Beauty and the Bust: How Women Feel About Their Breasts

Ladies, let’s talk about the girls.

They’re a distinctive feature of femininity and should be a source of pleasure and pride, but the truth is, many women feel some degree of conflict about their breasts.

Society pays so much attention to them. We see a lot of boobs in the media but they tend to look the same—large, high, round and tipped with little rosebud nipples. Compared to those on “Game of Thrones” or the latest topless model-filled music video, it’s easy for women to feel their breasts are too small, too big, too droopy, or simply too different. A recent study reported only 30 percent of women age 18-65 felt satisfied with their breasts.

Complicating all this is that boobs are unpredictable. Periods, pregnancy, nursing, weight changes, menopause and aging all have an effect on the shape and sensation of our breasts. So even if you adore them now, you might feel differently down the road.

Other than nursing—a very brief period in most women’s lives—breasts are for pleasure and visual appeal, both of which are strongly connected to a woman’s sexual identity. Yes, men like them, but it’s how we feel about them that impacts our body image and sensuality. Given their high aesthetic value, it’s not surprising that breasts are the number one area of cosmetic surgery in the United States. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that in 2012, breast implants, lifts and reductions accounted for almost a third of all cosmetic surgeries—more than 450,000 procedures.

Molly*, 42, of Highland Park had always felt fantastic about her breasts. But after having two kids, her once firm and voluptuous chest sagged. She mourned the loss of a part of herself that had always made her feel beautiful and sensual, and she decided to get a breast lift. “They’ve always been my thing,” she says shrugging. “It’s important to me.” Having the procedure made her feel herself again.

Christine*, 44, a mother of three from Wilmette, struggled since puberty with a chest that didn’t fit her petite frame. “When I got married, I weighed 110 pounds and wore a size 32F bra,” she says. “My boobs were enormous.” Christine’s large bust made her appear overweight and prevented her from playing sports. She felt self-conscious and suffered severe backaches. Finally, after nursing her third child, Christine had breast reduction surgery, which in her case was covered by insurance. The procedure was complicated and painful, but Christine, now a C cup, feels it was worth it.

“Now I can exercise and jump around and I definitely feel sexier,” she says. “I never thought my boobs were sexy before, I thought they were yucky. They (the doctors) make them nice and perky. Even six years later, they still have some oomph. And I can wear clothes I could never wear before.”

Both Molly and Christine’s surgeries made a big difference in the way they feel about themselves, but it’s important to note that procedures can be expensive and painful, and breasts are only one component of femininity. As Angelina Jolie said of her preventative double mastectomy, “I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.” Any woman who’s had a scary mammogram knows that ultimately, healthy breasts are perfect breasts.

*Names have been changed