Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai? Information About Breasts That Really Needs To Be Shared

Illustrations by Debasmita Das

Boobs. Want to know more about them? Let’s start with one question that drives scientists crazy.

Why Do Human Beings Have Breasts?

The breast is made of glandular, milk-producing tissue and fat. In mammals, breasts usually serve only to feed offspring, and the enlarged breast usually exists only for a short period. Except in human beings. Some scientists believe that human breasts are only for babies. Others have argued for years that women’s breasts exist as a signal of youthfulness and fertility for men.

It is likely that human breasts exist for a combination of reasons and sex appeal is one of them. But no scientific research has established that all men (or women) across cultures find breasts sexy. Williams points out that men in Japan find the nape of the neck sexy, and in parts of South America, it’s a woman’s bottom that is considered super hot. Some cultures, such as in Swaziland, have bared their breasts and covered the thigh because thighs are too sexy to show.

Ok, so we have breasts and a lot of people find them sexy, but do they have to be big to be sexy?

What people feel about breast size is really like that line from social studies textbooks: unity in diversity. Some people like chote chote aam jaise breasts. Then there is the French legend that the perfect breast fits into a champagne glass. Scientists who recently studied men from Brazil, Cameroon, the Czech Republic and Namibia found that many preferred medium-sized breasts to large breasts. (We wonder what they would have found if they had asked women the same question.) And yes, some people like really big breasts. In 2017, the world’s largest porn site PornHub released search data indicating that millennials, aka people born after 1981, are relatively uninterested in breasts. And their data indicates that even when they are searching for breasts on the site, they are looking for small breasts – and it is male users that are driving this trend.

Some years ago, an Indian news magazine proposed that the breast was back in fashion and pointed to fashion designers and celebrities to prove the theory. The next week, the letters to the editor were full of complaints from male readers, asking plaintively when the breast had ever gone out of fashion. The truth is that breasts as sexual objects, and even breast size, go in and out of fashion.

I think my breasts look strange. Are they?

Unless your breasts are bright blue or have recently changed dramatically in size or shape for unknown reasons, it’s likely that your breasts are normal, healthy and wonderful.

We like to compare breasts to mangoes in India and that’s great because oh, what a variety of mangoes exist in the world. Women’s breasts vary widely in size and shape, sometimes from each other. To get a sense of how wide the variety is, see photographer Laura Dodsworth’s series of pictures of breasts that belong to 100 women from age 19 to 101.

But I’d like to make my breasts bigger. Can I?

Short answer, no, not without plastic surgery. Here is the long answer. You have no muscles at all in your breasts and a lot of fat, so exercise has no direct effect on your breasts. Exercise can improve your posture and make them look firmer and bigger. If you gain weight, your breasts may become bigger but remember that you will gain fat across your body, not just your breasts. No lotion, cream, massage or pills on the telemarketing channels can make your breasts bigger. Though some varieties of birth control pills have been known to increase your breast size temporarily as a side effect. And no matter what your admiring boyfriend or your naughty friend from school told you, sex and/or marriage does not make your breasts bigger. No really, it doesn’t.

Fine, can I just have fun with my breasts?

You can have so much fun. Breasts are much more sensitive than given credit for. Breasts can expand temporarily in size by as much as 25 percent when aroused. For some women, nipples darken in colour with sexual arousal. Familiarise yourself with your breasts and you will figure how exactly your breasts respond to touch.

Ever heard of a breast orgasm? Scientific research indicates that when you play with your nipples, it causes women’s brains to respond in the same way playing with their clitoris does. Which means that nipple stimulation can lead to full-fledged orgasms for some women. And if and when you are with a lover, isn’t it great to be able to tell them exactly how you like your breasts touched?

Does your partner have breasts? While breast orgasms may not be a reliable goal to aim for, paying attention to your partner’s breasts may make them happy, and that’s a better goal. You can use your fingers or your mouth to stimulate your partner’s nipples or her breasts in general. You can try massage oils, ice-cubes, feathers or your super-confident fingers, those are good too.

But if you are going to do anything energetic like bite her breasts or twist her nipples, please make sure she is into it. For many people, that level of aggression ≠ pleasure. Not at all. Doing it slowly can let your partner also figure how much she likes anything you are trying.

On a side-note, nipple play can also be great fun for men. Which brings us to the big question of why men have nipples at all. But that is out of syllabus for today.

How do I take care of my breasts or my partner’s?

The big, scary word often associated with breasts is cancer. For women over 35, proper breast cancer screenings are recommended every year. Frequent self-examinations are highly recommended. (Here is how to do that.) If you spot any changes in your breasts such as lumps and bumps, changes in size, sudden inversion of nipples, nipple discharge, colour changes, you should go to a doctor. So look and touch your breasts thoroughly. It’s good for you.

Breastfeeding women have another set of critical health concerns to look out for and prevent – from blocked ducts to mastitis. But on an everyday basis, in the matter of breasts, you can apply the same health and hygiene standards that you’d apply to your arms or elbows. Nothing special. If you live in a hot and humid climate, if you wear a bra, you need to wash it after every wear. Otherwise, once every few wears is enough, never mind what that girl told you back in tuition class.

What do you mean, if you wear a bra? Don’t you have to?

Well, it can seem like the bra is a 100 percent attendance subject, but that isn’t really true. In many cultures around the world, women have worn clothes that cover the breasts. Others haven’t. Women have worn a range of garments that enhance, modify, bind or conceal the breasts. In India, every region, caste and community has its own history of garments that cover the breasts (in some parts, covering or uncovering them even formed the basis of oppression and revolt). In many parts of India, women only began to cover their breasts – never mind bras – in the last 100 years. The modern bra was patented as recently as 1889 in Germany. Bras were advertised for the first time in India in the 1950s, that’s it!

So, didn’t everyone’s breasts sag without bras back then?

If you have breasts that are mid-to-large size, many activities are likely to be uncomfortable without a bra. Forget running, just thinking of sitting in an autorickshaw without a bra makes some of us clutch our chests. Sleep with or without a bra? Turns out it’s just about comfort. Because science has no proof to indicate that wearing bras prevents sagging. Remember that your breast is made up of a lot of fat and no muscles. Sudden increase or decrease in weight, ageing, pregnancy (not breastfeeding), can cause sag even in women who wear bras round the clock.

Could bras actually be bad for health?

Here is a tit-bit to consider. In 2013, a 15-year French study concluded that bras cause sag and are just all-round bad for health. While other medical experts have been sceptical about this controversial study, there are some things to consider. Women often wear badly sized bras, forget to change sizes, wear too-tight bras and so on. These habits of ours can actually damage breast tissue, cause back pain and even affect our circulation.

So we should just be okay with our asymmetrical, sagging breasts?

Here’s the thing. Breasts pointing to the sky aren’t really standard. Perfectly round, perfectly symmetrical, anti-gravity breasts are as normal and common as that flawless skin we see in ads, and we all know that skin is achieved with Photoshop and make-up. Instead, we can dress our breasts, undress our breasts, enjoy our breasts. Go back to that Fun with Breasts section.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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