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By Marina Michaels
From the perspective of the human infant, which all of us were at one time (assuming there are no aliens reading this), a woman's breasts are the very fountain and source of all life. Even though we later aquire certain other, culturally-dependent associations with a woman's breasts, this image of the breast as the source of all life underlies (however deeply buried) those other associations.
Any child who has been breastfed, however briefly, and any woman who has breastfed a child, is aware of the deep connections created during the process. Far more than physical nourishment passes between mother to child. In normal humans (I'm not speaking of those poor crippled creatures who don't or can't love their own children), there is a deep flow of love that is communicated with every slightest gesture: It is communicated in how gently and steadily the mother holds the child, it is communicated in how carefully the mother checks to ensure that the child is well-nourished, it is communicated in the very fact that the mother is willing to do what is best for her child despite possible criticism from others in her culture. (There are a number of people in the US who feel that there is something dirty or wrong with breastfeeding a child, and they seem to feel no compunction about trying to convince a breastfeeding mother of the error of her ways.)
The bond between a mother and child is greatly enhanced and deepened by breastfeeding. The bond is created both ways; though this isn't something I've ever seen discussed elsewhere, there is as well a flow of communication that comes from the infant to the mother, and to which the mother adjusts continuously. The infant informs the mother constantly of his or her needs, and the mother responds appropriately. This, too, is nurturing, in that it tells the infant that it is noticed, approved of, and loved in the world, and that it can get most of its needs fulfilled by asking in whatever way it is capable of. It also gives the mother the knowledge that she is doing something powerful in the world.
The most powerful thing anyone can do in this world is to raise a child well and with love.
Any woman, then, whether she has breastfed a child in this life or not, would have as a race metaphor (meaning the human race) that her own breasts are a source of nurture and nourishment, not just or even physical nourishment, but mental, emotional, and even spiritual nourishment.
If we take as an assumption that our beliefs affect our reality, and that what is going on in our minds and spirits has an influence on our physical makeup, then it follows that a woman's breasts are vulnerable to any beliefs she might have created or acquired that her nurturing abilities are not adequate or must somehow be hidden or done away with.
What happens, for example, when a woman is living and working in a culture where she gets mixed signals about her breasts? Where, for example the original image of breasts as nurture is heavily overlaid with the image of breasts as sex toys? Or when the culture a woman works within (say, most of modern America's corporate culture) demands that a woman reduce the apparent physical size of her breasts in order to be accepted?
Several studies have shown that in the US, a woman's IQ is perceived to be the inverse of her breast size. That means that the bigger her breasts, the dumber the woman is thought to be. And in a book that was once very popular in the US in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Dress for Success), it was explicity stated that the woman should do everything she could to make herself appear as though she had no breasts; to appear as masculine as possible.
With this and other kinds of cultural and social input, a woman could grow to be very confused over her own role as a woman and a human being within a given milieu. She would be getting mixed signals, often signals that conflict with her own natural feelings about her breasts and about herself.
Most woman want to nurture: Not just children, but each other, their friends, their family, their co-workers, and the man or men in their lives. When she is aware of this, and when she has learned how to do it appropriately and not in such a way that weakens herself or others, a woman's ability to nurture is a powerful component of her personal makeup.
In a culture that denigrates this component, and tells a woman to hide it or to suffer the consequences of being called a number of names, none of them pleasant, and where the woman is told that her breasts are in fact dangerous and must be examined with suspicion evey day for possible lumps, and that she therefore must take the risk of inducing the very thing she hopes to avoid by having frequent mammograms, it isn't surprising that women develop breast cancer at an increasingly higher rate.
Given this cultural background, many women will do everything they can to nurture their culture and those around them by suppressing their own needs and desires. One of those needs is, of course, the need to be comfortable, both physically and mentally.
Another need is to accept and love herself for who and what she is, and to be similarly accepted by those she loves. If a woman's family, friends, and co-workers place inappropriate demands on her that she does not reject, she will find herself torn into a thousand pieces, each trying to please an external need or demand, none of which please herself.
These situations can lead to ill health, including breast cancer. The reasoning and set of beliefs go something like this (though of course there will be variations on the theme, as well as alternate reasons and thoughts, depending on the woman's background and experiences, such as sexual abuse in childhood):
These thoughts lead to the following actions:
The obvious solution is for woman everywhere to decide that, if they wear a bra, they are going to take care of themselves by wearing comfortable ones, and by not wearing them overly long. They can also decide not to judge their sisters who choose not to wear bras. (This of course goes both ways: Those who choose not to wear bras can also decide not to judge those who do.)
It goes deeper than this, of course, and in fact these decisions must arise out of a woman's deeper commitment to herself. Women who have allowed themselves to adopt unhealthy cultural attitudes toward and beliefs about a woman's role in society and the world can choose to change their own beliefs and attitudes, and can choose to promote similar changes in others. (By example and with love, not militantly and with anger.)
The less obvious solution, then, is for a woman to decide that she is healthy and normal in her desires, and that her nurturing abilities, far from having little or no value, are part of the very lifeforces of this planet; without them, life could not continue. This can help women to shift their beliefs about themselves from feeling like powerless victims to understanding and knowing that they are powerful, vital, and in control of their own destinies, no matter what the outward appearances are.
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