I'm in the process of developing an herbal breast butter for enhanced lymphatic flow and breast health. Leading up to the launch in June I'll be doing a few posts on the breast in history in an attempt to better understand our current views of the breast and what a healthier view might look like. Lots of interesting info to come!
There are numerous references in medieval and even earlier medicine to “pains in the breast” and tumors and some reference to treatment of them with herbs such as cleavers (Kress, 2017). The degree of male ownership of breasts during this period seemed to determine the degree to which they could be written about. Breast health in general was rarely if ever mentioned. When it entered the world of male doctors, it gained a few references. Yet while medieval men felt it uncouth to write about breast health, they were fine with shredding breasts to bits for sport with a popular medieval torture device (Loufbrouw, 2011). And this was written about extensively. On the other hand, women were not allowed “ownership” of their breasts. They existed solely for male pleasure with all but the poorest of women sending their newborns away from home to country wet-nurses for the first year or two of life. This equates to women being separated from the nourishing power of their own bodies and seeing their own power as something shameful to be shunned. And when women developed “breast bags” - early bras - to give them a bit of comfort or lift, men deemed them “indecent” (Loofbourow, 2011). Clearly this is different from today where *not* wearing a bra is considered indecent by some! In Medieval times any breast illness or cancer was attributed to an excess of "black bile" from an imbalance of the bodily humors.
During this time, women wore busks that flattened out their figure including the breasts. Some reference to this offering a means of birth control by stimulating miscarriage is mentioned. These busks were also seen as a means of masculinization under the misguided notion that a woman’s power lay in being more male. (Loofbourow, 2011).
The corset as a protective device embodies masculine associations; morally in danger of man, it is as if woman puts on the man over her vulnerable womanhood, which is, however, preserved — indeed exaggerated — beneath. The very act of hardening and stiffening herself, which is on one level defensive, becomes a militant form of transference to herself of masculine eroticism (in Loofbourow, 2011).