Tolerance, Complacency, and the Underwire Paradox

Women have had a love-hate relationship with underwires since their arrival under the scene in the 1890s. Designed to shape, lift and support, they also bind, constrict and pinch. Relationships, careers and even habits can seem the same way.

It’s that pinching feeling just, well, there. Not a bite, not a pinch, but still enough to make the victim pause and say what is that?

The Challenge

Anyone who has worn a bra with an underwire knows this feeling, and some women have gone so far as to never go near an underwire again. Other women embrace the feeling until the underwire situation has advanced to a critical stage: chafing and, ultimately, poking.

How does that even happen? Underwire fans and tolerants of the underwire know that eventually the underwire bra you love today will turn on you tomorrow. The relationship will eventually be over, and you felt it coming. Like the beginning of any relationship, you spend as much time together as possible, going everywhere together, never wanting to be apart.

The Paradox

The paradox is you can’t imagine being without your underwire bra, even though you know it will become uncomfortable. It may even hurt.

Then, like many relationships, the newness begins to wear off. In the case of the underwire bra, the wire begins to chafe and rub, just a little. You adjust the girls and then the bra. Soon the seam that contains the wire frays, and one thread loosens.

You know what’s happening, but it’s just one thread, for heaven’s sake, not the whole seam. And yes, the fabric is worn, but you can tend to it later. So you allow the situation to continue. More fraying, more adjusting, more poking, more delaying. How bad can it be, anyway? It’s obvious that the situation is discomforting, and yet you permit it to continue, and in doing so, become an enabler, as it were, to a chafing underwire.

When is enough enough?

Our Tolerance Levels

The tolerance level for death by underwire is similar to the tolerance for other disagreeable situations in your life. You allow the discomfort – the worn thread hardly noticeable at first – to chafe a little more each day. It’s not too bad at first, something you can live with. A slight adjustment takes care of the difficulty; you go on, even though the chafing becomes more pronounced.

An adjustment is needed more frequently, until you are finally worn and changed  from all the adjusting and rearranging, and sometimes you develop scars. Who you are and how you wish to appear becomes significantly altered because you gave the situation permission to change you.

The real danger is that you may allow yourself to be changed into something you did not wish to become.

The underwire requires that you make a decision. You either allow the underwire to continue its torture or  you stop it. Taking action is the only way to stop the destruction, either through repair or replacement. Death by underwire can be avoided.

Fixing the Problem

Relationships, careers, and even bad habits can also benefit from repair or replacement. When things aren’t right, you want to fix them, adjust, rearrange, make repairs, and return to what was before. There are times that the thread cannot be reattached, the wire is too bent, and the fabric is too frayed from keeping the underwire from poking its victim. Women (and men) who tolerate bad relationships “because maybe the other person will change” are living the Underwire Paradox. We continue in pain because it’s not so bad right now. It could get better, you tell yourself.


The workplace that operates with opposing philosophical values is the same thing. Even though systems/environments/our colleagues aren’t what you thought they might be, it’s not so bad that you can’t handle it. You can tolerate a little poking and chafing; that’s what grown ups do. Eventually you develop the scar tissue that keeps it from hurting so much. Putting up with inconvenient truth and obvious values differences are slowly changing you. The water that carved the Grand Canyon created a landscape of beauty. The wind that wears down the mountaintop leaves nothing behind.

Bad habits begin innocently enough. Just one drink, one cigarette, one day without exercise, one more act of resentment . . . these conditions are not so bad at first, even agreeable. As habits and acceptance become de rigueur, you begin to experience a little poking here and there until finally the underwire digs into flesh. You ignore it and go on. “It’s only a flesh wound,” you say.

It is then you choose to remain an enabler and live as a victim. “I’d like to quit, but . . . ” and “I would leave if only . . . ” is how you trick yourself into one more day, and then another. You become so used to the situation that you no longer see it for what it is. You put up with whatever situation you find yourself in. Angry or victimized, you are filled with negative energy until you decide to move on.

Often those who make a change and move on look back at their situation and wonder why they put up with it for so long. It was the Underwire Paradox. It was the inability to recognize the situation for what it was and do something about it immediately – either repair or replace.

No one has to live under constant chafing.


Friends, coworkers, and especially coaches can help us discover what’s fraying and guide us through taking action. You can remove what doesn’t work and exude positive energy that gives us freedom in achieving our goals.

Refuse to operate in victim mode. Check your underwire often. When it’s time to let go, it’s time to let go. Taking care of yourself is what separates you from others still trapped by the Underwire Paradox.

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