When bigger isn't always better
We’re talking about breast size and the disadvantages of being ‘generously proportioned’. It turns out that a big bust is a pain in the neck in more ways than you might think because, according to the British Chiropractic Association, one quarter of UK women wish they had smaller breasts.
The average British bra size is now 34DD, although 80% of us still wear the wrong size, and our blooming bosoms can lead to back pain (affecting 70% of the women surveyed), as well as symptoms such as tingling in the arms, restricted breathing, abrasions, breast pain, permanent shoulder grooves, poor posture and even RSI. What’s more, those badly fitting bras can themselves affect health, while the metal in underwires are unpopular with acupuncturists because they cross the body's meridians and block the flow of chi,.
But not all disadvantages are physical: some are social. Well endowed women report that false assumptions are often made about their intelligence, with their IQ being assumed to be lower than average - not unlike the “blonde” stereotype. Large breasts also get stared at openly in public with complete strangers apparently feeling it’s perfectly OK to make comments about them within earshot. Being surreptitiously groped (which is classified as a sexual offence, by the way) in crowded places was cited as another disadvantage.
Even when other people’s attitudes are discounted, larger breasts bounce more when walking quickly or taking exercise, causing discomfort and embarrassment. They also get stretchmarks. And sag. Financially, the support they require often needs more expensive and harder-to-find underwear, which then wear out faster because of the weightier demands placed on their elasticated straps.
A more modest bust doesn’t merely provoke less discomfort or the wrong kind of attention, but may help you look younger for longer and even prolong your life. According to recent scientific studies by UCLA researchers, even perfectly healthy breasts age two or three years faster than other parts of our bodies, which means they wrinkle and sag earlier than you might expect. Furthermore, Professor Laurence Kirwan says that a breast reduction can increase life expectancy by five years because of less wear and tear on the body caused by nerve damage, slipped discs and spinal problems.
Changes for the better
If surgical reductions were as simple as implants, perhaps they would occur far more often, but these comparatively extensive operations produce considerable scarring as well as a longer recovery time.
Thankfully, other techniques are now available. Dr Puneet Guptra of The Private Clinic of Harley Street can reduce breast size by up to 50% using microliposuction. Being a much easier procedure, it can be done with a local rather than a general anaesthetic and leaves only tiny puncture marks. However, it requires good skin elasticity in order for the breast to shrink in volume without wrinkles.
But is there a less invasive way to a slimmer, younger, less cartoonish profile? Good posture is an instant way to provide an instant figure lift. The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique says that improving the way you stand and move has multiple benefits for appearance, including helping your breasts to appear higher, your stomach to look flatter and your waist seem narrower.
Another simple remedy is a properly fitted bra. Osteopaths recognise that proper support for the breasts can profoundly affect back health. They say that the best support should come from the lower back, but many women take the strain much higher, often around the ribcage, which can contribute to a curved back. Also, if you tend to bend forward because of insufficient breast support, the trapezius over-stretches, potentially leading to headaches and fatigue. Such problems can often be resolved by having a proper bra-fitting.
Many UK women wear bras that are too big in the band size and too small in the cup. Also, since bras don’t last as long as other clothing, they lose intrinsic support sooner than their owners might realise. The way to check is to raise your arms above your head, then wave them around and maybe even jump up and down. If your breasts slip out underneath at all, or if the back strap rides up higher than the front, your band size is too large or has become over-stretched. A new bra should always fit snugly, even on the loosest hook, because bras stretch with age. You therefore need to be able to use progressively tighter hooks to extend its lifespan. An estimated 80% of a bra’s support comes from the band, while the straps provide 20%. Consequently, if your straps dig in, you may be over-shortening them in order to feel supported while the underband is too loose.
If, on the other hand, the band fits but the centre panel between the cups stands slightly away from your body instead of lying flat against it, the bra cups are too small. Another sign of this is that, when you turn to the side, you’re bulging over the top of your bra, creating the four-breasted look.
It’s normal for your bra size to change periodically throughout your life, so get professionally fitted in a specialist lingerie shop or department store every couple of years or after every weight change or pregnancy. After that, a new bra - like better posture - can then work wonders.