The Underwire Paradox: Why We Put Up with What We Hate

It’s the Underwire Paradox.

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

It’s that painful feeling, right here. Not a bite, not a pinch, but still enough to make you pause and say what is that?

The Challenge

If you’ve ever worn a bra with an underwire, you know this feeling, and some women have gone so far as to never go near an underwire again. Other women tolerate the discomfort until the underwire situation has advanced to a critical stage: chafing and poking until it hurts.

How does that even happen?

Underwire fans and haters alike know that eventually the underwire bra you love today will turn on you tomorrow. Your support undergarment relationship will be over, but you quite literally felt it coming.

The Paradox

The paradox is that 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 first adjust the girls and then the bra. Soon the seam that contains the wire begins to fray, 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. 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

Your tolerance for underwire chafing is similar to the tolerance for other disagreeable situations in your life. You allow the discomfort 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.

Soon, though you have to make more frequent adjustments, until you are finally worn and changed from all the rearranging, and sometimes you develop emotional and even physical scars. Who you are and how you wish to appear becomes significantly altered because you allowed the situation to change you

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

The underwire requires 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.

You can – and must — avoid death by underwire.

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.


A workplace with opposing philosophical values is the same thing.

Even though systems/the environment/your 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. You find yourself being worn down rather than transformed.

Bad habits begin innocently enough.

Just one drink, one cigarette, one day without exercise, letting an abusive situation continue one more time  . . . these conditions may not seem so bad at first. 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. You fill up with the kind of negative energy that either angers you or victimizes you until you decide to move on.

Often those who make a change and move on look back at their situations 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 it or replace it.


No one has to live under constant chafing.

Friends, coworkers, and especially coaches can help us discover what’s fraying. They encourage us to take action. By removing what no longer serves, you may discover that your positive energy gives you freedom in achieving your goals.

Check your underwire often.

Refuse to operate in victim mode.

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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