Watch Your Words: The Real Lesson of the French Bra Study
How to create a perfect media storm: Add one part apparent scientific certainty to one part sensationalism, stir in a double dose of sexiness and, for the coupe de grace, sprinkle a little bit of French mystique on top.
That's basically the recipe behind the current media hullaballoo around the suddenly pressing question of the medical merits of wearing a bra. Headline writers fondest dreams were fulfilled recently when a little known French scientist (with a background in sports medicine) named Jean-Denis Rouillon went on a student radio program to announce that for 15 years, he'd been minutely measuring the breasts of more than 300 young women. His primary finding? They achieved 7 millimeters more perkiness if they went sans brassiere.
Predictably, the result was an avalanche of snark (Gawker, as usual, provides a prime example) with some commentators sardonically praising Roullion's personal dedication to the advance of scientific knowledge; through such, ahem, arduous research. Miley Cyrus even declared that she never wears a bra (I'm sure you were dying to know).
Well, we can all pull out our mothers' bra-burning manuals then, right? Not so fast. Roullion has responded to the firestorm of coverage with bemusement, trying to walk back his comments by noting again and again in follow-up stories that his findings are preliminary and unpublished, and that the research only looked at younger women so has absolutely no advice to offer older women or mothers.
Why This Whole Thing Matters to You
Of course, that's working about as well as trying to shout over a screaming mob. Which is the real lesson for business owners. These early results clearly have little bearing on anyone's apparel choices, but they should teach us all something about communications.
You can't put the genie back in the bottle, so think carefully about what you say no matter how obscure the media outlet.
In a world where news travels instantly and globally to the thousands of outlets voraciously hungry for content, sex appeal matters far more in how widely a story spreads than the original channel in which it was introduced (or, even sometimes, its level of veracity).
In a wired world, whisper something genuinely attention-grabbing on your little-known company blog and don't be surprised to see it on CNN 12 hours later, so make very sure you're certain about what you say before you say it.
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.