Let's talk about boobs
The female form comes in all shapes and sizes, so why are so many of us unsatisfied with what we’ve got? Lauren Furey delves into breast size and body image, and reflects on her own journey of learning to love her A cups.

They called us “The A Club”. My co-members were two other small-chested 15-year-olds. Some rather bustier friends would line us up, boob-to-boob, and assess who was the smallest. I remember staring in the mirror afterwards, praying they were still growing. Fifteen years later, I know they weren’t.

Aside from their brief but grand adventures into B-cup territory when I breastfed my kids, my boobs have remained the same — small enough that I can get away with wearing a sports bra most of the time and often not big enough to fill out clothes properly.

It took a long time to reach a place of self-love where I’m not ashamed to be part of “The A Club”, but one thing I’ve learned on the way is you don’t have to be on the small side to be insecure about your chest size. The sad reality is, you’d be hard-pressed to find a woman completely in love with her curves, no matter how deep her cleavage.

What women want

Results from 2020’s The Breast Size Satisfaction Survey spoke volumes. The study, which spanned 40 countries and 18,541 female participants, revealed that 47.5 per cent of women would like larger breasts. In other words, almost half or the participants felt their boobs were too small.

It’s no surprise, then, that breast enhancement surgery is a billion-dollar industry. Countless women turn to cosmetic procedures every year in search of the “perfect” pair of breasts.

According to Associate Professor Ivanka Prichard, who coordinated the Australian sample of the study, most of the women who wanted to go up a size liked the idea of being just a bit bigger. “On average, these women had an ideal breast size slightly larger than their current size,” she said.

Filters and falsehoods

Why do so many of us want to look bigger, “better” … boobier? As an adolescent, celebrity culture had a huge impact on my own perception of beauty.

The women I idolised mostly conformed to the male gaze’s traditional beauty standards: immaculate skin, perfect teeth, shiny hair and, you guessed it, a flawless set of curves.

As an adult, I understand that cosmetic surgery, stylists, skin therapists and makeup artists go a long way to creating these goddess-like beings. But when you’re 15, you assume they just roll out of bed like that.

Over the last decade, this perception of perfection has snowballed, fuelled by Instagram and the prolific use of filters and editing. It’s not just pop stars and Hollywood queens that look impossibly glamorous, but small-time influencers and anyone who has access to FaceTune or knows their way around clever angles and lighting.

As Associate Professor Prichard points out, this has an alarming effect on our self-esteem. “Like any form of media, platforms like Instagram provide a range of different ideals for people to compare themselves to,” she says. “This can influence the way we think and feel about ourselves. In particular, if we compare ourselves to the images we see on these platforms and feel like we don’t measure up, this can have a negative impact on the way that we feel about ourselves.”

Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle. The celebrities and influencers who conform to these impossible standards often have the biggest following, further enforcing a single archetype of beauty. So prevalent has this look become online that The New Yorker journalist Jia Tolentino wrote about “Instagram face” in 2019. She describes “the gradual emergence, among professionally beautiful women, of a single, cyborgian face. It’s a young face, of course, with poreless skin and plump, high cheekbones. It has catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes; it has a small, neat nose and full, lush lips.”

Breaking the cycle

Fortunately, there are plenty of women on social media championing a more inclusive image and a “no f*cks given” attitude. For these ultra-confident women, their self-assurance is their sex appeal. It doesn’t mean they don’t buy into beauty culture — we all want to look our best and there’s nothing wrong with that — but they are open and transparent about what goes into looking a certain way.

I applaud any celebrity self-assured enough to admit to having had breast implants. Anna Faris, Kaley Cuoco and Iggy Azalea come to mind. Their transparency frees young women from false beauty ideals. It means we can get breast implants too if we want, but if we don’t, we know that’s why theirs look that way.

Kudos, too, to the celebrities who share #nomakeup selfies or before-and-after shots when they’re getting ready for big events. Then there are the women with smaller chests who celebrate what they have.

Something that helped me learn to love my own unique body shape was seeing Keira Knightley embrace hers when she appeared topless in Interview magazine in 2014. The photoshoot was performed under the condition they wouldn’t photoshop her images — a rebellion against an industry obsessed with “improving” women’s bodies.

“I think women’s bodies are a battleground and photography is partly to blame,” said Keira in an interview with The Times. “Our society is so photographic now — it becomes more difficult to see all of those different varieties of shape.”

Associate Professor Prichard is a big advocate for seeing more variety in mass media. “If we can add more diversity into the media, and reduce the weight stigma that surrounds people in larger bodies, then people will be able to more readily see that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes and the ideal body is not a ‘one size for all’,” she says.

She also believes we need to focus more on appreciating our bodies for what they can do, rather than how they look, and look after our bodies using healthy exercise and eating behaviours, rather than punishing them for not looking a certain way.

A dumb, miraculous bag of fat

I recently caught my reflection in a shop window. I was wearing a skin-tight dress and, without a bra, there was no hiding my pass to “The A Club”. But I felt good, because I saw the “no f*cks given” woman underneath. For me, that has meant ditching any ideas of breast enhancement surgery and loving my boobs for the perky little handfuls they are.

No woman should ever feel ashamed for getting breast implants. For many who choose it, it’s about loving their bodies the only way they know how, and most importantly, feeling amazing afterwards. But I do take issue with the message pedalled to us that bigger boobs are better, sexier and more feminine.

As Chrissy Teigen said, explaining her decision to remove her breast implants on Instagram: “I’ll still have boobs, they’ll just be pure fat. Which is all a tit is in the first place. A dumb, miraculous bag of fat.” Here’s to those dumb bags of fat, no matter the size.

Lauren Furey is a freelance writer who loves deep dives into tough topics on all things culture, society and the messiness of humanity.