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.

We collect countless memories of our breasts over the years, some so intense they deserve their own multisyllabic German phrase: test driving your first training bra; nursing your newborn in the wee hours of her life; eyeing the mammogram machine with cold antagonism. Women are united by these experiences, but we move through them alone. And each one of us must tackle the ongoing work of embracing our particular thoracic inheritance. Maybe you’ve not quite made peace with your wonky right nipple or your too-dark areolas or your mastectomy scars. Perhaps you’ve given your pair affectionate nicknames, or said “Screw it” and bought yourself new ones. To have breasts is to endlessly navigate the continuum between wishing for them desperately and wishing them away entirely.

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:

We wanted to hear from real, live women — 40 of whom bravely doffed their tops at a photo shoot held in Toronto last April. It was an emotional day: women who’d just undergone mastectomies, who had (or were imminently expecting) children, and some who had lived with insecurity for most of their lives — all of them opened up that day, sharing their hang-ups and joys with us.

Photos, May Truong.

Photos, May Truong.

What has become abundantly clear is that whether our breasts are feeding a family, heading south like migratory birds or alerting you to an oncoming cold front, it behooves us to take a good, long look, and to appreciate our breasts — at least once in a while. Asymmetry, illness, nipple hair, cleavage and all.

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