There's nothing like the mention of breasts to get boys into a teehee of blushing confusion, something that has always perplexed women.
While they're technically genitalia, breasts are more like, well, elbows, in terms of how they just swell out from the body in a smooth transition. No hidden nooks and crannies or odd behaviour from breasts, unless you count the odd wrinkling response to cold or other stimuli – something that's neither unique to women nor to breasts, actually.
But goodness, they're a unifying force. Half of us have – or had – them; those who don't have them, spend a lot of time desiring them (and trying to spot falsies); and they're second only to hair in terms of how every woman wants a version she doesn't have. I know this is true because of the amount of junk mail I get that promises me bigger breasts: I think of this as mam-spam. (I'm still wondering how to label the junk mail I get promising me a bigger – or a better-performing – penis.)
This month is International Breast Health Awareness Month, which means we're thinking about our treasure chests in a non-teehee way. We're thinking about their life-giving properties, and how tied up they are to our sense of ourselves. We're honouring them, despite their nuisance value (anyone who's a C-cup or bigger knows what I mean).
Penguin has launched a truly fantastic collection of writing about breasts,Thanks for the Mammaries, to coincide with this focus month. All royalties will be donated to research. It's edited by Sarah Darmody, a young Australian who carries the breast cancer gene, and chose to have a preemptive double mastectomy. She writes beautifully and movingly in the introduction about the apparently difficult call she made (see our book review for a link to an interview with Sarah). When you've watched half the female members of your family wrestle with and succumb to death, she points out, making the choice gets easy: you're choosing life.
This month, you're going to be smothered with information about breast cancer. Please try to look, and to listen. Breast cancer is curable, assuming you spot it and deal with it early, and it's not the hardest thing to spot. Knowledge is power, and really – none of us know it all already.
I'll say "self-checks" just so the boys can go teehee.
(Heather Parker, Health24, October 2009)