breasts: everything you ever wanted to know...
THE HUMAN CONDITION ... but were too afraid to ask. In Europe, women love and care for their breasts. In Britain we take them for granted. Here, ordinary women talk about their bosoms, while our A-Z guide has all the advice your mother never gave you
Aside from The Independent, Annalisa Barbieri writes for the Economist's Intelligent Life magazine, and the New Statesman. A former contributing editor of the Independent on Sunday and fishing correspondent of the Independent, she is also patron of Rights of Women
Sunday 29 October 1995
BREAST CANCER kills 300 women in the UK every week. It is the leading cause of death in women in the 35-49 age group. The mortality rate has not improved in the last 30 years and cases rose by 12.8 per cent between 1979 and 1990. An estimated one in 12 women in this country will develop the disease; 200 men are also diagnosed every year. Examine your breasts regularly; if you notice any changes, go to your GP. BREAKTHROUGH, set up in 1989, aims to raise pounds 15m to establish a Breast Cancer Research Centre. This would be the first of its kind in the UK and would bring together scientists with the sole aim of finding a cure for this disease (for information, call: 0171 405 5111).
COSMETIC SURGERY If you are considering going under the knife, your first stop should be your GP. He will advise on a reputable surgeon who has a practice in the NHS and is up to date on all the debates on implants and the risks involved. If your GP is not sympathetic then try the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (0171 405 2234), to be on their lists a surgeon has to have been a consultant in the NHS for at least two years.
DIETING Crash dieting can have drastic effects on breasts, leaving them sagging and stretch-marked. It is impossible to spot reduce, so dieting will make you lose weight all over, not just off your breasts (equally, over eating will not give you huge ones, just make you fat). Young girls can also diet trying to stop themselves developing. "At 12, I hated my breasts and everything they represented - adulthood, womanhood and men finding me attractive. For six years, I starved myself to keep my boyish figure. When I started eating, my breasts started growing - and growing. I hated them for five years, but now I love them and have the confidence to deal with the attention they attract," says one ex-anorexic, now the proud owner of a D-cup.
ESSENTIAL READING Patient No More - The Politics of Breast Cancer, by Sharon Batt (Scarlet Press, pounds 10.99) is a prolifically researched and empowering book. One of many interesting claims is that some US physicians refer patients to mammography clinics simply because they have a financial interest in the clinic. Could this happen here? "There is a problem relating to the setting up of mammography clinics based on commercial interests," says Dr Trevor Powles, Head of Breast Unit at the Royal Marsden. "There is no doubt that much money can be made cashing in on the fears of healthy women, which is counter-productive to the aims of early diagnosis, risk assessment, prevention and effective multi-disciplinary treatment in a specialist breast clinic."
FEEDING Women breastfeed for an average of six weeks, and breastfeeding is on the increase (64 per cent of mothers in England and Wales now breastfeed, compared to 51 per cent in 1975). FREDERICO FELLINI was the man responsible for Amarcord, the 1973 film starring a woman with breasts the size of San Francisco. It made a vivid impression on schoolboys, now thirty-somethings, who still remember the posters they ogled on the way to school.
GEORGIAN painters didn't know what nipples looked like (maybe they had sex with their clothes on). Nudes of the period don't appear to have areolae, the dark area surrounding the nipple.
HYDROMASSAGE is massage using water. Clarins manufacture the Model Bust (see product box) which makes hydromassage of the breasts easier. For a cheaper alternative, use the shower to spray them with cold water (for 30-60 seconds). It is said to help tighten the skin and is especially relieving when your breasts are pre-menstrual and feel as if they are full of lead pellets.
INVERTED NIPPLES can be corrected with the Nipplette (from chemists). They work by gentle suction.
JAPAN has the lowest incidence of breast cancer - thought to have something to do with their diet, which is high in Vitamin D (present in oily fish). Britain has one of the highest.
KENTON, JUNE: responsible for getting women into the correct sized bras. Her shop, Rigby and Peller, stocks 91 sizes, from 30AA to 48H. June recommends: an annual fitting, different bras for different activities, changing your bra every day, and using a laundry bag if washing underwired bras by machine. Most heard comment after a woman is fitted with the correct bra: "You've changed my life." Rigby and Peller, 2 Hans Road, London SW3, tel: 0171 589 9293.
LOVE During stimulation of the nipple (either sexually or during lactation) the hormone oxytocin is released from the pituitary gland. This causes uterine activity. After having a baby this helps the uterus get back into shape; during sex this makes you feel nice. Not all men are breast men - but a great many are. "He was so obsessed with my tits he hardly looked at me during sex," moaned one interviewee. "In the end I felt like sticking pictures of me on my breasts with arrows pointing towards my face saying 'Hello, remember me'."
MAIL ORDER If you have breasts that demand a 30H bra or are anything from a C to an H then Bust Stop is for you. They round up the best styles (normal bras, maternity, backless, front-fastening, sexy, supportive and basques) from the major companies in a catalogue. Staff at end of the phone are also extremely helpful. Tel: 0181 943 9733.
NIPPIKINI What we should be calling Chanel's new micro bikini - two nipple covers with the CC logo.
OESTROGEN the hormone naturally produced in the ovaries is thought to be linked to breast cancer. The anti-oestrogen drug, tamoxifen is prescribed to some breast cancer patients, in conjuction with surgery and chemo/ radiotherapy, to block the effects of oestrogen.
PENCIL TEST is supposed to measure how pert your breasts are: if your breast can hold a pencil placed under it, they have sagged. Much better is Dianne Brill's version. In the brilliant Boobs, Boys and High Heels, or How to Get Dressed in Just Under Six Hours (Vermilion, pounds 7.99). She suggests putting your Wonderbra on and seeing if a pencil will stay stuck in your cleavage. This is the only pencil test worth bothering with.
QUESTION put to Penthouse readers in a survey some 10 years back: "What type of breasts do you prefer, small, medium or large". The answer? "All of them."
REGULAR EXERCISE can work your pectorals (chest muscles) but no amount of exercise can work on the breasts themselves as they are made up of fat and tissue, no muscle. Good exercises for your pecs include swimming (breast and back stroke) and press-ups. If you have a large bust it is also worth working on the latissimus dorsi (the large muscles running under your shoulder blades), this will help stop you slouching and getting pains in the trapezius muscles (back of neck and upper shoulder) as these muscles tend to take most of the strain.
SIZE The average size of British breasts is 36B, though most women (70 per cent) are wearing the wrong size bra - usually the size is too big and the cup too small. "Women are frightened by letters beyond C," says June Kenton, "But a lot of women think they're a 36C, for example, when actually they are a 32D." If your hang-up is that yours are too small, acupuncture, according to the British School of Complementary Medicine, "can help to revitalise and increase the hormones which encourages the growth of the breasts". There are no guarantees but it's there if you want it. BSCM, 140 Harley Street, London W1, tel: 0171 224 2394.
"TITS" is the most commonly used of the British slang words for breasts. If you want to stand out from the crowd, try: melons, knockers, jugs, thrupenny bits, Bristols, Manchesters, Jerseys (as in City: titties), boobs, hooters, bazookas, bazoomas, top bollocks, love boats, headlights, cabman's rests (breasts), BSH (British Standard Handfuls), catheads (from the US, a type of biscuit), pillows, puppy dogs, horrorshow groodies (from A Clockwork Orange), love mounds, funbags, Brian McClair (fair pair), team (as in "great team, wonder if she needs a coach"). In France they call them les tetons, nenes, nichons, flotteurs, nibards, doudounes and blobloches. In Italy, le tette, menne, minocchi.
UPLIFT is only possible surgically (although exercise can help, see under R). Mastopexy uplifts sagging breasts by correcting the breast position without necessarily altering the size of the breast. Tricks women do to disguise saggy breasts while making love: stretching their arms up in cat-like fashion (no boys, it's not always because you're so good that your lover reaches for the heavens), hanging from things, blindfolding their lover.
VACCINES against breast cancer don't exist, but an injection containing sialyl-Tn is currently undergoing trials at Guy's Hospital in London. It is hoped to boost the body's response to tumours.
WEARING A BRA can kill you, according to Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer, the authors of Dressed to Kill - The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras (Avery, pounds 9.99). A bra, so the theory goes, suppresses the lymphatic system, causing toxins to accumulate in the breasts. But don't rush to burn your bras yet: in the opinion of Dr Trevor Powles, Head of the Breast Unit at the Royal Marsden: "The data relating to this was unreliable and although it made good publicity it contributes nothing to our understanding of the causes and prevention of breast cancer."
X-RATED The porn industry in this country alone is worth millions. Wouldn't it be nice if just some of the money raised by using breasts for titillation could go towards breast cancer research.
YOUTH Avoid topless sunbathing especially when young (50 per cent of sun damage is done before the age of 18). Youthful breasts like Pamela Anderson's are an ideal, but not a reality for most women. Her contract on Baywatch states that there must be 15 close-ups of her cleavage in every episode - men the land over invest in 50in TV screens.
ZANZARA the Italian for mosquito. Thus "hai un petto come due morsicature di zanzare" is the equivalent of "yours are like bee-stings."
I MUST, I MUST IMPROVE MY BUST
Clarins started selling bust-care products in France in the mid- Sixties. Few British companies specialise in this area: it is a slow moving market in the UK. Whether these creams work better than a simple body lotion is a matter of debate, but if it makes you feel good and you have the money, who can dispute the effects of the feel-good factor? Polly Sellar, Beauty Director at Vogue says: "French women have a different attitude towards their breasts, children watch their mothers splashing their breasts with cold water and go on to do the same. In this country most of us don't even wear proper bras. Gels and creams tighten on the surface, but they can't change what goes on underneath. Sun does most of the damage to skin, so protect against the sun, exercise to keep your pecs in shape and wear a good bra."
CLARINS, for morning: Bust Beauty Tonic , pounds 21, 50ml spray. Bust Beauty Gel, pounds 25, 50ml pump dispenser. For evening: Bust Beauty Lotion, pounds 21, 50ml pump dispenser. Their Model Bust is a plastic cup with hose that you attach to the cold water tap and blasts the breast with cold water, pounds 58.
LANCOME Energibuste creamy gel, pounds 24, 50ml pump dispenser.
ESTEE LAUDER Revelation Retexturing Complex for Hands and Chest pounds 42, 50ml.
THALGO'S Firming Cream for the Bust, pounds 27, 100ml, from selected salons, tel: 0171 512 0872.
SHISEIDO'S Essential Energy Body Care Bust Firming Lotion, pounds 27.50, 100ml. From selected department stores unless stated.
HELEN, 29, BUS DRIVER, 34A.
"I hate mine, they're too small, too droopy, the nipples are too big and there's a motorway down the middle. I'd like them to be bigger for when I have sex. I don't do anything to look after them, although I'd like to if I could be bothered." Jane, 36, Sex Therapist, 36B "I like my breasts, they're unobtrusive and comfortable. I don't do anything to look after them and think it's sad that women feel compelled to spend money on bust creams and the like."
MATHILDA (LEFT), 29, DOCTOR, 36D
"I love and hate my breasts. Love them because when I go to Christmas parties I can wear a push-up bra and have a magnificient cleavage. Hate them because I can't run for buses without knocking passers by out. I swim and do chest exercises and I moisturise my breasts with Vitamin E cream to keep them looking young. I know I should do more. Everyone wants nipples that point up to the ceiling, don't they?"
"I love my breasts, although I'd prefer them to be a little bigger, I look a bit boyish in T-shirts, but not so big that they got in the way. I don't do anything to look after them."
GEORGIA, 22, GRAPHIC DESIGNER, 32A
ROSIE (BELOW), 29, ARCHIVIST, 32D
"I'm very fond of my breasts, they have been quite voluptuous from an early age and that's always an advantage for a girl. Wouldn't mind if they were a bit higher, but I'm not paranoid about it. Do the pec deck at the gym and it works. I'm suspicious of all expensive 'miracle' cosmetics."
ANNA (RIGHT), 25, SECRETARY, 34C ("RISING TO 36C")
"I'm currently indifferent to my breasts, but I loathed them when they first appeared, and disliked them intensely when I was down on my whole body (this coincided with general poor physical self-image when I was bulimic). Now, I'm not nearly as aggressive about my body's 'failures'. I think that women who use bust creams have fallen for yet more corporate guff; women's anxieties about their looks seems an increasing source of revenue for drugs' companies."
"I lavish my breasts with attention - hydromassage with cold water once a day and apply gels, all by Clarins. I also work on my pecs with press ups, swimming, weights. My bust care is an extension of the general care I take of my body; it really doesn't take long, a few minutes out of 24 hours isn't much, and I think the results are worth it. Yes, people do think I am strange, but my mother is French and I grew up with a different attitude - I was using eye-cream at 15."
JOSETTE, 32, WRITER, 34DD
"I love my breasts most of the time, except when I'm premenstrual. They make me feel feminine and sexy and look great when displayed in a decollete evening outfit. I started looking after them about five years ago, I gradually became aware of products on the market and now I splash them with cold water in the morning and occasionally use Clarins bust tonic or gel. I also exercise. I do notice a difference using the creams, the skin feels firmer for a while, but it isn't permanent. If they sagged I would have them lifted slightly."
LILY, 29, PA, 38D
"I have a healthy indifference to my breasts, although I'd hate it if they sagged. I don't really do anything to look after breasts apart from exercising my pecs to keep them afloat. I only know one person who uses creams and stuff like that, and I respect and admire them. I'd consider surgery if they got saggy after childbirth, but never silicone."
SUSAN, 29, SOLICITOR, 32C
JESSICA (LEFT), 22, FLORIST, 34B
"I love my breasts. I used not to have any but then they grew and now I love them - I like their shape. I don't do anything to look after them. I'd consider special bust creams in a few years and would use them if I were pregnant."
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