Changing for the breast? A 14 year old shares her views on breasts, breastfeeding, sex appeal, and society.

by Ophélia Martin-Weber
Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

I wonder when people started treating boobs as objects used just for sex.  A long time ago did people respect moms and their breasts feeding hungry babies?  Even though they didn’t see women as equal did they know that breastfeeding was the healthiest, easiest, and natural source of nutrients to feed the baby and nothing to shun?  There was a time when women didn’t have the right to vote but could freely pull out their breast and feed their baby and today it seems like we have flipped those.  In some ways we have come so far in how women are treated and viewed in society but in other ways women, particularly mothers, are dismissed as their real value being only in their appeal to the opposite sex.  I wonder if we’ve lost something.  Then I wonder what that means for me and I’m only 14 years old.

When I was younger I didn’t know breasts had amazing powers to produce milk even though my mom breastfed my sisters and me.  All that I knew was that I had little boobies and I couldn’t wait for the day when my nipples would transform into breasts.  I don’t remember when the fact that mature breasts can give milk really stuck in my head but when it did I thought humans were related to cows.  Sure, humans and cows are both mammals but when I was a kid I thought maybe women actually were cows.  Today I know that’s not true and I also understand there is a lot of attention given to the sexiness of the female breast and that makes me uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable because now that I have breasts I find myself wanting smaller breasts in part because of dance but also because I know that bigger breasts are supposed draw attention from guys, are seen as more sexy, and could decide how I am treated by others.  Part of me feels that if I want to be liked I have to have big breasts.  I want guys to notice me but I don’t want guys to notice me (yes, I know this is a contradiction) and I really don’t want them to think I’m just here to have sex with.  I’m just not ready for that and don’t know if I ever will be.  To me, I’m so much more than my sex appeal.  So I’m careful about what I wear, I don’t want communicate that I want attention based on sex but that frustrates me too.  The clothes I like the best are more form fitting but if I wear yoga pants that fit my butt well will it be communicating that I want the wrong kind of attention?  Or in a leotard are my breasts speaking louder than my mind or my art?  I hope not.  I want to matter to others for more than just my body.  As a dancer, I work with my body a lot and I work hard to make it strong and healthy but not for attention.  That work is to help me tell stories, to use my body as an artist and an athlete.  Struggling with my body every day is part of my lot as a dancer and I have a love hate relationship with it and I’m ok with that.  What I don’t want is to question my natural biology simply because of how others say it should be.  Sometimes it feels as though society wants to punish those with female body parts yet tell us we’re equal without having to act like we really are.  I don’t get it, I understand that breasts are considered sex things but they don’t seem any more “sexy” than most of the other parts of my body such as my lips, my arms, my shoulders, my legs.  Men may find them sexy (is it that way in every culture or just ours?) but they aren’t sexy to me, they feed babies.

The author, Ophélia Martin-Weber

The author, Ophélia Martin-Weber

Looking back to what my childish mind was thinking and comparing it to some people’s opinions about moms openly breastfeeding in public, I wonder if they too see breastfeeding moms as cows?  Do breastfeeding mothers need to be fenced and herded together, separate from everyone else?  I know there are people that think about moms that way but not everyone does.  A lot of my adult friends have different opinions about breastfeeding but they don’t think poorly about my mom and they don’t ask her to cover when she’s feeding my little sister.  It doesn’t bother them that part of my mom’s breast is visible.  Pictures of beautiful and sexy women show off breasts at least as much as a mom’s breast is seen when she is breastfeeding.  In our culture, what is the most sexy part about women’s breasts?  The breast that is popping out of a too small shirt or the covered nipple?  Why?  If it’s the nipple, why is it such a big deal about breastfeeding in public if the baby is hiding the nipple?  Understandable because of the messages we get from certain parts of society, they might think it is sexual because a person’s mouth, even if it is a baby is on a woman’s breast but they need to get a grip and review their history lessons.   And also learn how breastfeeding works.

And why is it ok for men to show off their mammary glands but women can’t?  Why aren’t women “allowed” to expose their chest as much as men can?  Why is it considered indecent for me to be topless by my neighbor across the street can walk around just in his shorts and nobody has a problem with it?  How is that equal?  How is that not discrimination?  Stop telling me I can be equal to my male counterparts but then tell me I have to hide my body more as if there is something wrong with me.

I’m not sure I even want to have babies but if I do I will breastfeed them though I have to admit the idea of breastfeeding in public scares me because I know how people think of breasts, women, and moms.  That kind of attention isn’t what I want for myself.  I don’t know what I will do though because I know too much about breastfeeding to not breastfeed and I don’t think I’d want to just stay home all the time.  How sad is it that anyone would be afraid to feed their baby in public?  I’m a little disappointed in myself for feeling this way, I mean, my mom is The Leaky Boob, I feel like she’s the queen of breastfeeding.  But that’s where I am right now.  Fortunately, I have a long time to figure that out and I know I have a family that will support me along the way.

If all this obsession with female breasts didn’t actually happen, what would life be like?  If we could change the attitudes against breastfeeding would we actually change attitudes about women?  I hope we can learn from our mistakes because I think people are being hurt by the accepted cultural attitudes of social norms.  And I’m still young, I have to have hope.

 

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What do you think?  

Do you feel attitudes about breastfeeding are related in any way to our attitudes about women in general?  

How did you think about breasts, breastfeeding, and your own body when you were a teen?

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Completely unrelated to this post, this video shares the author’s story of dance and her dance aspirations.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9wzWcV_gSs

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IMG_0404 Ophélia Martin-Weber is 14 years old, the eldest of six girls.  Ophélia is in 8th grade, homeschooled, and is   passionate about dance.  A few years ago Ophélia wrote for The Leaky Boob, sharing her views as an 11 year old on breastfeeding and Jessica recently shared a proud mama moment about Ophélia.  You can see some of Ophélia’s dancing and hear her share her dance story and dreams in this video.
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Comments

  1. Wonderful! And beautifully written. I hope I can raise my daughter to be just as inquisitive about our society and culture and how it affects our body image, relationships and even how we feed our children.

    When I was little, I would get upset when I was told that I couldn’t take my shirt off during soccer practice but the boys were allowed to.

    Great post!

  2. Michelle says:

    So amazingly well written! Such an insightful young woman.

  3. Thank you for this well written, thought-provoking piece. You are a beautiful, intelligent, and talented young woman. I hope to do as well as your parents have in keeping my daughter grounded, inspired, self-aware, and self confident as you are.

  4. That was beautiful. I wish I would have been able to speak my opinions at your age. I love it that your mom lets you write for us, it is amazing to see such outstanding opinions from somebody so young. I had my daughter right after I turned 20 and have had negativity from family/friends about breastfeeding but have stuck with it (7 months so far!!) I hope doing something so great for her sticks with her and leaves an amazing impression on her like it has for you. I grew up thinking breastfeeding was normal but not everybody is exposed to it like I was. I am so happy that some young women can express how they feel about this subject that shouldn’t even have to be explained by anyone. Thank you.

  5. Natalie says:

    You go girl!

  6. Kristin K says:

    More true words have never been spoken by such a beautiful and wise young lady. Kudos to you for being real with where you are on this topic and for addressing questions so poignantly that many adults hide from.

  7. Diana C says:

    What a beautifully written piece! I commend you for being so inquisitive and honest. It’s refreshing! You have a beautiful voice, never stop questioning and keep writing! Wishing you all the best!

    • Diana C says:

      Just want to add that I didn’t have the courage to feed my son in public until he was 14 months and I was desperate to soothe him on an airplane. I’m so ashamed of myself and pray that when I am blessed with my second I will have the courage to nurse him in public early on! Your piece has given me courage, thank you!

  8. Well written, Ophelia! You are a true inspiration to girls and women alike.

  9. Cherith Dammasch says:

    whoah!!!!!!!! at 14 I thought that breasts were a) produced milk for babies and b) were what made a girl look like a woman and pretty. I never thought they were sexual! I still feel that way as a married woman and as a mother!!

  10. Wow, what in incredibly wise girl. Can I vote for her for president yet?

  11. Very well written. Given the maturity of this piece and your views at such a young age I think you will go very far and do the best thing for you. You seem very self aware and that is such a wonderful thing! I wish you all the best on your journey to adulthood and towards attaining your dreams in dance!

  12. You are an amazing young woman. You are obviously very bright and inquisitive, and I think those are qualities that will take you far in life. Don’t be ashamed for how you feel, it takes a lot of courage to speak so freely and clearly.
    Jessica, I can only hope to raise my daughter and son as well as you are raising your girls.

  13. Claire Crutchley says:

    I am SO impressed, 14 years old & you already just GET IT. Intelligently written, well expressed & showing wisdom beyond yr years. What an amazing little lady you are Ophelia, yr mama should be very proud. You are going to go on to do great things & I can’t wait until I hear yr name again in the future. All the very best of luck to you!

  14. Colin Crosbie says:

    Fantastic! With kids like this coming up, maybe there’s hope for the planet’s future after all. Intelligent, articulate well thought through. Wonderful.

  15. You write well, Ophélia. You can express yourself clearly, and you have a convincing, but not forceful way of sharing your views. That’s something many, many bloggers and writers out there still need to learn. Your writing flows well. I’d love to read more from you.

    And I watched your video, too. You really come alive when you dance. It’s wonderful to see. I sincerely hope you reach your fundraising goal – you’re so close already! Good luck!

  16. What an amazing editorial: a fresh view, with rare insight and honesty for a writer of any age.

    Keep speaking up — and shrugging off the patriarchal straitjacket — and you’ll go far.

  17. I would like to give you kudos for speaking your mind about such an important issue when it comes to women’s health, rights, and biology. It makes me proud to see that children your age are recognizing that issues like this exist in today’s society, and that you are confident in giving your opinions on those issues. I am glad your mother is open about these things with you. Not many parents are open about sexuality with their children, which can lead to complex misunderstandings about these issues. I hope others can recognize the wisdom you have written here, and follow in your footsteps someday. I hope, no matter what changes you go through, that you will continue to love yourself unconditionally and be happy.
    Keep true to yourself, and you’ll go far. Good luck to you in everything you do, Ophelia!

  18. Rebekah says:

    Ophelia, you are fantastic! It makes me so happy to see a teenaged girl with your viewpoint on breastfeeding and feminine sexuality. When I was growing up, my mom was a lactation consultant. I was, however, the youngest of six, so even though I was surrounded by breastfeeding, I didn’t see much of it until I was a teenager and my older siblings had children. Strangely, breasts’ nutritive and nurturing powers were completely separate from their sexual appeal in my mind. It never crossed my mind that women shouldn’t be seen breastfeeding or that it would be misinterpreted with sexual overtones. It was completely controversy free to me until I became a breastfeeding mother. I applaud you for being so aware of it all. I hope I am able to raise my sons to think the same way when they are your age. The world would be a better place if more people shared your perspective. Best of luck to you!

  19. I had never seen a woman breastfeeding until I was in my 20′s. Appalling. When I was a baby in the 50′s, my mother had to fight for the right to breastfeed, as public opinion then had it as ‘messy’ and ‘old-fashioned’.
    Several months before my first son was born, my sister in law had a baby and breastfed everywhere, in front of all family members, completely comfortable. It made it so much easier for me, when my turn came, and I am forever grateful to her for that!

  20. Sarah Jones says:

    Beautiful writing, with a willingness to ask questions that are difficult, and ones that have no answer. Keep writing, keep dancing, keep growing in faith and maturity, beautiful young lady.

  21. Ellesmama says:

    Awesome post. Don’t worry about feeding in public, when the time comes start slowly in the company of other mothers, and build up your confidence to feed anywhere and everywhere. Most people are supportive and the rest just need educating, which you are helping to provide by feeding in front of them! Also, chances are you won’t care about anyone’s opinion as your baby’s needs trumps everything!

  22. A beautiful piece. As a male it helps me to understand better what a majority of women think about and feel. Keep writing.

    KSS

  23. Really amazing piece. Knowing there are fourteen-year-olds out there like you gives me hope. Thank you for that.

  24. Excellent post. I’m an adult (way past “adult” – past my baby-making days), breastfed my son, but I don’t even know when I first realized that breasts are for nursing babies.

    I know I grew up hating my breasts (a friend’s grandfather molested me there when I was 9 or 10, and that set things in motion), hated how busty I am (and that has moved from feeling awkward about even having breasts, to “man, they sure get in the way, and it is so darned hard to find a bra that fits and is comfortable.) I’ve come a long way to accepting them as part of me – and seeing myself as far more than them, of course. But kudos to you for actually thinking this deeply about it at your young age.

  25. It’s encouraging to know that there are still young girls/women out there who don’t have an overly sexualized view of themselves. So rare in the society we live in, but a so much healthier ideal. I

    t’s also great that you have such a good view of breastfeeding. I knew absolutely no one growing up who had been breastfed, or any mothers who breastfed their babies. It wasn’t until my friends started having babies that I viewed breastfeeding differently and considered it for my future babies. I wish I’d had a different opinion growing up!

    You are awesome, Ophélia! Keep doing what you’re doing and you will excel in all you do! :)

  26. I am glad this person is thinking deeply about the things that affect them but all the comments making the age a big deal bother me. I would urge you who think this is especially different because of age to do some pondering of your own. The idea of adolescence is completely created by our culture and our treating people aged less as mentally different is potentially hazardous because mental capacity and capability are not different.

  27. Jack Jones says:

    This issue is all about power, the ability of some people to hold power over the rights of others. People know full well that breasts feed kids. They also know that men have nipples. The sexual card is just a poor excuse.

    Other cultures extend the issue, and make a big deal of women covering their arms and sometimes even their face with a veil, and will even misrepresent certain books claiming that they say it is so. Again, this is a power issue, men being able to control the lives of women in order to re-inforce their authority.

    In Europe, this is not an issue, and toplessness on the beach, and nudity at home is hardly an issue. Only Americans and certain religious groups tend to make such a fuss about this natural process.

  28. You have a smart daughter ;) I think it’s good to always question and ponder and wonder about these things and never stop! Questioning can lead to the change of society for the better!

  29. Hillary says:

    At 14, I only thought of breasts as objects that were in my way. i was a very developed girl early on and found it a nuisance. I really didn’t consider the sexuality piece until I was much older. I never considered breasts as a means of feeding a baby. Believe it or not I never saw anyone breastfeed, talk about breastfeeding, or even knew anyone who breastfed their baby until I was about 28 years old. In fact, when I was pregnant with my first child was the first time I actually met 2 women who breastfed their children. I have no idea how I even came to the conclusion that I would breastfeed my children no matter what. I had no support, no examples. I found a pre-ntal breastfeeding class and took it. I bought all the supplies including a pump, etc… I struggled for the first 8 weeks with my first son. I quickly learned that a happy baby was a nursing baby and I fed him no matter where we were. The nursing in public wasn’t something I even gave a thought. I just focused on my little guy and the rest just fell into place. I am certain given all the thought you have already put into this at age 14 that if and when you choose to become a mother that you will do whatever you need to do for your baby. :)

  30. Rebecca says:

    What an incredibly well-written and well-thought-out piece! Thank you, Ophelia, for sharing your views. I sincerely hope that by the time you and your younger sisters are grown and have children of your own that society has learned from their mistakes and changed their views of breasts and breastfeeding. I have a son (he’s 2 years old and no longer breastfed) and I plan on ensuring that he grows up to respect women (and their bodies), and support his future wife if she wants to breastfeed (in public or not), the way my husband supported me.

  31. How absolutely incredible is this young woman! As a woman and a mother this makes me so incredibly proud and I can only hope to be able to instill this kind of empowerment into my own daughter!!!

  32. Courtney says:

    Love this!

  33. There is a reason why women’s nipples and men’s nipples are treated differently in terms of censorship and public display. Women’s nipples respond to various sex hormones in different ways, including being firmer and more sensitive during ovulation and both in creating feelings of arousal through stimulation of the nipples and/or responding to sexual arousal by becoming firm and more sensitive. The level of these responses fluctuate throughout menstrual cycles, gestation and lactation and differs from woman to woman. Some women even experience sexual arousal during lactation and others find their nipples’ sexual response disappears during the period of time when they breastfeed. It’s a complex issue for individual women, women in general and society as a whole. We don’t have to conflate the feelings of sexual arousal in nipples (which are highly individual and dependent largely on female sex hormones), and therefore sexual meaning, with breastfeeding in the public arena anymore than we conflate a woman bending over to pick something up with the position of the vulva between the buttocks. We should be able to breastfeed or bend over in public as long as the sexual part is covered. We don’t have to deny or ignore the sexual feelings that arise from nipple stimulation (depending on hormones and context) in order for women to breastfeed in public. Women need to do stuff, babies need to be fed. For those people who can’t separate what nipples and breasts do from their sexual response, grow up and get over it. When a woman is breastfeeding, she has a job to do. It doesn’t matter what else is done with the equipment at any other time or situation.

  34. Malcolm Boura says:

    An excellent article which highlights some of the hypocrisy and contradictions behind societies attitudes.

    Part of the problem is a self perpetuating vicious spiral of “you can’t see them because they are sexy” and “they are sexy because you aren’t allowed to see them”. Countries with fewer hang ups about the body, countries where tops free sunbathing and full nudity are much more common, have much better breast feeding rates.

  35. This is a great piece of mature writing Ophélia.

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  38. Excellent points. Many cultures (including a good bit of in Europe) are not bothered by breasts. We have created a culture of stupidity in that way.
    Breastfeeding is one of the most natural things human do. My Mom, who was not at ALL comfortable talking about anything sexual with her sons (or very much with her daughters) breast fed, and breastfeeding by others never fazed her in the least.
    I remember years ago going to a friend’s house to see her new baby. She was holding him. I leaned over to stare at him; he was the first newborn I had seen as an adult. He was so tiny, so wondrous, so beautiful! After a bout a minute I realized she was breastfeeding him– I had not even noticed. I pulled back, thinking she might think I was weird, but she could tell I was in love with her new baby. A couple she lived with laughed, but it was at my unnecessary worry.
    It’s too bad that we can’t admire the human body and all that it does without sexualizing things that needn’t be sexualized (never mind over-sexualized)– espexcially those of us claiming to know and love the one who created the human body (“in our image… male and female”).

    And for the record, guys *can* control what they look at and their reactions. (I’m sure a very small minority cannot without help, but I’m speaking of the majority). Our culture has convinced most guys (and gals) otherwise.

    Regardless of what anyone says, or how they look at you, you’re awesome. Never doubt it. And don’t get down or yourself for how you feel about something, especially as you work things through growing up. Just keep thinkling, keep dancing, and please… keep writing!

  39. Love this line: ” There was a time when women didn’t have the right to vote but could freely pull out their breast and feed their baby and today it seems like we have flipped those.”

    Great insight! I hope to raise my daughter in a way that makes her question things the way you have done!

  40. Fantastic article! The best way to help women to not be treated as cows who should be herded away, or sex objects, is to normalize breastfeeding! Breastfeed in public with pride. Ignore any looks you get. It’s about your baby. I have never had a problem with breastfeeding in public. My scariest moment of breastfeeding was when I first did it in front of my dad on the first day of my daughter’s life. It was a little awkward but then we got over it and now I have no shame at all in feeding any time anywhere. I have never had a bad comment about it. I’ve probably received dirty looks but quite honestly I have never noticed because I’m too busy looking at my baby or playing on my phone.

  41. I agree with everything you have written! I am 24 and have two children, one ages 2.5years the other 8 months. Being just 21 when my first lg was born I felt the need to prove I was a capable mother able to nurish my child myself, sadly in the UK I feel there just inst enough support for new moms who want to breast feed. I was in the hospital 4 hours after I had my lg struggling to get her to latch propperly as I had never been shown, I was determind to do it, and all the midwives kept saying was to top her up with formula, after a restless night I gave in! This was heart breaking for me but second time round I made sure I researched more and I managed to breastfeed my lb up until he was 6 months! I did not like feeding in public as I got funny looks and whispers about me. My lg is 2.5years and knows mummys boobies are for feeding babies, so when does it all of a sudden change to boobies aren’t for feeding first….there a sexual attraction?! I wish I had been exposed to breastfeeding more when I was growing up as I probably would of understood it all more. Is it really just our culture that is so breast obsessed?! I’m not for letting it all hang out quite the opposite but like you said if were supposed to be equal why do we have to hide?!

  42. This was a wonderful article! I’m also 14 and I agree with you about everything you said and I feel the same way about it too. Both my little brothers and I were all breasted (one is currently breast feeding). I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that people feel upset about seeing a baby being fed. It makes me extremely upset that breasts are seen by society as a sexual thing. Some girls at my school speak negatively about seeing women breast feed and it really upsets me. All people have nipples and I don’t understand why people find it so offensive. You should be proud that your body is able to feed your child. I also think about the fact that males are allowed to walk around topless, but if a woman did that people would become upset.

    It makes me really happy to know that there are people my age with the same views as me! My mum showed me this and it made me happy!

  43. It is so refreshing to read a well-written article by a teen. In this day and age, it seems that being dumb or just acting the part is the cool thing to do, and the fact that you are able to ask such questions and wonder about our society sets you apart. You have many more years to discover yourself and figure out your place in this world but you are very well on your way to being a wonderful human being. Regardless of whether or not you end up having children, I think you will bring many good things to this world and will leave your mark on the people you encounter. The only person that will be able to actually answer all those question is you and I hope you enjoy the journey we call life as you explore your own limitations and dreams!

  44. I just did a college research paper on all the topics pointed out. I felt that breasts were a sexual part and nothing more when I was younger. Now I’m very passionate about breastfeeding and support it being normalized again.

    Well written and great use of words :) couldn’t say it better myself.

  45. ophelia, beautiful writing!

    that’s all i can truly express right now… just, beautiful. :-)

  46. Lauren Cliff says:

    Very well put and very well thought out. When I was 14 years old, I don’t think I ever put this much thought into such a controversial topic. I do know when I was little, between 5-6, when ever my family when to the mall (which was rare) when everwe got to a certain area in the mall I would run as fast as my little legs would carry me away from this one store, even though it always resulted in a spanking… It took a few trips before my mom realized I always ran away in the opposite direction of Victoria Secret. When My mom asked me why I ran away, through a tear streaked face I told her “I didn’t want Daddy or Brother looking at the girls wearing nothing”.
    Crazy how we take in what we see, but at 6 years old I knew there was something wrong with fact women could blatantly pressure you into thinking your body needs to be a specific way, or wear certain lingerie that should even be exposed to be “pretty”, “Beautiful”, or “Sexy”. This was so well written! :)
    (By the way, watched your video and keep up the great work, you are a beautiful girl and I pray you reach all yours dreams and beyond!)

  47. How refreshingly honest. What a mature perspective from a beautiful young woman.

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