Life

The UK’s big boob problem: why are so many British women unhappy with their breasts?

Ever found yourself dreaming of bigger (or smaller) boobs? Then you really need to read this…

There’s no getting away from it – or them, as it were: a 32G in most good bra stores, I have unequivocally big boobs. Most assume that this is a Very Good Thing. Indeed, many people – mainly friends, but also women in nightclub toilets – have approached me to talk about a) the size of my breasts and b) how lucky I am to have them. Which I always find absolutely baffling.

Often, I argue the case. I point out that a larger bust ruins the line of most outfits, and renders backless/strapless dresses an impossible dream. That I can never go braless, not because society’s hand-wringers would gasp, but because I’d feel heavy and uncomfortable. That I have been a bridesmaid seven times, and the size of my boobs have always proven to be a source of alarm for even the most relaxed brides. That, when I take my bra off and look at myself in the mirror, my eyes are drawn immediately to any signs of sagging, because I know it’s coming and I’m terrified. That I can’t help but stare for ages at the delicate skin and any little lines I perceive to be forming. And that I feel awful, genuinely awful, for being so bloody vain.

They never believe me, though. Because they think their smaller breasts – the same breasts I perceive as neater, more attractive, and less cumbersome – are the worst. They think I’m just being… y’know, annoying. Forget champagne problems: it’s all about those big boob problems. Which leaves me feeling cross, because they don’t realise how good they’ve got it, and my pals feeling irritated, because I just don’t get it.

This disconnect is apparently true of pretty much everyone. Indeed, a new medical study, published in the journal Body Image, has confirmed what I’ve long suspected: that pretty much no one is happy with the size of their breasts.

Female statue, nude
The average UK bra size is now a 36DD (compared with 34B 11 years ago)

In a survey of 18,541 women in 40 countries, with an average age of 34, it was revealed that half (48%) of us want larger breasts than they currently have. Just under a quarter (23%) of women want smaller breasts. And, in another dubious win for the UK, it’s British women who have the greatest breast size dissatisfaction of all. Hurrah.

The Breast Size Satisfaction Survey (BSSS) also found that those of us who dream of bigger/smaller breasts are more likely to suffer from poorer psychological well-being – including lower levels of self-esteem – not to mention be unhappier with our weight and overall appearance.

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It is beyond fascinating that MOST women are unhappy, because it means that their unhappiness is not related to a specific size or beauty ideal. Rather, it’s the plethora of ‘ideal body types’ we’re fed on a daily basis. We’re told to be thinner, curvier, more athletic. That cleavage is sexy, yet also slutty. That flat stomachs are in, but flat chests are out. That we should look more Kardashian, Lopez, Johansson, Aniston, Moss, Hadid and Knowles, somehow all at once. That, despite all of this, the ideal “bikini body” is still a thin white woman with medium-sized breasts, narrow waist, zero cellulite, and a toned stomach (go on, stick it into Google if you don’t believe me).

With so many conflicting messages, is it any wonder that we always feel as if the grass is greener? That, no matter what, we will always find something wrong with our bodies, and obsess over it incessantly? The little voices in our head tell us that we’re not good enough, because that’s the line they’ve been fed over and over again. And it’s even worse with boobs. 

The average UK bra size is now a 36DD (compared with 34B 11 years ago) and 53% of cupped bra sales at Selfridges are now a 34DD or larger, according to The Telegraph. But breasts have their own cultural beauty standards to fit, and the norm today (if you ignore the double-page spread in The Sun/the Kardashians’ Instagram pages) veers smaller and perkier.

As reported by Mic: “Women are even having their breast implants removed or opting for smaller implants to begin with [because] there is a stigma about wearing larger cup sizes.”

What we need, I reckon, is more boob diversity. We need to see big boobs, small boobs, saggy boobs, asymmetrical boobs, athletic boobs and all the other boob archetypes. When we go lingerie shopping, we want to see women of all shapes and sizes modelling the bras. And, when we type ‘bikini body’ into Google, we really want the words ‘just put a bikini on your body’ to come up in big bold letters, to be honest. Because, until we see ourselves reflected in advertising and the media, we’re going to assume there’s something wrong with us, and we’re sick of being made to feel bad about our bodies. Particularly as it has an incredibly dangerous knock-on effect.

That’s right: worse than the feelings of dissatisfaction and low self-esteem, is the fact that our dissatisfaction with our breast size is making us less likely to practice breast self-examination. Which means that, yeah, we’re less confident about detecting changes in our breasts. I know this to be true of myself: I never checked my breasts until very recently, and, when i did, I was absolutely baffled because they felt like a clusterfuck of lumpy tissue. Confused, I went to see my GP, where I was informed that, yes, I did have a lump, and they were referring me to my local hospital.

As it turns out, my GP was wrong: in fact, I have five lumps in my breasts: three in the left, two in the right. And I never noticed a single one, all because I felt ‘icky’, for want of a better word, about my G-cup boobs. (All of them are, thankfully, benign. However, I’ve been informed that I’m a high risk when it comes to breast cancer, and that I need to check myself regularly.)

Melons as breasts
Our dissatisfaction with our breast size is making us less likely to practice breast self-examination

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Professor Viren Swami, who conducted the BSS survey, said: “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.”

With this in mind, let’s make an effort to show our boobs some TLC. Because it’s clear that getting to know them – maybe even love them – is absolutely vital.

You can find out how to check your boobs (along with a helpful tutorial video) here.

Images: Getty/Unsplash

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