Breasts and body image in puberty

precious breastfeeding
How precious nursing can be! (Picture courtesy of Beauty of Breastfeeding Calendar)

Teenage years, or puberty, is the time of many changes. For girls, one of those changes is they develop breasts. Many teenagers worry about their breasts not developing early enough or at the same pace as their friends. For them, developing (or the lack of it) becomes a source of anxiety and stress - and some teens have even committed suicide over it! Yet for other girls, seeing their breasts bud makes them feel embarrassed and uncomfortable about their own body. They may not want to undress in front of other girls or even their own mom.

newborn nursing
A newborn baby nursing.

And it is not just the teenagers. A survey shows that by age thirteen, 53 percent of American girls are unhappy with their bodies; but by age seventeen, 78 percent are dissatisfied. By far the majority of adult women in the US are not happy with their breasts. The proof of that is that so many women (383,336 in year 2006) choose breast implants, a risky procedure that can impair their health and forces them to have several surgeries afterwards. Why is this? What causes teens to agonize over their breast development instead of observing it with thrill and joy, with the realization, "I'm maturing!"? What causes women to worry so much about their breast size as part of their body image?

Normal adult breast pictures
- see how varied they are!

A cup breasts

< nursing mom's breasts



52-year old lady's breasts


breasts with acne and stretch marks

See BREAST GALLERY for more breast pictures

The answer is laid out on the billboards, magazine ads, media and television. Practically every single woman you see in advertisements is extremely slim and has huge breasts, which are depicted as a sexual organ that catches the male's attention. Women and girls in the United States are bombarded by those pictures all day long, so it is no wonder most girls and women start believing (at least subconsciously) that it is the ideal form of female body, and that they should strive for it too.

But those models have had everything possible done to make their breasts appear bigger. First of all, many of them get breast implants and use padded bras. Then after that, the photographer can use a special lense to make one body part show up bigger than the rest. You can also be sure that if need be, the photos are retouched and made to look just right with the help of computer. IT IS NOT REAL!

Media also always depicts breasts as something men supposedly want to see. That is the way the whole society, including probably your mother, believes in North America. However, things are different in many other countries and cultures around the world. In Europe women can walk on topless beaches, and men don't look at their breasts with special interest. It is a "no big deal" type of thing. Seeing a breastfeeding mom does not cause people to become "offended" or embarrassed. In some cultures, like native Indians or most Africans, women are or were topless on everyday basis. To them, breasts are like elbows or ankles to us: just a body part that everybody has.

About a 100 years ago, a woman's ankles were considered "sexual", so they were hidden from view, and men anxiously wanted to see a bare ankle. This may sound downright funny to us now since we're so used to seeing ankles and they are no longer anything special for men to see. But any body part can be the same way. If it is supposed to be covered at all times, then curiosity arises. Whatever you make a taboo becomes a source of curiosity, possibly leading into a downright obsession.

Do you know what is the purpose of female breast? If you have studied breast anatomy, you know that inside, breast is filled with milk lobules that produce milk, and milk ducts that carry the milk to the nipple. Then there is fatty and connective tissue to fill the breast, and that's it. Breasts are intended to make milk for the baby that the woman has born into this world.

breastfeeding doll
Every girl should have a breastfeeding doll!

Now, many people say that breasts have a dual function: being a sexual object AND for breastfeeding. Breasts are of course a very feminine body part. Just like long hair and curved hips, they signal that a person is of the female sex. It is just fine and commendable that men view female breasts as feminine and beautiful body parts, something that accentuates that the person is mature and capable of feeding her children as God intended. Breastfeeding is a wonderful and beautiful process of nourishing and comforting your offspring with your own body. There is nothing wrong if men and boys appreciate breasts for their real purpose and see them as "sexual" in the sense of "pertaining to the feminine sex, something making the person very much female, a woman who cares about her chilren".

nursing a baby
My small baby preferred to nurse sitting up.

When it comes to animals, everybody realizes that nursing is the normal way to go and nothing to hide about. If women in United States and other western societies influenced by it would breastfeed more openly in public, it would do away with this secrecy and hiding aspect of breasts. Children and teenagers NEED to see the real function of breasts! If they don't see breastfeeding moms, they might get the impression that bottle-feeding is the "normal" way or that there is something "bad" and "dirty" about breastfeeding. Nothing could be further from truth!

As a young unmarried girl, try to see your breasts, however much they have or have not developed, simply as a future source of milk and comfort for your baby. It won't matter what shape or size they are at all!

baby is ready for breastfeeding
An older baby is often distracted from nursing by whatever is going around her.

Even men (if normal) appreciate the woman more for her character than for the exact shape or size of her breasts (or her elbow/nose/waist/etc). True, men like women who appear feminine instead of tough and masculine, and breasts are a part of that femininity. Breasts signal that you have matured, that you can be a mother and feed your babies (but remember the flat-chested women can breastfeed as well). However, in teenage years marriage is still probably quite far from your thoughts - and it should be. For now, just concentrate on your studies, hobbies, and other interests. When you do get married and have babies, you'll find your interests WILL suddenly totally change - you'll fall in love with your baby!

See also:

Normal breast development and teenagers worries — an in-depth article.

Normal breasts photos — lots of pictures of women's natural breasts. You will probably find a pair like yours!

Who needs breast implants? — a discussion about the way plastic surgeons shape our minds to think about small breasts as a "disease".

Body Image & Advertising
Article with lots of statistics relating to body image.

The Shape of a Mother - Images of real mothers' bodies - very inspirational!