Breasts: An owner's manual

They're not just a source of lurid fascination or life-threatening disease. An exploration of the complex relationship women have with their breasts.

Breasts: An Owner's Manual | Chatelaine

How women really feel about their breasts

Inside the complex, consuming, sexy, sore and personal relationship we have with our breasts.

Photos, May Truong.

Photos, May Truong.

If you’ve carted a pair of breasts around for most of your life, you’ll know that they are much more than Instagram gold for “empowered” celebrities, shelves for expensive lingerie or a potential ticking time bomb when it comes to our health. But conversations about these organs tend to get stuck in either the sexual or the clinical. That’s a shame, because our relationship with our breasts — probably more than any other part of us — is so charged and deeply personal.

The way we feel about our breasts factors into just about every aspect of our lives: from puberty, self-esteem and sexuality to health, motherhood and aging. So Chatelaine set out to explore the longstanding, complicated relationship women have with their chests. Some things we found out:

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Boob diaries: 6 women share their breast hang-ups and joys

Stories of breastfeeding six children, going bra-less for decades, shopping for new breasts and more.

I breastfed not one, not four, but six children
I was a modest 32A at my wedding; I went up to a DD bra during pregnancy. But I felt much more in love with my breasts as they were developing, and I appreciate my breasts a lot more now: These puppies are tough. I make incredible milk and tons of it, which is the ace in my back pocket if I ever need to quiet a fussy toddler. My nipples always protruded a bit, but thanks to six kids, they’re always out now. My husband measures them in Smarties. And my breasts are still highly functional sexually — even if they’re these saggy, empty, stretch-marked pancake-looking-type things. Even if they look like bottle tops.

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So That Happened: A brief history of breasts

Given society’s squeamishness with naked breasts, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’ve always been boob-phobic. But our ancestors weren’t as prudish.

What I’d tell my teenage self about breasts

With a lifetime of experience, 10 women share what they wish they’d known about their breasts sooner.


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14 bras for the pragmatist or the provocateur

Whether you’re in the market for some saucy underthings or a comfy workhorse, you’ll find it here.


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Everything you want to know about breasts — and then some

How common are inverted nipples? When do breasts stop growing? Do bras make you saggy? We’ve got answers to all your breast questions.

Illustration, Leeandra Cianci.

Illustration, Leeandra Cianci.

We consulted Dr. Brett Beber, a plastic surgeon at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital, as well as a stack of medical textbooks and studies, for the answers to your questions about your breasts.

What are these things, actually?
Here is the scientific (and outrageously unsexy) answer: The breast is essentially a modified sweat gland made up of fatty, glandular and fibrous tissue.

When do breasts stop growing — if ever?
Your breasts usually stop developing when you’re 18 or 19, but thanks to pregnancy, menopause and weight gain or loss, they’ll continue to change throughout your lifetime.

Are they meant to be the same size?
Your breasts are not supposed to be mirror images of each other — think of them as sisters, not twins.

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5 things your breasts can teach you about your health

Illustration, Diana Duong.

Illustration, Diana Duong.

Considering your breasts change over your lifetime — and to a lesser degree over the course of a month — it’s important to understand the connection between them and your hormones.

Here are five ways to better understand your breasts, their connection to your health and how you can use this knowledge to reduce your risk of breast cancer.

1. Breast tenderness says a lot about your hormones
You might experience severe breast swelling and discomfort some months, while others reveal less distinct warning signs that your menstrual cycle is right around the corner. But know that if, when, and where you have soreness says a lot about your hormones. Read the full story >>