Undie taker

Nicolino spends his every waking moment trying to get women out of their bras.

This would seem to make him pretty normal. Except that Nicolino is actually successful. And not just with a handful here and there. We're talking about a thousand women at a time.

"I'm no pervert. I'm just a regular, normal, body-loving guy," he says in a phone call from California. He is interested in what's inside those bras, yes, but for a very different reason than you might think. He wants to call attention to breast cancer and what he and his colleagues believe might help to prevent it.

As PR, he intends to make a 10-story-high Statue of Liberty- shaped tapestry of your bra and about 40,000 others, of which he has 10,000 so far, While the White House has not confirmed it will accept, Nicolino plans to present the tapestry to President Clinton "not as a dig ... It's a gift, an opportunity to become a feminist hero in America."

Nicolino's colleagues certainly would like the publicity.

Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer, a husband-and-wife team of medical anthropologists, believe that bras may contribute to breast cancer and have written a book about it, "Dressed to Kill."

Two for the show

Their research began for extremely personal reasons: While in Fiji studying the effect of the introduction of Western medicine there, Soma, at two months pregnant, discovered a lump in her breast. She recalled a conversation she had had with a Fijian woman who saw her bras hanging out on the clothesline and asked what they were. The woman reacted to the idea of breast elevation with puzzlement: It was alien to her culture. This prompted a consideration of clothing as a cultural contributor to healthy or unhealthy lifestyles.

Because of their tightness, the team says, bras suppress the lymphatic system, which flushes toxins from the body. And if you bind a certain area as bras do, you're preventing the lymphatic system from working, leaving that area more vulnerable to damage and disease. We all know that if shoes are too tight or too high they can screw up your feet and even cause back problems. Men are advised to switch from binding briefs to roomier boxers if they want to increase fertility. It only follows that wearing bras, perhaps excessively, perhaps of a type that are too tight or otherwise distorting, can't be kind to your body.

This, coupled with some of the couples in their BBC (Bras and Breast Cancer) Study -- which involved interviews with 4,700 women -- makes you sit up and take notice. It may not make you trash your expensive underthings, but it definitely makes you more aware of that strap digging into your shoulder.

So the team of Grismaijer-Singer gets you to get rid of the bras, and then Nicolino gets free materials for his massive mammary memorials. Everybody wins, right? But what about you? What do you get?

Well, you could get to be a part of a great and bizarre work of art. And who knows, if Nicolino comes to Florida, you just may get invited to the party.

The last time Bra Man came to Orlando, he was here for five minutes. The train pulled into the station downtown and a sleepy, demure man got out and approached me. We chatted. I gave him the stuff. It was like a drug deal, except that no money changed hands. What changed hands were bras. Your bras.

High-wire act

Acting as a Special Bra Agent, I had collected the garments from readers for Nicolino when he was planning to stretch his tapestry across the Grand Canyon, a plan now abandoned because of logistics. He was grateful, but I doubted I would ever see him or the lacy underthings ever again.

But now the team is touring the U.S. and Canada, and hope to make it to Tampa if there is enough support (so to speak) for a project there. They'll be inviting women to to participate in their study by going bra-free for a month and reporting whether they feel healthier, and to tie a bra into the tapestry, which Nicolino says will be launched with "five-foot in diameter, helium-filled, pink laytex breasts."

A stirring artistic statement indeed. But going without a bra for a month? A lot of us would be afraid of looking, well, let's be honest, kind of sloppy. But my friend Carol is more optimistic: "At my age," she says, "I find that going braless pulls the wrinkles out of my face."

Sadly, the bra tapestry won't draw as much attention to the issue of breast cancer as the death of Linda McCartney. But thank God for the comic relief of innovative theatrics. Nicolino is a good and tenacious guy, and if you want to show him some support by depriving yourself of just a little, send a bra to the National Bra Tapestry, P.O. Box 1369, Poway, CA, 92064, or call them at (619) 513-1577.

Support Can Be Beautiful. And kinda funny.


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