Breasts and body image in puberty
Teenage years, or puberty, is the time of many changes, and of course for girls, one of those changes is they develop breasts. Many teenagers worry about their breasts not developing early enough or at the same pace as their friends. For them, developing (or the lack of it) becomes a source of anxiety and stress - and some teens have even committed suicide over it! Yet for other girls, seeing their breasts budding makes them feel embarrassed and uncomfortable about their own body. They may not want to undress in front of other girls or even their own mom.
And it's not just the teenagers. By age thirteen, 53 percent of American girls are unhappy with their bodies; but by age seventeen, 78 percent are dissatisfied. By far the majority of adult women in the US are not happy with their breasts. The proof of that is that so many women (well over 200,000 in year 2002) choose breast implants, a risky procedure that can impair their health and forces them to have several surgeries afterwards and eventually have the implants removed. Why is this so? What causes teens to agonize over their breast development instead of observing it with thrill and joy, with the realization, "I'm maturing!"? What causes women to worry so much about their breast size as part of their body image?
The answer is laid out on the billboards, magazine ads, media and television. Practically every single woman you see in advertisements is extremely slim and has huge breasts, which are depicted as a sexual organ that catches the male's attention. Women and girls in the United States are bombarded by those pictures all day long, so it is no wonder most girls and women therefore start believing (at least subconsciously) it is the ideal form of female body and that they should strive for it too.
But those models have had everything possible done to make their breasts appear bigger: first of all many of them get breast implants and use pads in bras. Then after that, the photographer can use a special
lens to make one body part show up bigger than the rest, and you can also be sure that if need be, all those
photographs in advertisements are retouched and made to look just right with the help of computer. IT IS NOT REAL!
Media also always depicts breasts as something guys supposedly want to see. That is the way the whole society, including probably your mother, believes in North America. However, things are different in many other countries and cultures around the world. In Europe women can walk on topless beaches, and men don't look at their breasts with special interest. It is a 'no big deal' type of thing. Seeing a breastfeeding mom does not cause people to become 'offended' or embarrassed. In some cultures, like native Indians or most Africans, women are or were topless on everyday basis. To them, breasts are like elbows or ankles to us: just a body part that everybody has, nothing that special, nothing to hide about.
About a 100 years ago, woman's ankles were considered 'sexual', so they were hidden from view, and men anxiously wanted to see a bare ankle. Isn't that funny? Just think if in today's world all women suddenly covered their noses with some kind of piece of fabric, just leaving the bottom open for breathing. Then soon everybody would be curious about noses and would want to see a bare nose. And, believe it or not, eventually some men would desperately want to 'peek in' because they would normally never be allowed to see a woman's nose, whereas all women would at least see their own. It could turn into an 'obsession' even.
But we know there's nothing about noses that would make them especially interesting body parts for men and boys to look at. Some noses are big, some are small, some are more curved this way or the other way, but they all are just plain ol' noses, we've all seen plenty of them and we don't think anything special about seeing a nose.
Maybe you think my illustration is silly. But it's not that far-fetched. It is happening EVEN NOW. In
Muslim countries women are required to cover their whole face with a vale, except for eyes. A woman's face (including the nose) is a taboo. Men can't see it, and are then extremely curious. Whatever you make to be a taboo, then becomes a source of curiosity and obsession.
The purpose of the nose is to be a passageway for the air we breathe in, to filter impurities out, and to be a house for the sense of smell. Do you know what is the purpose of female breast? If you have studied breast anatomy, you know that inside, breast is filled with milk lobules that produce milk, and milk ducts that carry the milk to the nipple. Then there is fatty and connective tissue to fill the breast, and that's it. Breasts are intended to make milk for the baby that the woman has born into this world. It's that simple.
Many people argue at this and say that breasts have a dual function: being a sexual object AND for breastfeeding. But anatomically or physiologically there is nothing in the breast to make it a part in human procreation. It's just the image created by television and magazines that almost everybody in the USA believes.
Now, breasts are of course a very feminine body part. Just like long hair and curved hips, they signal that a person is of the female sex. In fact, the word "sexual" can simply mean "pertaining to either male/female sex", and in that sense you could say breasts are sexual. It is just fine and commendable that men view female breasts as feminine, as something that accentuates that the person is mature and capable of feeding her children as God intended. Breastfeeding is a wonderful and beautiful process of nourishing and comforting your offspring with your own body. There is nothing wrong if men and boys appreciate breasts for their real purpose and see them as 'sexual' in the sense of 'pertaining to the feminine sex, something making the person very much female, a woman, a MOTHER who cares about her
Breasts of practically all shapes and sizes can breastfeed just fine, because the amount of fatty tissue in breast has nothing to do with the milk making. Even women with totally flat chest can breastfeed. They just didn't have the fat and connective tissue develop as most women do. In fact, I'm sure you've seen pictures of dogs and cats nursing their babies, the little puppies or kittens. They just have protruding nipples, and the milk making apparatus is just underneath the skin without any big mount outside. But then take for example the cow. She has a big huge udder with several teats for her one calf to suck on
When it comes to animals, everybody thinks that breastfeeding is just the normal way to go, nothing to hide about. If women in United States and other western societies influenced by it would breastfeed more openly in public, it would help so much to do away with this secrecy and hiding aspect of breasts. Kids and teenagers growing up NEED to see the real function of breasts! If they don't see breastfeeding moms, they might get the impression that bottle-feeding is the 'normal' way or that there is something 'bad' and 'dirty' about breastfeeding. Nothing could be further from truth! Tons of scientific studies show how bottle-feeding is inferior to breast-feeding: it makes babies more sick, less intelligent, more prone to die etc.
As a young unmarried girl, try to see your breasts, however much they have or have not developed, simply as a future source of milk and comfort for your baby. It won't matter what shape or size they are at all!
Even men, if normal, appreciate the woman more for her character than for the exact shape or size of her breasts (or her elbow/nose/waist/etc). True, men like women who appear feminine instead of 'tough' and masculine, and breasts are a part of that femininity. Breasts signal that you have matured, that you can be a mother and feed your babies (but remember the flat-chested women can breastfeed as well). However, in teenage years marriage is still probably quite far from your thoughts - and it should be. For now, just concentrate on your studies, hobbies, and other interests, because when you do get married and have babies, first of all you won't have time for those anymore, and secondly your interests WILL suddenly totally change - you'll fall in love with your baby!
Normal breast development and teenagers worries
More questions and answers about breast development
Normal breasts photos - pictures of natural women's breasts
Visitor comments from breast gallery page
Sources and resources:
I want to highly recommend the article Breasts and self-image by Mary D. Brown.
Mirror, mirror - A summary of research findings on body image
Female dissatisfaction with appearance - poor body-image - begins at a very early age. Up to 8 out of 10 women are dissatisfied by what they see in the mirror.
Body Image & the Media... What's the connection?
The Media trends from 1890's till today. What all is done to make the images in the media to appear flawless.
An interview with Sharleen Jonasson, the author of "It's My Body and I'll Cry If I Want To".
"I was recently in the U.K., and I took the opportunity to peruse a few British editions of magazines on every North American news stand. ... One of the first things I noticed was a different attitude toward nudity. Take, for example, an ad I must've seen a hundred times in women's magazines here, where a model stands, presumably in front of a mirror, with nothing on but a man's shirt that is open but covering most of her breasts. In the British version of the same ad, the model's breasts are fully exposed. (Do we have a no-nipple policy over here?)
Something else I noticed was a photo spread of naked women, a regular-readers-of-the-magazine kind of group – ordinary women, naked, women with breasts and buttocks and waists of varying sizes and shapes, thighs with dimples – it was startling! And why? Because we almost never see bodies of ordinary women in the pages of magazines. Full frontals and rear-views of these women, pages and pages of women posing happily naked, not looking a bit apologetic. The purpose of this realistic nudity? To show examples of different body types. ...
But the thing was, I was amazed at how, immediately, I felt better about my own body. Because I defy any woman to look at a model in a magazine and not, on some level, compare herself to that model."
Their Bodies, Ourselves: Mothers and Daughters Looking Good
How to help your daughter to develop a healthy body image.
Body Image & Advertising
A summary of statistics figures relating to body image