How The Project Got Started...
The history of The Breast Archives begins when I am eleven. I was one of those early bloomers who had gotten my period before anyone else, and whose once-flat chest bloomed overnight into an enormous bosom. It was embarrassing and exasperating, and today I can look back at this corridor with tenderness for my young self. But back then, no one had talked to me about my breasts—how they might get me more attention, how they might hurt, how boys would want to touch them. Nothing! So, I did what most kids do, I swallowed my feelings and tried as best as I could to conform.
For me, conforming meant lessening their size, so I began a meticulous swaddling routine everyday before school, wrapping my breasts tightly in layers of clothing to control and minimize their outward appearance. I remember this ritual vividly. It began with a teeny, undersized bra, which I then covered with a turtle neck, a button up shirt and a sweater. Presto, I was flattened.
"Not only did I now have bigger breasts than any girl I knew, I was also deformed! It was devastating...
This minimization process worked very well. However, it had the unintended consequence of causing my nipples to invert. So, not only did I now have bigger breasts than any girl I knew, I was also now deformed. It became my sad little secret; made worse by the fact that I had brought this upon myself…
As I grew older, it was the inverted nipples that caused me my greatest dismay. I worried my lovers would think I was misshapen and wouldn’t find me attractive. I worried that if I had children, I wouldn’t be able to feed them. In my mind, I had a major defect and was, at some rudimentary level, unlovable.
Over time, of course, I grew wiser. I was told by gracious lovers and good friends that my breasts were natural and fine, but it never sunk in. The ideas we have about ourselves in childhood are hard to reason away. So, even as a successful woman with a bright career and lots to look forward to, there was this lingering, omnipresent belief that my body was strange and abnormal and therefore I was never going to be loved the way I needed to be loved. If I’m honest, I carry this weight with me even today.
"There was this lingering, omnipresent belief that my body was strange and abnormal and therefore I was never going to be loved the way I needed to be loved."
When I learned that many women feel "breast shame," I was shocked. I'd thought I was the ONLY one! As I began to ask women about their own relationship with their breasts, a journey began to unfold for me and I recognized that for many women, the breasts are a portal into the past, and a veritable treasure chest of stories, insights - and wisdom.
So many of us have suppressed our girlhood body-based experiences; the existential shame, the social indignities and humiliations... How wonderful if The Breast Archives could be a launching pad for change! No young girl (or boy) should hide, as I did, and I deeply hope that the next generation will feel proud and empowered by their bodies, and feel a greater freedom to open up and share. I want parents and daughters to talk more, and I want doctors to understand a woman’s body story is deeply connected to her health.
As I've shared The Breast Archives and moderated panels and discussion more and more often, I have been amazed and pleased by the awakening and re-embodiment taking place all around us.
Please contact me if you’d like me to visit your school, conference, or community!