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Celebration of the Breast is a set of calendars (two versions – Vital and Taboo) that my doula, Nicole Deelah of Sage Beginnings Doula Services, proposed as a project earlier this month. We immediately had the perfect photographer in mind: the open-minded, open-hearted Blue Fitzcarraldo of Blue Fitz Photography.
The primary goal was to raise some funds for Intact Houston, the local not-for-profit chapter of The INTACT Network/Saving Our Sons that I co-direct. Promoting body positivity, releasing stigmas, and fostering acceptance and education about female breasts was just icing on the cake.
Because these are calendars, after all, the clock was running against us. We set up a shoot for later that same week and held an open call for any and all women who wished to participate in either (or both) versions of the calendar. Many were happy to be featured in both, while others chose to volunteer for one or the other.
Of course, the first month of the year is nearly behind us, so it’s prime time to tack a 2017 calendar to the wall if we haven’t already. What I love perhaps most about this set is the photos are gorgeous — they could be displayed individually or as a collage, even without the calendar pages. For aesthetics or function, it’s really up to you!
Below I’ve detailed some of concepts/themes that inspired Celebration of the Breast.
At the cusp of adolescence, marked between our legs by what has historically been viewed as its own scarlet letter, a child enters maidenhood. If she’s lucky, she’ll find support, wisdom, and promise of her power in bloom. Otherwise, shame, embarrassment, confusion, depression, and self-loathing may become a new norm.
Our first chance to hearten and validate a young woman comes long before this event, however. Breasts budding into something less childlike may be one of the first changes that suggest much else new on the horizon.
Breasts are so important, they develop many years before they will be needed for their purpose. In fact, breasts make their very first appearance during the sixth week of embryonic development when milk lines (mammary ridges) are formed.
The process is begun in males too, even though they will never need to nourish a child with their chest. Sometimes babies of either gender even produce a bit of ‘witch’s milk’ a few days after birth as a result of mom’s lingering lactation hormones that passed to the baby in utero.
Male breasts have all the same components as female breasts, however the ducts remain undeveloped. Male breasts can look more like female breasts if they gain fatty tissue, though many females have virtually no fatty tissue on their chests and that’s normal, too (our culture is just not used to seeing female breasts that look this way). Male ‘pecs’ are the result of building up the pectoral muscles, which females can do as well.
So we celebrate new breasts in the formative season of life. We honor their influence upon growth, puberty and cycles, and hope for new conception for those who choose to start families.
In our attempts to re-normalize the primary functions of breasts, we’ve swung perhaps too wildly at them as symbols of sexuality when it would help our efforts to simply redirect this power back where it belongs — in the hands of women.
In our culture, intentionally presented cleavage, lacy/fetish costuming, or visible areolas are considered signals of ‘the sexual breast.’ Unfortunately for the voyeur, the idea of the ‘peek-a-boo nipple’ is merely a pervasive social construct and not necessarily an invitation to sexual engagement.
Did you know humans are the only mammal of which the female’s breasts remain enlarged after puberty, not just during pregnancy? How mysterious and intriguing!
One theory is that when our predecessors began walking upright, the breasts evolved to become a ‘frontal counterpart’ to the buttocks. Other ideas include: breasts are also meant to act as cushions for infants’ heads while bedsharing; are a form of competition between females to prove maidenhood; and possibly, that noticeably present breast tissue is really just ‘an evolutionary flaw’ (hey, nature…it happens).
“The shape of the human breast may reflect a compromise between sexual signaling and feeding functionality. Human breasts are much larger than in other primates, possibly because they serve as costly signals of fecundity and access to sufficient food resources…So it may be that sexual selection puts pressure on females to develop more obvious and costly signals of their fertility and quality at the cost of complicating nursing.” – Anthony A. Volk, Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology
So we celebrate the inborn sexual potential of breasts. We honor a woman’s choice to express or exhibit this potential however she chooses, because her pleasure is real and important too.
With a recent deluge of Tree of Life Picsart brelfies, anyone with a social media newsfeed was given an education about what the lactation system really is. It’s a tree! A life-giving tree!
“The lactation system inside your breasts resemble a tree. The milk glands (the leaves) are grapelike clusters of cells high up in the breast that make milk. Milk travels from these glands down through the milk ducts (the branches). These ducts then widen beneath the areola (the dark area surrounding the nipple), forming milk sinuses (the tree trunk), which then empties into the approximately twenty openings in your nipple (like the channels going down to the roots of the tree).” – Dr. Sears
Upon closer inspection, we made some other connections. A positive relationship with our breasts can be grounding. It can help connect us to our primal, mammalian selves, and to Mother Earth.
So we celebrate our place here as nurturing beings. We honor our breasts’ role in restoring our humanity and the Sacred Feminine.
There is a wide variety of breast appearances, and all are actually ‘normal.’ Despite what fashion magazines and airbrushed media want us to believe, there’s no right way to have breasts, no true ideal for such a subjective thing as their beauty.
While generally all are normal looking, a breast is considered normal in function if it has enough milk ducts to make milk for a potential baby, regardless if they end up being put to work in the milk factory.
There is no ‘breed’ most suitable for breastfeeding: flat, heavy, pointy, long, tall, grande, venti… they can all get the job done just as effectively! Even great variations in storage capacity between women is totally normal, and it doesn’t affect breastfeeding in any way other than how often a baby will need to nurse.
However, there are a few less usual breast anomalies, some of which may limit milk production. (Learn more about them here).
So we celebrate the wide variety of breast shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities. We honor the ‘normal,’ the anomalies, the surprising… Natural or altered, decorated or bare, all are unique, all are suitable, all tell stories that are beautiful in their own right.
Mother’s Day is this month. (Don’t tell me you forgot?!).
Breasts undergo changes throughout the month right along with our wombs. The fluctuating hormones that charge our cycles are also responsible for symptoms like tenderness, swelling, achieving a more symmetrical look around ovulation, building ducts during pregnancy, and releasing (or drying up) milk during postpartum.
Fun fact: Breastfeeding can be used as natural birth control as it delays postpartum ovulation and menstruation. Also called Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM), it has a typical user protection effectiveness rate of 95-99% in the first six months after birth for an exclusive nurser. Comparatively, other birth control methods such as pills, implants, patches, hormone rings and so on, have typical user effectiveness rates of 92-98%, while vasectomy and tubal ligation estimates are 97-99%.
Though it’s possible to stimulate lactation without having been pregnant, a woman’s body most often needs to have given birth to produce milk (or colostrum during pregnancy). In this way, making milk is nature’s mark of a mother. (Certainly not the only mark, as many women who have never been pregnant or who don’t produce milk are also mothers).
Discussions of fertility, pregnancy, and birth always stir up questions of “How do we define a mother?” and “What makes a mother?”
As always, the best answer to any unsettled question is “Mother knows best.”
So we celebrate the breast’s role in fertility, maternity, and sustaining creation. We honor the shared wisdom between womb and breast during the motherhood phase of life.
Our species (mammal) is literally defined by breasts (mammaries).
Sitting just over the heart chakra, the breast is the closest an external organ will ever get to simulating a womb, and the closest we’ll ever get to what nature intended to be our first tastes, smells, and feels.
The Greek word for galaxy (Galaxia) comes from the Greek word for milk (gala). Hence, we have the origin for both “The Milky Way” and the term for lactation-boosting components called ‘galactogogues.’
So we celebrate the energy centers of our breasts as representing our roots, a return to home. We honor the spiritual influence of breasts as an external source of internal healing for new souls.
How free are we if nursing in a public location is specifically legal in 46 states but harassing a mother for doing so is not enforced?
“Two U.S. states do not protect a mother’s right to nurse her child in public: WVa and ID. Three additional states only exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws: WY, SD, MI. ” – Nursing Freedom
How free if we must censor our areolas in social media photos on grounds of ‘Graphic Violence’ or ‘Pornography’ simply because they are female areolas?
How free if our public toplessness in the same places as perfectly legal topless males is grounds for arrest? It’s required by law (in all these US states/cities) to keep breasts and nipples covered, even in the same places where topless male breasts (yes, they have breast tissue) and male nipples are considered acceptable to expose.
In my city of Houston, female breasts are categorized the same as genitalia. In Sec. 28-18, Public Nudity (Code 1968, § 28-42.2; Ord. No. 70-411, § 1, 3-18-70; Ord. No. 72-904, § 1, 6-2-72):
“It shall be unlawful for any person to appear on any public street, sidewalk, alley, or other public thoroughfare, in or such close proximity thereto, as to be observed by the public traveling on such street, sidewalk, or other public thoroughfare, in a state of complete nudity, or in such a manner of dress or of undress in a manner which exposes to the public view such person’s genitalia and/or buttocks, and in the case of a female, the female breasts.”
The female body is not inherently criminal by anatomy alone. To learn more about female breast censorship, read my post “I Want The Choice To Keep My Top on Instead of a Law That Says I Must” and “What You Need To Know About ‘Free The Nipple.’” For breastfeeding in public laws, click here.
We will feed and comfort our babies whenever and wherever. We will enjoy and care for our bodies instead of fearing them, regardless if others may find this attitude threatening.
So we celebrate the deserved freedom of the breast. We honor its possession by its owner alone — not by anyone else, be it a partner, a nursling, a censorship hound, or a lawmaker.
Why is a special month necessary for recognition of breastfeeding?
Because exclusive breastfeeding rates in the U.S. are still abysmally low, especially in impoverished areas and among certain racial demographics. Because people are still not aware that breastfeeding is normal infant/child feeding. Because mothers are still pressured to leave establishments or lock themselves in public bathrooms to nurse. Because employers still refuse pumping breaks or adequate pumping facilities for their lactating workers.
Because breast milk is the best nourishment we’ll likely ever have in our lifetimes. Designed specifically for our raw-to-this-world, infantile selves. Offered with the requisite embrace. A little reassurance, drop by drop.
Breastfeeding is more than just filling a belly. It’s more than a meal. It’s a relationship.
“In mammals, females dissolve parts of themselves to feed their babies.” – Katie Hinde
So we celebrate breastfeeding. We honor breast milk as health food and comfort food, with medicinal and immunizing properties, flowing milk that promises warmth, connection, and protection in more ways than belly-deep.
A mother never clocks out, and during the lactation period, neither do her breasts.
The USA is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t mandate paid family leave, though it’s well-evidenced that longer maternity leaves lead to better health outcomes for women and children and more prosperous economic outcomes, too. (Learn more about maternity leave laws here).
“Increasing the leave duration to ease lactation and attachment is an investment in health and wellness of new families, and not an expense.” — Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D.
Still, women continue to show up for work. Whether at their place of employment or at home, they keep working as they’ve always done. Producing, feeding, caring, cleaning, scheduling, working.
“Whoever said ‘there’s no use crying over spilled milk’ obviously never pumped six ounces and accidentally spilled it.” – Author unknown
So we celebrate the work done by breasts; the work done by mothers. We honor the ounces upon ounces of expressed milk, the hours upon hours spent pumping, the grace of milk donors and wet nurses, the empowerment or emotional crush of returning to the workforce, and the village we must seek for support to get this work done.
Politics have interfered with women’s health matters for too long. Let’s keep these conversations on the table:
- Breast cancer and osteoporosis risk.
- Breast reconstruction.
- Gene therapy and hormone therapy.
- Expanding education of breast self-exams and mammograms.
- Removing taxation of women’s hygiene items.
- Reproductive options — access to free or low-cost, effective birth control of the woman’s choice, without invasive questioning, even without insurance coverage, and the care provider appointments that follow.
- Fully funded healthcare for women including regular well-woman checks, prenatal, birth, postpartum, menopause.
- Autonomy over female breasts and informed consent for medical procedures.
Here’s some breast health trivia:
Breastfeeding for one year cuts a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer by more than one third, a new study shows. A woman who breastfeeds for eight years has a nearly ZERO chance of getting breast cancer. It sounds like a long time, but really it might just involve nursing two children until their fourth birthdays, which is actually pretty normal.
Breastfeeding safeguards against osteoporosis. Women may lose 3-5% of their bone mass while breastfeeding, however the process of re-calcification will reverse this temporary loss within six months of weaning and bones actually become stronger. Women over 65 who had breastfed were found to have half the risk of getting a hip fracture. Women who haven’t breastfed have a quadrupled risk of getting osteoporosis!
Breast tissue has the second highest concentration of iodine of any area in the body (the thyroid is first).
Breast milk has a property called lactaptin that has been proven to kill cancer cells. A new drug containing this is currently in its pre-clinical trial stages with intended use as a cancer treatment.
Donor milk is used to treat medical problems in adults, not just babies and children.
An ingredient called lactoferrin is used to safely kill E. Coli in the meat packing industry. It is an important, concentrated component in human breast milk, especially colostrum (newborn milk).
So we celebrate breast health. We honor the myriad of ways our breasts can keep us (and others) healthy, and the promotion of women’s health issues as equal among other public health concerns.
What kind of associations do you have with the word ‘aging’? Negative or positive?
How about ‘sagging’? Does it sound depressing? As if a sagging breast is weighed down by sadness into the shape of a frown, or something to such melancholic effect.
Sagging breasts have proved their power — from either having a grand ol’ journey living a lotta life, or spending time on a woman who was busy making and sustaining life. Sagging breasts and nursing breasts have the best stories to tell, you see.
“Nursing does not diminish the beauty of a woman’s breasts; it enhances their charm by making them look lived in and happy.” – Robert A. Heinlein
Did you know that experts say female breasts haven’t actually reached full maturity (even after puberty) until a pregnancy; that this time in which the breasts lay down lactation receptors is actually the true final stage of development?
During pregnancy, fatty tissue is lost and replaced by growing internal milk-making structures, hence why many breasts increase in cup size yet others don’t appear to change much. It depends on the ratio of fat to ductile and connective tissue prior to pregnancy. Losing or gaining weight changes only the amount of surrounding fatty tissue and has no effect on the amount of ductile tissue.
If a woman doesn’t breastfeed for some time after birth, then the milk-making factory that her body has built gets bulldozed, if you will. This atrophying of the lactation system is called involution.
This also occurs after weaning and during menopause.
“With weaning, the milk glands atrophy or shrink to almost nothing [‘involution’], and obviously the breasts decrease in size correspondingly. However, after the milk glands shrivel up, the body starts depositing some fat back to the breasts. Remember, [a] lot of the fat left the breasts during pregnancy…
…After weaning, over a period of up to 6 months, the body deposits fat back to the breasts. With gradual weaning, often there isn’t any abrupt change in breast size, but the fat-depositing process can take place at the same time with the slow weaning.
If the weaning is abrupt, the breasts will dramatically decrease in size and can look like ’empty balloons.’ If the weaning is gradual, this will not happen. At any case, eventually fat fills breasts again and the breasts will regain their pre-pregnancy size or close to it.” – 007 Breasts
So we celebrate the aging transformation of breasts. We honor the stages of weaning, atrophy, menopause, and the ever-charmed crone era of womanhood.
Breasts have always influenced the world’s cultures in many positive ways. Traditionally, we cannot seem to get enough of the female breast.
Breasts have long been a popular subject in art and photography and frequently depicted in pop culture media (for better or worse).
Naturalists celebrate their breasts by going bra-free and/or treating them to a nude lifestyle.
Modern bras themselves have been the side effect of convention since the late 1800s. Though many women feel restricted by a societal obligation to push up, support, and reign in their breasts with various undergarments, others just simply love involving their breasts in the dressing-up routine. Entire sections of clothing stores are devoted to outfitting this one body part.
A serious lack of understanding about how female breasts work was to blame for the harmful advice given to pregnant mothers just a few decades ago — instructions to ‘prepare’ nipples for breastfeeding by twisting them, stretching them, scalding them, and rubbing them with rough materials to ‘toughen’ them up. (Just, no).
In societies where common perspective of the female has soured, we’ve seen a paralleled decline in respect for the female breast. Medieval torture often involved torching, piercing, and amputation of the breasts. In modern times, breast ironing and breast binding are other painfully atrocious institutions that degrade young women. Human trafficking targets often suffer unwanted traumas to or forced exploitation of their breasts. Sexual harassment of women is a worldwide epidemic that leaves many victims with resentment and negative feelings about their breasts.
So we encourage the worthwhile, affirmative breast customs of the world. We honor the victims of breast abuse, exploitation, shaming, and discrimination by starting a new breast tradition — one of unapologetic celebration.