Thursday, June 21, 2012

thoughts on: Breasts, a Natural and Unnatural History

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural HistoryBreasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence   Williams

Every year in my elementary school, there was a lesson about head lice, either a filmstrip or a weekly reader article, and, I would spend the entire lesson trying not to scratch my head at the thought of lice.  Florence Williams' book is like that.  Informative, interesting, even entertaining, but it made me itch. 

Breasts begins with the laughable evolutionary theories of why humans alone have breasts, all of which center on men liking them.  She gives us a peak into the world of breast implants - the history and the how-to and the why - and discusses how our obsession with how they look has distracted us from real scientific inquiry.  She says, "By insisting that breasts are sexually evolved and relegated to a sexual destiny, we have encouraged women not to value breast-feeding, and sadly, often not to value their normal, natural bodies.  Breasts have only slowly offered up their secrets, and we have been too distracted by their beauty to look very hard."

Williams goes on to interview the handful of scientists around the world who are interested in how breasts grow and function.  With them, she explores the anatomy of this unique organ throughout the lifespan, its primary function - feeding babies, and the threat of cancer.  This is fascinating stuff.  Our breasts are amazing, the only organ in our body that rewires itself when needed, as many times as needed.  However, it is because of this ability to change at a cellular level that they are so vulnerable.  Scientists are just beginning to understand them.

Throughout, Williams discusses research into the impact of our environment on our breasts.  It is this topic that made me itch.  Our exposure to environmental toxins influences every aspect of the development of our breasts, from when we get them to the contents of our milk to the cancer we fear.  Like a sponge, our breasts seem to store particles of everything they touch, including the pollutants in our food and air.  I wish the solution were as easy as replacing my plastic tupperware with glass, but the abundance of chemicals in our modern lives makes contact with these substances unavoidable. 

Williams realizes that.  She sees no easy answers, no quick solutions, but in writing this book, she has brought these issues to the general public, made us itch, and begun a conversation, and that is a good start.

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