors who are runners and have the same complaint.

My wife did find a bra made by Jockey that is not designed for breast cancer survivors but she has been able to adapt it to her needs. She has even mentioned to staff at Jockey stores that they should improve and market these bras to breast cancer survivors. She knows it would be a success because she herself has shared info with other women who went out and bought several for themselves.

I would think companies that make bras would jump all over this. That Wall Street Journal article I mentioned earlier was about three start-up companies that each raised between $5 million and $8 million to make a better bra and compete with Victoria’s Secret. So it seems they sense a market for bras for all women.

But if they want to consider market opportunity, they should consider the huge market of breast cancer survivors. They are more of a secret than Victoria’s Secret to clothing manufacturers. According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. There are more than 232,000 new cases each year. There are currently 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. I’d call that a market opportunity. It would also be a great opportunity for companies to show their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or engage in some cause-related marketing.

I tell my wife all the time that I will love her no matter the size or number of her special feminine body parts. I know she appreciates that. But I also know that every day brings a little despair at the situation. She doesn’t want to be a movie star. She just wants to be comfortable. I want that for her too. I can do a lot, but I am no feminine undergarment designer.

That’s why this man is appealing for a better bra. I want a bra that is not better in the way it conforms to our culture of enhanced sexuality. I just want one that suits the needs of legions of women who are valiant and beautiful in their fight against a disease that robs them of so much. If there is a clothing company that truly cares about women, it will offer something that provides comfort and dignity. It will make a lot of women happy. The men at their side will be smiling too.

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