This post is part 3 in a cursory overview of some historical ideas about breasts. Look for my health enhancing breast butter coming out soon!
It seems the Eastern view of the breast might have been much different from the Western view. While this article did not reference ancient views, it gave the overall idea that the breast is an object of nourishment belonging to the woman and that breast imbalances or cancer are, in part, a result of failing to recognize the power of the breast and failing to nourish oneself (Devani, 2017). In addition to the emphasis here and in Northrup’s writings, I offer the idea that the breast is equally about power not just nurturing and nourishing. I can’t help but recall a favorite slogan from my breastfeeding years “I make milk! What’s your super power?!” Whether a woman has breastfed or not, her breasts are symbolic of her power to sustain life!
Dr. Christine Northrup adheres to this Eastern view of the breast as a symbol of nourishment, not just in the power to nourish life, but as a symbol of a woman’s power to nourish herself. She notes how the current patriarchal, medical model is one of looking for problems with the breasts Mercola & Northrup, 2013). This is something I’ve seen myself quite often - women wondering what their risk factor is and viewing the breast largely as something problematic. It’s either too small or too big or too saggy or too milky with a strong let-down or too dry with an (often mythical) inability to breastfeed. It’s a cancer risk, a health risk. It needs to be painfully squashed on a regular basis to be sure it doesn’t nefariously take over your life. And you better check it regularly yourself too, keeping in mind how dangerous it is, how likely it is to hurt you.
Honestly, before reading this particular interview with Dr. Northrup, I’d never thought of BSE as something negative. I just love what she had to say around this. Total lightbulb moment for me! I’ll quote a portion of the written interview between Mercola and Northrup below.
"There was a huge study done in China that showed that teaching women how to examine their breasts did not decrease their mortality at all," she says. "In fact, all it did was increase the number of biopsies for benign disease. So, there's no data that breast self-exam helps with anything."
That said, she still encourages and recommends a monthly or weekly "self-love breast massage," but not to specifically look for anything, or with the expectation of finding something wrong. Instead, she suggests just gently and lovingly massaging your breasts and up under your armpit, where the lymph nodes are located, while taking your Epsom salt bath. The best time to do it is just after your period, when you have the least amount of hormonal stimulation.
"Massage this with love. You're not looking for anything," she says. "The average woman will find something. We know that breast self-exam, or just a woman finding something because she knows her breasts, is just as good as all of these other screenings for finding the fast-growing tumors. See, the problem with screening is it finds the slow-growing ones that may regress or wouldn't go anywhere anyway.
So, for a part of your health, you want to start a practice of bringing your breast home to your chest. Get to know them in health lovingly. Don't use your fingertips, by the way. Use your palm. Otherwise, you're going to feel every little gland and freak out. And then if you do find that you have what's called a fibrocystic disease where your breasts get tender, start eating some kelp tablets, because the iodine really helps that in a huge way.” (Mercola & Northrup, 2013)
Knowing the power of the psychneuroimmunological pathways in our bodies doesn’t it make vastly more sense to view the breast as something to be nurtured and nourished rather than something to be worried over?
I think the Ayurvedic idea and Northrup’s philosophies hark back to some of the earliest views of the breast, long before the Medieval or Renaissance views. In the infancy of human civilization, long before the advent of patriarchy, “God was a woman” to use the title of a book (Stone, 1976). Art and archeology hailing from that era show us a breast that is honored as the source of nurturing and the nourishment needed to sustain life. The breast was seen as the seat of female power as evidenced by statues of goddesses not just with large breasts, but often with many breasts. The goddess, as the source of power and life, was represented by the image of a woman.
In the creation of my breast butter, and all of the women’s products I’m currently and simultaneously developing, I want to recapture this idea - that our femininity is a source of power and life and to be embraced, not a source of problems to be feared or parts to be shamefully ignored under patriarchal taboos.