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Breasts and All the Rest

by Ellie Daniels

An Interesting Development.

I wanted a Barbie® when I was little. But my mom, a midwife and feminist, didn’t like the idea. Barbie’s itsy-bitsy waist and big breasts were not her idea of good body image. So I pressed a baby doll against Barbie’s breast, showing my mom that Barbie could breastfeed! Mom and I compromised: I got a Barbie with glamorous, sparkly clothes, and she began teaching me that Barbie (and most everything else we see in our culture about breasts) probably isn’t realistic.

Barbie is just the beginning if you’re a girl learning about breasts. There’s also the beautiful image of a breastfeeding mother, the fake breasts of celebrities, and adolescence, when a girl develops her own breasts . . . it’s a lot to think about!

brasThe Beginning: Puberty

Developing breasts are usually the first sign of puberty. A hormone called estrogen starts the changes, causing fat to be deposited in the breast and milk ducts to grow. This is when most breast growth happens. Once a girl gets her period, her ovaries start producing another hormone, progesterone, causing milk glands to develop at the ends of the milk ducts.

Breast development might begin around the age of 9, but some girls are in their early teens before they notice changes. Usually, breasts begin to appear a few years before a girl’s period begins. Full development takes a few years. Some girls develop before they’re ready and they feel embarrassed. They might avoid swimming parties or hide in baggy clothes. Other girls are “late bloomers,” and worry about being teased. Are their breasts too big? Too small? Lopsided? Shaped right? All those feelings and questions are normal!

Where are the normal breasts?

In our culture, some girls never see normal breasts or see a mom breastfeed. Instead, they see and learn about breasts from magazines, TV, music videos, and the internet. Media messages tell us that breast implants are good, that round breasts with small nipples are normal, and that breasts are what we notice most about women. Yet all that has little to do with who we are, or how our bodies really work and look.

Learn what girlshealth.gov has to say about changes in your breasts.

Fashion and breasts

In some ways, preoccupation with breasts is nothing new. In the mid-1800s, women wore tight corsets to squish their breasts up to make them look bigger. They’d add hoopskirts to look even shapelier. When my Granny was a young woman in the 1920s, during the “flapper” era, women wanted smaller breasts to fit into straight-fitting, fringed dresses. My mom, born in the ‘60s, remembers when it was stylish to stuff breasts into cone-shaped bras that made them look very pointy.

Remember that each phase of growth has its own beauty. It’s not a race, and there’s not a perfect size—breasts come in all shapes and sizes. Trust your body!

Breast development takes several years and is usually divided into 5 stages. Not every girl goes through every stage!

  • 1 st Stage: Childhood: Breasts are flat.
  • 2 nd stage: Breast buds. Nipple and breast are slightly raised as milk ducts and fatty tissue begin to form. Areolas, the round ring of color around each nipple, begin to enlarge.
  • 3 rd stage: Growth. Initially, breasts may take on a conical shape, and later a rounder shape, with areolas darkening.
  • 4 th stage: Nipples and areolas form separate mounds.
  • 5 th stage: Breasts finish growing during puberty.

© 2005 New Moon® Publishing, New Moon®: The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams, Duluth MN.

 

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This article is from New Moon  , a magazine written for girls by girls. Here is a complete list of the New Moon articles on girlshealth.gov.

Content last reviewed May 15, 2008
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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