Booby trap

Libraries host a talk about the history of the love/hate relationship between women and their bras.


Most women have a sort of love/hate relationship with their bras. Velya Jancz-Urban and Ehris Urban of Grounded Goodwife have discovered that it’s more like a hate/hate relationship. In their presentation “Booby-Trapped: The Bra in America, which will be presented on Zoom through the Chilmark and Vineyard Haven libraries on Tuesday, March 16, they cite the results of a 2014 survey of 3,000 women: “Ninety-two percent rated their bra ‘an enemy. I wish I had never met her.’”

“We feel like the American woman is still waiting for the ideal bra,” says Urban. It was while the mother-daughter team was doing research on another talk titled “Suffragettes in Corselettes” that they found themselves curious about the history of the bra. “When we started thinking about corsets, we found that for years, women’s only option was pushing their breasts up from below,” says Jancz-Urban. “It took a long time for someone to invent a way to lift breasts from the shoulders.”

According to a press release for the event, “From the 1913 invention of the bra to the bullet bra of the ’40s, to modern-day pillow-cup, push-up, plunge bras, our boobs have been cinched, flattened down, and lifted up. You can discover a lot about women in history by how much cleavage was showing, and the era’s most desirable breast shape.”

The talk is full of fun facts as well as historical information, which the two women deliver in a lighthearted and humorous manner. “We think history should never be boring,” says Urban. “We try to make things fun.”

Jancz-Urban and her daughter have been collaborating on projects for the past four years. The women refer to themselves as “green witches,” which, as Urban explains, are “people who use natural medicines. It’s not about spells and talking to spirits. We don’t use doctors or prescriptions.”

Both women had been doing talks and hosting workshops before they decided to work together. Jancz-Urban has been studying and presenting talks on history, or as she calls it, “herstory unsanitized,” for some time. Urban, an herbalist, holistic nutritionist, and graduate of the New England School of Homeopathy, teaches herbal workshops through her business, Grounded Holistic Wellness.

Eventually they decided to work together. “We were going to each others’ workshops and decided we would make a good team,” says Urban. So far they have created two talks, which they have presented at museums, historical societies, libraries, and women’s clubs from Maine to Virginia. They’ve switched from live talks to Zoom presentations in the past year.

The talks have a feminist bent. “We found that if you binge-watch any historical show, you’ll see all of this violent stuff, but there’s nothing about menstruation or breastfeeding,” says Urban. “We wanted to delve into these taboo subjects and make it fun.”

It was the women’s move into a 1770s farmhouse in Connecticut 10 years ago that spurred Jancz-Urban to take a deep dive into colonial history, which led to her first presentation, titled “The Not-So-Good Life of the Colonial Goodwife.” The mother-daughter team have authored one book, and are working on a second. They’re having a lot of fun hosting the talks, but there’s also a serious side to their mission. “Perhaps women need to be reminded of how far we’ve come to see how far we can go,” says Urban.

Both women confess to hating their bras. “We feel like the American woman is still waiting for her ideal bra,” says Urban. The two start off their talk with some trivia, including the fact that bra makers at Playtex came up with the design for the Apollo 11 spacesuit. It seems odd that they could design a suit for survival on the moon, but still can’t come up with a comfortable bra.