Artist’s Book by Yara Ferreira Clüver
Boob Book Text
Artist’s Book by Yara Ferreira Clüver
Artist’s Book by Yara Ferreira Clüver
Boob Book by Yara Ferreira Clüver (2007) contains portraits of eight Bloomington women, varying in ages and backgrounds, with breasts bared. Each double page accordion spread within the book displays two portraits of the same woman. A pamphlet stitch gathering is sewn into each double spread with responses by each woman to the following questions:
• What can you tell me about your relationship to your breasts, and how this has altered over the years?
• Think back to your childhood, when you first became aware that you were getting breasts and talk about what that was like. Did you look forward to them, were they something that bothered you, or something you didn’t think about at all?
• Did your early feelings about your breasts change over the years?
• What can you tell me about any phases that you have gone through in terms of how you relate to your breasts?
Below are the women’s responses in alphabetical order by last name.
It seems at first odd to think about having a relationship with my breasts or any body part for that matter. I think more of it as having an awareness. I have relationships with people and things independent of my body.
My first recollection relating to my own preteen breasts is when my grandfather, whom I’d visit on weekends, would ask to see how my “tities” were growing. Little more needs to be said of him and his disrespect of women except that the only control I had then was to wish for that horrible man to go blind and to die. He obliged me by doing both.
Neither my mother nor anyone else in my family gave me insights regarding how my body was to change as I approached puberty and the impending teenage insecurities, particularly those relating to biology. Everything about my teen years felt awkward. I thought I’d wake up one morning & be surprised with a pair of womanly shaped breasts; that they’d suddenly blossom out overnight. I really wanted to have a reason for wearing a bra. I was full of anticipation as I watched my friends develop …. but sadly little seemed to change with my own breasts long after my friends had developed.
Every other part of my 14 year old body was larger than average; size 11 feet (now a 12); size 8.5 ring finger; almost 5’9” tall. But my tiny, smaller than A cup-sized bra, left me feeling very disproportionately small breasted. I didn’t want huge breasts, just something in scale with the rest of me. It wasn’t to happen until years later, right after the birth of each of my children. But in the years following childbirth my breasts became even smaller – I felt virtually concave.
Looking back I wish I had the wisdom to have been accepting of all of my body. I daydreamed about what it would be like to have average sized breasts; a “B” cup. At the age of forty something I decided to explore the option of breast augmentation. My wish was to have my body be complete and well proportioned. I had it done and was satisfied with my appearance.
Over time, scar tissue surrounded the implants causing them to harden and to change shape slightly. Then in the ninties came the health scare about silicone implants. Though I was satisfied with the appearance of my breasts, I began to be concerned for my long term health, and how my breasts were going to look on my aging body. After seeking the advice of several doctors regarding implant removal or replacement with an alternate material, I finally decided to leave things alone rather than to risk being disfigured, or to risk creating a worse problem.
I joke with friends that I imagine my ancient 99 year old body with everything shriveled up except for my breasts …. Perhaps not the worst fate. Being accepting of oneself can take a lifetime.
As a preteen in the late 50’s, we all looked forward to being members of the “Brass Ears Club”. I developed enough to be a club member, but I was never very big. I remember reading about “Small Breasts and the High IQ” in a magazine, and accepting that I was in that category, so I never worried about my size very much. I certainly never thought about wanting to be a larger size. Appearance never mattered to me as much as comfort, certainly not one I was in college. It wasn’t until many years, and pounds, later that I realized I was actually quite large-busted. It sort of came as a surprise.
The larger I got, the more uncomfortable I got – the heaviness, the heat and sweat, the constant search for comfortable bras. By the time I was in my 30’s, there was also the problem of mammograms, fibrocystic disease, and biopsies. The combination of large breasts and fibrocystic disease is not a good one, because they always, always find something questionable. It also turns out that I scar rather badly, and was getting large surface bumps, which I was told were cholesterol deposits. I worried about those, and they itched. I can’t say that I had many positive thoughts about my breasts. They weren’t sensitive or erotically stimulating, they were uncomfortable, and the bra straps made my shoulders hurt. I’ve talked to many other large breasted women who feel the same way.
When I was just into my 50’s, I was going through perimenopause, was very emotional, and wanted to get in for a physical so I could start hormone replacement therapy. I kept having to postpone it due to my erratic periods. I was due to depart for Europe in a couple of months for a research leave, and finally made it in for the checkup in September. The first thing my doctor noticed was a lump in my right breast – not the cholesterol bump I had been worried about, but something else. She got me in for all the tests immediately and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Life changed. So much information, so many decisions, so many plans to be changed, so many arrangements to be made.
I’ve always thought I was fortunate in many ways. There really wasn’t much question about whether I should have a mastectomy or a lumpectomy – my “numbers” said mastectomy and I wasn’t concerned with cosmetic issues. I was also busy that I didn’t have much time to think about the larger picture, or the darker picture. I just stayed focused on what I had to do the next day. My partner and close friends dealt with the larger picture, and all the information, for me. I wasn’t traumatized by the loss of a breast, or by loosing my hair during chemo, but I hated wearing the wig and the rather large prosthetic everyone encouraged me to get since the insurance covered it. Once my hair had grown back a little, I pretty much abandoned both. I made a conscious decision that I wasn’t going to hide the fact that I’d had breast cancer. People could just deal with it.
Being large breasted, however, meant that I had to do something to balance myself, and there weren’t many options, and none of them were good. I could continue to wear the prosthetic I hated, I could opt for reconstruction surgery, or I could make a case for a prophylactic second mastectomy. After hearing that the reconstructive surgery would be a far more invasive procedure requiring more recuperation time than the mastectomy itself, and would also require reduction surgery on the healthy breast, making future mammograms harder to read, I rejected the idea of a surgically created fake breast and nipple. I wanted what was going to give me the best chances for survival, and that seemed to be the second mastectomy. Given that my first mammogram after chemo had indicated I would need yet another biopsy, I made a case, with the support of my doctors and surgeon, that a prophylactic mastectomy made more sense medically and economically and the insurance company agreed. The second one was actually a rather liberating experience. It’s as close to “no worries” as any breast cancer survivor can get. I did end up with some rather ugly scars ( like many women, I’m prone to keeloids, thick ropy scar tissue), but I know I made the right decision, one I think more women would make were it not for the tremendous pressure to look normal.
I first started getting breasts when I was about 11 years old. My best friend Sally and I would take a daily inventory of how tall we were getting, how much we weighed and how big our breasts were. We awaited our budding womanhood eagerly. We both developed at a young age, though it was obvious, fairly early on, that Sally’s cup overfloweth. She managed to surpass me in both cup and girth and within months became a whopping D cup. However by the time I was thirteen, I was already wearing a C cup--I had breasts like a woman and they got me a lot of attention from men.
The growth of my breasts also marked a definable change in the relationship I had with my father. As a child, still more or less androgynous, my father could easily define his role as a parent, but as I grew into a woman, he completely lost his bearings and our relationship was never the same. For me, being a girl in a woman’s body led to years of confusing relationships with boys/men that were beyond my emotional maturity.
Toward my junior and senior year in high school, my breasts began bothering me. They began to sag and one was larger than the other. They were no longer the perfect, perky boobs of my early teen years. By the time I was a freshman in college, they bothered me enough to consider breast reduction surgery which I was told would even them out and lift them up.
When I was 20 years old I had the surgery. I was told that I may not be able to breast feed after the surgery because they had to completely remove the nipple and cut the milk ducts. But when you’re 20 years old and not thinking of marriage or family, breast feeding is pretty low on the priority list, at least it was for me. My resulting breasts after surgery were shaped beautifully but there was significant scarring—an upside down “T” from the bottom of the areola to the crease of the breast formed a very noticeable scar (made even more noticeable by the fact that the scar became keloid).
It was always a dilemma from then on how to tell anyone about the scar, especially potential suitors. I was embarrassed to be naked in front of people. When I met my husband, I didn’t tell him about it when we first started dating but after being together a few times he asked what had happened to my breasts. It was a relief to have the cat out of the bag, though I never quite knew how he felt about my breasts and their scars or if it bothered him.
When we had our first child, I was anxious about whether I would be able to breast feed. As it turned out I was fortunate that some milk and colostrum were coming out, but there was not enough to provide a full feeding for my baby. On the recommendation of the Le Leche league, I bought a device that would allow my baby to breast feed but also receive supplemental formula. The device was a bottle that I could hang, upside down, around my neck. Coming out of the cap were two soft clear tubes—one for each breast. Each time I fed my baby, I taped one tube to each nipple and as he sucked, he received both breast milk and the formula from the bottle. It was a labor of love, as feedings were every few hours, and after about 3 or 4 months, I switched entirely to bottles.
I did this again when I had my triplets, but because of the physical demands of three babies at one time, I only fed them this way once a day, the other feedings were from a bottle.
Now, more than 20 years have gone by and my boobs are once again big and saggy. The areola has become very large and dark. Having children, gaining weight and age have taken their toll. I’m thinking about having breast reduction surgery again.
I remember as a child, especially during bathtime, I wanted to have breasts. I would try to grab the flesh on my chest and pull it out, to see what my body would look like with breasts. When I got my first training bra in fifth grade, I remember feeling proud and grown up, like I had a new secret that nobody else knew about. I don’t remember how old I was when I grew breasts, but I do remember having larger breasts than many girls at my middle school. The boys in middle school were always interested in my breasts, and I felt that this gave me a kind of power over them. I even remember going in the back room of the school library, and showing two boys my breasts. Many women would see this as degrading, but at the time I remember feeling empowered. I felt that I had a beautiful body, and felt a sense of excitement and sexiness when I showed my breasts to those boys.
When I got to high school, I gradually became more negative about my body image. I was a dancer for ten years, and quit after my sophomore year in high school. After quitting dance, I gained weight, and consequently, my breasts grew. I realized that my body had grown so fast that I had stretch marks everywhere, including my breasts. I also started to dislike my nipples, which seem larger than most other women’s nipples. My areolas are pretty light, so you can see blue veins. Women in our society get the message that small, dark nipples are more attractive than large, light ones. There is even plastic surgery to change the size, shape, and/or color of the areola. Living in a society like this, I often feel negative about the appearance of my breasts.
Since coming to college, I’ve gained more weight, and my breasts have grown even more (as have the stretch marks). Sometimes I feel self-conscious about my breasts in front of other people, because of my large areolas and stretch marks. I date both men and women, and I am definitely more negative about my breasts in front of men. Women who date other women tend to have a more realistic view about breasts, and appreciate that mine are natural. They often see beauty in the variety of sizes, shapes, and colors in breasts. I’d like to say that I always see the beauty in the diversity of female breasts, but I still feel that I am more attracted to smaller breasts with smaller, darker areolas – another reason that I’m not often comfortable with my own breasts.
Despite the fact that I dislike the appearance of my breasts, I sometimes feel like showing them off. For only being 5’1”, I have pretty large breasts (38 D). It is extremely difficult to find shirts and dresses that fit well, because it seems that no clothing is designed for women with large breasts. However, sometimes when I go out, I like to wear low-cut shirts that show my cleavage. Dressing like this usually makes me feel attractive and sexy; it allows me to take ownership of my large breasts. Like the feelings I had in middle school, showing my cleavage gives me power over other people, as it gives a hint of what my body looks like, without showing my bare breasts.
Until recently, I never had any desire to pierce my nipples. I have a lot of piercings and tattoos elsewhere on my body, but I did not want to pierce my nipples. However, after talking with various other individuals (men and women) with pierced nipples, my views began to change. My best friend presented a unique view: piercing one’s nipples gives an individual power over how his or her breasts look. Since I hadn’t been happy about the appearance of my breasts, the thought of changing how they look intrigued me. I know a lot of people find nipple piercings to be sexy, and I feel the same. I decided to get my nipples pierced, and it was a great decision. Just the addition of small, metal rings to my breasts gives me more self-confidence.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t change my breasts even if I had the chance. I’ve had many conversations about breasts (and other body image issues) with other women, and as the saying goes, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” Women with smaller breasts than mine are jealous of my size, while I’m often jealous of women with small breasts. I try to keep in mind that there is no ideal shape, size, or color for breasts. The beautiful thing about the human body is that everyone is different. It’s difficult to keep these thoughts in my mind while being bombarded with images of what is considered sexy by the media. By participating in this project, I hope to help viewers realize the diversity that exists in the aesthetics of breasts, as well as in each person’s experience with their own breasts.
What was perhaps the most confusing to me, as a child, was just what size your breasts were supposed to be? I grew up watching almost exclusively (with the exception of a few Saturday morning cartoons) PBS, so I didn’t really have much access to the media world’s take on the female body or breasts, unlike many of my friends. Of course, I eventually found out that they were in some way an object of desire, but in what way I was very unclear. Everything that I did hear about breasts was through what my friends told me, no doubt from what they heard and saw on T.V. My friends made fun of women with really big boobs, but if you had tiny breasts they weren’t good either. So, what were they supposed to be like? Why did men like them? And of course, why was talking about them both so wrong and so funny? Long gone were the days when I viewed breasts as something that girls didn’t have, women did have, and that they were used to feed babies. The only thing that was made clear to me by my friends was that women’s breasts were called tits, and that men’s breasts were just called nipples.
I also remember it being an issue as to when I was to begin wearing a training bra – and when was I supposed to wear a real bra? And, what exactly was the point of a training bra? This whole ordeal had me divided because, as much as I wanted to be a woman, it was also quite nice to be a little girl. And along with so many aspects of maturation, wearing a bra meant you really were no longer a child. Getting breasts also meant maturing in many ways I wasn’t really looking forward to. I viewed most of the aspects of puberty with disgust – it seemed down right gross, cheesy, and strangely all-consuming. Breasts, boys, periods, pubic hair, leg hair etc, it was all too much to think and worry about.
Now, at age twenty-three, what might make me differ from many women in how I view (and viewed) my breasts is that they are not really much of an issue to me. I developed breasts at perhaps slightly later then average (but then again, a pre-teen girl’s perception of what is average is fairly skewed) but not late enough that it was an issue. And, certainly I did not develop them early enough that it was a problem, as it was with some of my friends. Sometimes now I feel that it wouldn’t be so bad if I had slightly bigger breasts (and maybe on those days I wear a slightly padded bra), but then again, they are small enough that I don’t even have to wear a bra, which is really nice sometimes. And since I have a small frame, I suppose it is rather complementing and seems to fit much better. And, what I suppose is best is that breasts have never been a defining issue for me – I’ve never had to worry that men won’t think I’m sexy for being completely flat and I’ve never had to worry that a man is looking at my chest instead of my face while I talk to him. I’ve avoided the two extremes, something that unfortunately for many of our sex in our society is unavoidable.
Cathy Spiaggia - What, These Breasts…?
What, these breasts? My Italian family-of-origin referred to them as “Minutsas.”
As a young child, my mother and I would sometimes take baths together. I remember being fascinated by her breasts. I’d want her to dry under them more carefully.
In early pubescence, I remember feeling awkward and confused, unsure of how to live with these new breasts. On one hand, they were celebrated – a topic of family attention and sibling teasing – but on the other, there were subtle messages of shame (“Keep them covered…but not too tightly”) and caution (“Don’t let boys touch them”). Posture became an enigma. “Stand up straight… but don’t stick them out.” Gone were the days of topless romping in the sweltering Florida heat. It was as if these breasts were of me but not a part of me. I was, from that point forward, to become the keeper and protector of these strange, tender appendages.
I remember the day Mom told me it was time to go shopping for a “training” bra. I was never quite sure what they were supposed to be trained to do: Be still? Stay perky? They never did learn…
When I was in high school, my mother, an excellent seamstress, used to make me beautiful prom gowns with fitted bodices that accentuated my breasts. The message had become “Be proud of your body… don’t hide it… celebrate it.” Even through the hippie years in the sixties, and the early women’s movement of the seventies, when I went through stages of clothing that variously hid, or accentuated my breasts, this was the message that endured…and for that I’m so grateful.
Probably my most intimate relationship with my breasts developed during the years I was breast-feeding my three children. I was fascinated by how my breasts “knew” and responded to my child’s cry of hunger. I can still almost feel the sensation of my milk letting down. And oh, those breast-centered hours of rocking, cuddling and nurturing are some of my fondest memories of connection with my children. It was an expression of love so simple, and so pure: this simple act of offering oneself.
What, these breasts? For some time now, they are like old friends. I like them; I care for them (drying thoroughly after bathing…); I know their every move; I’m comfortable with them; they give me pleasure; they may get in my way sometimes, but, like old friends, we tolerate each other well. I’ve actually grown quite fond of them, and I suspect, if they could, they’d say the same.
I remember developing breasts earlier than my friends and felt self conscious about them at first. My first feelings were of tenderness as my “breast buds” were blossoming. I seemed to have larger breast than my friends did as a teenager. I was a late bloomer in terms of my sexuality and I felt shy about my body. I wore loose clothing in order to downplay my body shape, even into my early adulthood. With clothes on, I preferred a “smaller” look. However, when I had my clothes off, I loved the look of my breasts. I received a lot of attention that way and I felt very good about my breasts when I was naked. 10 years ago, in 1996, when I became pregnant, my body was once again changing and growing. After the birth of my daughter I nursed her for 2 and a half years, practically 24/7 and at that time I had a much different feeling about my breasts. They became physical nourishment for my daughter and the act of nursing became emotional and spiritual food for me. They increased enormously in size and I remember thinking that I had enough milk to feed the entire city. I loved nursing my daughter and have very fond memories of sitting peacefully with her nursing and looking out the window at the trees in our woods. I felt a strong connection to nature and spirit during those special nursing years and felt an intimacy and closeness with my daughter and with life in general. I am 45 years old now and although the days of “perky” breasts are over, I still feel very feminine, youthful and beautiful because of them and I believe I will always feel this way. I am grateful for my breasts.
Breaking down in a lingerie department dressing room…Yup, that was a low point. Perhaps it had something to do with the lingerie attendant that my mother called into the dressing room to have me “officially” fit for new bras. Having far surpassed my training bra days, and covering “A” through “C” of the bra cup alphabet; it was time for a little (well, it didn’t turn out to be so “little”) consultation. The attendant came into the dressing room, measuring tape in hand, and proceeded to make me feel totally uneasy while taking my measurements, and chit-chatting with my mother about topics unrelated to my bare breasts. At least that was the case until she loudly announced; “Well, somebody must be eating their Wheaties!” I glared at my mother, who insisted on this unnecessary consultation then looked the attendant in the eye, and said; “Excuse me?” The attendant took my question as her chance to proclaim to me, my mother, and any other department store patron from lingerie to linens that I’d entered the regal ranks of a
36 “DD.” (Oh, and because I’m more of a Honey Nut Cheerio girl, I was not about to blame the Wheaties.)
The breakdown came after the attendant left the room in search of some bras in my size. I remember crying to my mom, and explaining how self-conscious I felt about my chest. And, this wasn’t the first time that I shared such feelings with her. Bathing suit and formal dress shopping always brought up the same insecurities associated with my breasts. I would feel as though my breasts were “popping out” of clothing that was my size (in every place but my chest), and thus would end up buying larger clothing as a means to cover up my insecurities. My mother would attempt to re-assure me by reminding me that I am fortunate to be a “healthy young woman,” and that I shouldn’t curse what she refers to as “healthy tissue.” Healthy or not, I still felt frustrated by the extra weight on my chest.
My breast battle has continued over the years…I choose to purchase minimizer bras because they are most supportive, and make me feel smaller. I own a ridiculous number of black tank tops, t-shirts, and sweaters because wearing black makes my chest stand out less. I tend to layer clothing in order to keep “my girls” covered. I’ve contemplated breast reduction surgery because I think it would help to alleviate the lower back pain I experience from my breasts, as well as make me feel more comfortable in my clothing.
And, for all these reasons, perhaps it seems ironic that I’ve chosen to participate in this project. I view my photographs as a means by which to face my insecurities head-on (bust-on might be more appropriate terminology). The beautiful women whose photographs and stories are included in this book empower me to embrace my breasts, and body with respect, not criticism.