The Evany Thomas Column

Read My Tits, or

On the proper use of symbols for the look-who's-talking two (h2so4 13).

Navel-gazing recently, I was struck with how startling the bellybutton truly is. It may not be as disturbing as the alien terrain found on the roof of your mouth, but it is this terrible, twisted scar, a hole right in the middle of smooth tummy. Since we all have one, however, the hideous puncture goes without question, and is even considered a sexy symbol. Back in the 50s, Mr. Disney insisted that Annette Funicello keep her potent button covered to preserve the Mickey Mouse Club's squeaky reputation. And nowadays we flaunt ours with belly-revealing baby-tees and "look here" piercings and tattoos. So freaky!

Once you acknowledge the strangeness of the navel, it's only a quick leap to the breast. I mean, nipples, with their bumps and hairs and rippling, sea anemone-like response to cold and stimuli? The boneless lumpiness of the breast meat itself? And these milk-producing knobs of flesh hang off the torso and require the support of their own special harness!

Looked at that way, it's odd to think how the breast-buttressing agent, the bra, became such an important symbol, something to be burned as a political statement. What does destroying a lacy udder holster have to do with equal rights? How does a brassiere symbolize male tyranny? Don't boys like the jiggling festivities of a lady going braless?

Like many symbols that made sense back in their heyday but now seem puzzling (Groundhog Day) or forced (the chilling "Rapping Colonel" in the latest spate of KFC commercials), the burning bra was indeed meaningful at one time. Thirty years ago, the bra was literally a social constraint, keeping breasts in check in a time when inappropriate jiggles caused car accidents and much tsk-tsking. But nowadays, a woman's underwear drawer features a rainbow of wonder bras, jog bras, strapless bras, under tank-top bras, sexy five-minute bras, and on and on, and each kind of bra has a special purpose. The wonder bra aims to enhance and display the breasts themselves; a jog bra is essential sporting equipment; a sexy bra is worn only to be taken off. Considering the many supporting roles the bra plays today, the label "bra-burner" raises the question, "What kind of bra?" That potential confusion is the downfall of the symbolism of the burning bra.

I like my symbols simple, elegant, timeless. The next generation must be able to intuit the meaning of a symbol without endless yarning about the way things used to be. A burning flag, for instance. That makes absolute sense: You object to a country's policies, the country's flag represents the country itself, so burning the flag makes your point perfectly clear. But burning a bra? In this day and age, it just requires too much groping to be understood clearly.

Which isn't to say the burning bra is without hope. But we must (we must...) stop raking the bra over the coals. The bra's potential as a medium of personal or political expression is wasted by simply tossing it on a bonfire. Now that bras come in all shapes, colors, and patterns, the bra has an opportunity to move beyond the brutish, one-shot statement and become an actual language, or "branguage." We have the technology.

Thanks to slipping boat-necklines and skimping tanktops, the tantalizing glimpse of strap is becoming more and more common, and the recent popularity of sheer dresses, blouses, and sweaters has given the bra yet another stage to shine through. This increasing visibility of the bra, combined with its wildly varied breeds, makes it the perfect medium for the sending of finely honed, coded messages to those in-the-know.

The only thing standing in the way of the adoption of a branguage is a lack of lexicon. All we need is a key, a generally agreed upon x=this, y=that.

Take the four-boob bra (i.e., a bra so tight, it bifurcates each mammary diagonally, and creates an illusion of four separate breasts). As it stands now, the four-boob job hints at the aw-shucks sexiness of a coltish hay-seed busting out of her clothes (you can practically smell the roll in the hay). But when worn at, say, a political rally, this bra could have an entirely different, and very specific, meaning. A bold statement against the limitations of the two-party system? Support of four-year term limits, perhaps?

A torpedo bra could speak volumes for a lady in support of an increased defense budget, or (depending on how threatening the pointed rack seems) nuclear disarmament.

The wonder bra might indicate a prediction of interest rates on the rise, or it could celebrate the shattering of the glass ceiling (going higher than any woman has gone before)-or the coin-slot-ish cleavage could symbolize a pro-parking meter stance.

And of course nothing says "right to bare arms" like a strapless bra.

The branguage could speak on a personal level as well. In the dating arena, the right bra could offer time-saving insight into the personality, proclivities or mood of its wearer. The semaphoric message sent by a severe lifting-and-separating bra might warn potential suitors that its wearer has recently left her mate, and should be kid-gloved accordingly. An animal-print bra could be the badge of a pet owner, giving allergic-types a heads up about the dander lying in wait at the home of said bra owner. A green bra might hint at the desires of a gold-digger, a red bra could caution onlookers about pre-menstrual irritability, a complete lack of bra might say "I like to swing." Who knows! When it comes to speaking the branguage, the fun is in the learning!