Julie Stein Hodgins who is a Baby Feeding Specialist, Breast Screening Mammographer and member of the WOMMeN project considers how mixed cultural messages are responsible for such diversity around our conceptualisation of the breast, and how this influences breast awareness and self-examination.

Women have mixed views about breast screening and about social media. Combine these two things and we have an amazing array of perceptions, attitudes and beliefs that take some unraveling. Our WOMMeN project is getting to grips with these things. One clear message though is that women’s perceptions of their breasts are wide-ranging and one size does not fit all – if you’ll excuse the pun!
A number of women in our study reported shock at the depersonalisation or disembodiment of their breast during the mammographic examination. This was perceived both in terms manual handling of the breast by the mammographer and the pancake-like disembodiment of her flesh.

A number of women in our study reported how uncomfortable it was to have their breast handled by another person during a mammogram, or breast X-ray. Often women have heard that the breasts are squashed like a pancake! Sure they are handled by a female Practitioner and then squashed, but not as thin as a pancake.

Manual handling and compression is necessary for technical reasons based on a need to ensure the best, quality image is taken so that an accurate result is received by the woman. When other parts of the body are x-rayed, people tend not to mind, but the breast is different. Its purpose is ambiguous, vague, and means different things to different people. For some women the breast strikes at the very essence of who she is, representing both her sexuality and femininity. One woman told us that no-one had ever touched her breasts before except for her husband and she was deeply shocked at this experience. For other women, the breast fulfills a functional role.

What stops some women, of any age, checking what is normal for her breasts each month? Is it embarrassment? Most of us can cope with the commercialism and sexualisation that we pick up from the society around us, others might be influenced in a non constructive way. Some feel that they are embarrassed about their breasts….where does that come from?…maybe it is the multitude of mixed messages that we receive about breasts from very early on in our lives.

With the best will in the world, most of us are not aware that we have been subjected to mixed messages about our breasts all though our lives. Pick up a child’s story book and see how often animals are used in stories with baby animals being bottle fed by their parents, very little human breastfeeding images. Should we breastfeed a baby…in public or confined to the home…or does it matter…I see more breast tissue on a Saturday night in my local town. Do you?
Buy a car magazine for your car mad young son and try removing the semi naked women’s pictures before you give it to him.

Why do boxers have full breasted women escort them to the stage? Images of breasts are everywhere.

Breasts are all about selling in these examples.Then there are TV programmes scaring us more, but they have to entertain us, make money and get us to watch more programmes. Businesses make money from doing breast enlargements; sure some women benefit from this operation, do you know someone who has but forgot they may have to replace them in a number of years? It is sad for me when a woman tells me that their ‘boyfriend/husband bought the implants as a present’.

So why am I writing all this? We should all be breast aware; what does that mean? Check yours or your partner’s every month, if it is different from last month, go to a doctor. Often lumps can be cysts so find out.

Can your breasts kill you? Well you can get a disease that is called cancer. There are many different types of breast cancer; usually most of the cancer types can be treated especially when detected early. Newspaper articles and websites say many things about breast screening: is it good, is it bad for you? How do you know? Some say we don’t need an operation at all but the trouble is they often are not clear about how to find out which type of breast cancer you might have. Most of us do not have and never will get breast cancer, but for our friends who do let’s get them quality advice and diagnoses, then they are more empowered to make their own choices.

In the safety of your our home you can check your breasts in front of a large mirror, for a written description visit http://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/breast-cancer-information/breast-awareness/being-breast-aware/changes-look-feel

or watch Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s video

Sure if you have very large breasts it can be embarrassing, but you are in your own home. Did you know? Some women are embarrassed if they think they have small breasts, other breasts have gone south and sideways, and yes, some even have ‘page 3’ style.

Whatever your size, shape and perception of breasts, don’t be afraid to give them the regular attention they deserve.

Visit Julie’s professional Facebook page



3 thoughts on “Embarrassed?”

  1. It’s a strange thing ascetics vs function vs the breasts being a commodity but your right, we in the west have adopted these juxtapositions. They are powerful and the male perspective is so influential too. Take caring and looking after ones breast ought to be quite simple but its not ………


    1. Agree Julie. Is the breast functional, aesthetic, sexual? To some it’s all these things. To others it’s none. How do we engage women in conversations about the breast when there are such variations in the way we see the breast? And as practitioners how do we gauge this correctly for each woman to ensure our communication is sensitive and relevant to each individual? We can’t start a conversation: “hello I’m going to do an x-Ray of your breasts. Before I start, can you tell me how you feel about breasts?”. Or can we????


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