o one ever said it was easy to feel confident in your body, especially when it comes to things you have little control over, like body type and breast size. The latter can be particularly charged because there are all sorts of expectations on women to have breasts that are the “perfect” size and shape, unattainable ideals that affect our body image, mental health, and – as a new study reveals – perhaps our physical health as well.
The study, published in the journal Body Image, analyzed the Breast Size Satisfaction Survey, which surveyed over 18,500 women (average age of 34) in 40 different countries. Women answered questions about their breast self-image (how their breasts compared to what their “ideal” looked like), their overall body confidence and psychological health, and their breast awareness: how often they conducted breast self-examinations, how confident they felt in being able to identify differences in their breasts, and how soon they would contact a doctor if they noticed any differences.
The results showed that over 70 percent of women are dissatisfied with their breast size, with 48 percent wanting larger breasts and 23 percent wanting smaller breasts. Women who were dissatisfied with their breasts were more likely to have lower levels of self-esteem and happiness, the study noted, while being less satisfied with their weight and overall appearance.
While those findings alone were troubling, the research also revealed that women who were dissatisfied with their breast size had lower breast awareness. They checked their breasts less frequently and weren’t as sure that they could detect breast changes, such as lumps or differences in size. Researchers suggested that, based on earlier research, this might be because women who aren’t as satisfied with their breasts might avoid touching or thinking about them, potentially due to feelings of shame, anxiety, or embarrassment.
The health implications are pretty major. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women worldwide, and according to the World Health Organization, breast awareness is a first and key step to an early diagnosis. The link between poor breast awareness and breast satisfaction was startling and “requires urgent public health intervention,” said Viren Swami, PhD, lead researcher of the study and professor of social psychology at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK, in a press release.
On an individual level, the best thing you can do is conduct a monthly breast exam (here’s how) and keep working on being positive and confident about your body, including your breasts. It’s a hard journey but, given these newly found effects on your physical and psychological health, it’s one that’s very much worth it.