Launched in 2020, Boob Armour (which is officially licensed by the AFL and AFLW) was founded by Suzie Betts with the sole ambition of giving more women and girls the confidence to play impact sports while protecting their breasts from injury.
A world-first for women’s sport, Boob Armour inserts are designed to provide breast support and to minimise unwanted movement during running, as well as absorb impact to alleviate injury to breast tissue.
The inserts are made from a soft but strong polyethylene that is just two millimetres thick. These inserts extend around the underarm for added protection, stabilising the breasts into position and are easily insertable into a sports bra.
Inspired by personal experience, Betts sought medical research for the need of protective inserts for women. What she found was an underwhelming lack of attention given to the issue, and furthermore, that the products designed to do the job were ill-suited to the vast majority of women.
To start off, what is Boob Armour?
Suzie Betts: So, Boob Armour is protective inserts for girls playing contact, impact and ball sport. They’re two-millimetre-thick polyethylene inserts that you slot into your sport bra or crop top pre-match. A lot of girls obviously don’t want to have anything heavy in any shape or form, and the inserts weigh about fifteen grams each.
Once they’re in, you’re basically invincible. You could get kicked; you could get punched – you won’t feel a thing. By absorbing the impact (which is what the polyethylene does) it actually alleviates any injuries.
What inspired you to initiate the Boob Armour project? How did it all come together?
Suzie Betts: In 2018, I found lumps in my breast. And the first thing my cancer surgeon asked me was whether I had received a trauma, which I found strange at the time. What I’ve since found out is trauma lumps, which present themselves later in life, can present themselves as breast cancer cells. Even through MRIs and ultrasounds can’t differentiate between them. So, you have to go down the path of what I did – biopsies and three lots of surgery to find out I didn’t have breast cancer (which I never thought I had) – to find out the lumps were a result of a trauma I received when I was younger.
So, with that in mind I had two girls who played AFLW and basketball and after asking them about their experiences they acknowledged that they’re hit in the boobs all the time whilst playing. From thereI began to look for research and found that basically, globally there’d been really nothing in terms of studies.
There’d been a study done in America in regard to football that had found out that out of 90 girls playing, 50% had reported sustaining a breast injury. And most of them hadn’t reported it to anyone. Part of the challenge would’ve been that most of the coaches were male at the time so it would’ve been difficult for the players to talk about and the guys aren’t going to ask about it. 12% of those girls actually said that the injury had affected their participation.
So, I went in search of what there was to protect girls’ boobs and really came across nothing except products that were unsuitable. So, we’ve made sure that our shells encapsulate the shape of the breasts and we’ve got seven sizes; so, there’s a size for everyone.
Originally, my background wasn’t in football it was in Aussie Rules. But as we’ve gone along, we’ve had a lot of interest from Europe and the United Kingdom in regards to football and rugby as well. And so, it dawned on me about how many girls were avoiding chest passing in football. [From there] what we’ve found is a lot of parents who previously avoided letting their kids play football, rugby or Aussie Rules are now letting them play.
Has it been a challenge to educate and get people on board with the product?
Suzie Betts: Absolutely it has been a challenge. Because even though we’re talking female sport and it has been around for years, it’s still run a lot by men. No one really has thought about those injuries and that’s why the research hasn’t been there.
Not until 2020 was anything done in regards to AFL injuries, which saw 207 girls who were playing AFL and rugby surveyed. About 60% of them said that they had had a breast injury and most of them have said they couldn’t play on because of it. The numbers are there when they do it but it’s been difficult to get any further research done other than what is available. Only through my own trauma do I know the next steps.
So, opening up the conversation with the male contingent has been the hardest bit and avoidance of talking about it [for years] hasn’t really helped.
Since the launch of Boob Armour, what has the response been like from the overall sporting community?
Suzie Betts: For women this is like the best thing they’ve ever seen. We’ve got some co-ed schools taking on board the point that girls need to be protected in the same way boys are in cricket for example.
And the response has been phenomenal. When the girls put it on the confidence they get for tackles, marking and chest passing is like a newfound confidence, because they know that they can just run through it or have the ability to mark or chest the ball without any injury.
So, it’s been phenomenal but the key is education. All of our medical research and promotion of that education is essential because we want it to be like the mouthguard of the future. We want it to be in every girl’s kit; if you’re getting ready of football you’ve got your shin guards, your mouthguard and your Boob Armour.
[And with it] all the girls play tougher. After every game they say with confidence that they went for it and previously it wasn’t like that without Boob Armour. And in addition, it works to minimise bounce. Another study we found discovered that a lot of teenage girls drop out of sport because they don’t have the right support. So, we don’t want that to be a reason why girls stop playing sport. We need everyone to stay in [sport] for as long as they can, so, if that tiny thing is keeping you away from sport, we’re here to alleviate that problem.
We’re really targeting the grassroots, which is why I am proud to see the young girls wearing it because they’re the ones we’ve got to educate to keep it. Some girls are only going to play for fun but they’ll be protected along the way and that’s the most important thing. It’s all about prevention.