Is there something about which women are universally unhappy? We might jokingly say it’s their spouses (cue Jack Benny,) but according to new science, there actually seems to be one thing uniting a large percentage of women in dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
It seems that breast size is the one thing with which a vast majority of women can agree to be unhappy. While most men view questions regarding this characteristic from the women in their lives to be the “third rail” of relationship communication, it apparently is a source of dissatisfaction for most women around the world.
While it might be easy to make speculative jokes about this subject, that’s unnecessary. We now have an official research study, the Breast Size Satisfaction Survey (BSSS,) a study uniting over 100 international experts and surveying 18,541 women in 40 countries, to rely on for answers.
It’s the largest cross-cultural body image study ever undertaken, and it has important public health implications. The mean age of participants was 34 years.
The findings of the study, led by Professor Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) were published in the journal Body Image.
So what did the research team find out about women’s thoughts and feelings about their breast size? 48 percent of women participating would like larger breasts, while 23 percent would prefer their breasts to be smaller
Published in the journal Body Image, the research discovered that 48% of women who participated wanted larger breasts than they currently have, 23% of women wanted smaller breasts, and only 29% of women were satisfied with the size of their breasts. The average (mean) age of the women taking part in the study was 34.
You might be asking “so what are the public health implications of being dissatisfied with breast size?” Good question.
It seems that women who are dissatisfied with their breast size told researchers that they were less likely to practice self-examination of their breasts and were less confident about noting changes with their breasts. These are both crucial self-care practices in the early detection of breast cancer.
The study made other connections as well. Those women dissatisfied with their breast size also reported negative outcomes related to psychological well-being. They reported lower self-esteem and less happiness. They were also more likely to be unhappy with their weight and overall physical appearance.
There were some interesting intricacies in the findings. While you might expect that American women would have the greatest levels of dissatisfaction with breast size, that wasn’t the case. The greatest breast size dissatisfaction was found among women in Brazil, Japan, Egypt, China and the UK, as measured by their estimate of the difference between current breast size and their ideal breast size.
Women from Egypt, the UK, Pakistan, India and Lebanon have the largest ideal breast size. Women in Germany, Austria, Japan, the Philippines and Malaysia have the smallest ideal breast size.
While these findings are interesting from a social and casual perspective, there’s more to them than meets the eye. According to lead researcher Viren Swami, who is a Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, “Our findings are important because they indicate that the majority of women worldwide may be dissatisfied with the size of their breasts. This is a serious public health concern because it has significant implications for the physical and psychological well-being of women.
“Breast cancer is the leading cause of female cancer-related deaths worldwide and poor survival rates are associated with poorer breast awareness. Breast size dissatisfaction may result in avoidance behaviours that reduce breast awareness, particularly if a woman’s breasts trigger feelings of anxiety, shame, or embarrassment.
“Our study found a direct link between greater breast size dissatisfaction and poorer breast awareness, as seen through lower frequency of breast self-examination and lower confidence in detecting changes in the breasts, and this requires urgent public health intervention.
“We also found that despite historical differences across nations, breast size ideals are now similar across the 40 nations we surveyed. This suggests that the objectification of medium-to-large breasts is now a global phenomenon.
“Another key finding is that breast size dissatisfaction decreases with age. It is possible that older women experience less pressure to attain breast size ideals or that motherhood and breastfeeding encourages women to focus on the functional purposes of breasts rather than seeing them purely in aesthetic terms.”
The important takeaway here may be that women should avoid letting their dissatisfaction (or satisfaction) with breast size to get in the way of the important self-care activities that can prevent more serious problems. Self-examination and seriousness about what’s found are far more important than how you feel about what you see in the mirror.
Keep the faith and keep after it!
Journal Reference – Viren Swami, et al., The Breast Size Satisfaction Survey (BSSS): Breast size dissatisfaction and its antecedents and outcomes in women from 40 nations. Body Image, 2020; 32: 199 DOI: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2020.01.006