THREE months ago Lyn Russ woke up, looked down to her belly and breathed a sigh of re­lief. It had been a long time since she had seen her stom­ach from that an­gle; since she was a teenager she had looked down and seen only her J cup-sized breasts. Af­ter years of wor­ry­ing about the pos­si­bil­ity of not be­ing able to breast feed, de­fer­ring to a “real boob guy” (now an ex-boyfriend) and suf­fer­ing con­stant back pain, the 23-year-old had 3.2kg of tis­sue re­moved from her chest.

Her trans­for­ma­tion to a 14C – now Aus­tralian women’s stan­dard bra size ac­cord­ing to the mul­timil­liondol­lar lin­gerie in­dus­try – has been dra­matic, phys­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally. Jog­ging, shop­ping in depart­ment stores rather than spe­cialty bra bou­tiques and a new wardrobe are now all on Russ’s to-do list. “It’s amaz­ing, my whole out­look has changed,” she says. “Be­fore it didn’t mat­ter what I wore, I al­ways felt re­ally frumpy, whereas now I can wear more fit­ted things and I feel like a real girl. I al­ways felt like such a tomboy. I went and got hair ex­ten­sions the other day, just be­cause I felt like I could and I’ve stopped eat­ing choco­late and all that kind of stuff, be­cause now I feel so much more pride in my ap­pear­ance.”

Large breasted, newly av­er­age or small, wher­ever women sit within the breast weight spec­trum of some­where be­tween about 300g and 9kg a pair, the stan­dard rule is that they just want to be looked in the eye. Dis­creetly break that rule on a stroll down Run­dle Mall, how­ever, and it seems that what the bra com­pa­nies have been say­ing for years is true: Aus­tralian women’s breast size has in­creased.

Men haven’t wished this fact into be­ing. Women to­day eat a wider va­ri­ety of food, in­clud­ing more fruit, veg­eta­bles and pro­tein from pork and chicken, than we did 50 years ago. Our diet is a foun­da­tion for growth, which is fine to a point, Di­eti­cians As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia spokes­woman Melanie McGrice says. The prob­lem is that like men women’s over­all size has grown, with 62 per cent of our pop­u­la­tion now over­weight or obese. McGrice says a range of so­cial, eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal rea­sons have led to poor eat­ing habits. “Over­weight and obe­sity in Aus­tralia is a com­plex is­sue and there are a quite a few rea­sons why obe­sity rates are in­creas­ing, but some of them in­clude the fact that our por­tion sizes are in­creas­ing, the food we’re eat­ing tends to be higher in kilo­joules and peo­ple are be­com­ing less phys­i­cally ac­tive.”

Calo­ries aside, many peo­ple be­lieve the foods they eat bring an over­load of hor­mones into their sys­tem. Chicken is of­ten blamed for pass­ing hor­mones and steroids on to women, but that’s sim­ply a myth, McGrice says. “It’s much more likely that it’s the weight gain in women that’s con­tribut­ing to in­creas­ing breast size as op­posed to hor­mones in food. The govern­ment reg­u­lates the hor­mones in chicken very tightly and it hasn’t been al­lowed in Aus­tralia for decades. Chick­ens are of­ten big­ger now be­cause they’re bred that way.”

Eleven years ago dis­count depart­ment store lin­gerie brand Hes­tia com­mis­sioned the Uni­ver­sity of New­cas­tle to com­pare women’s body sizes in the late 1990s and the 1920s. Re­searchers used a sur­vey that Hes­tia’s par­ent com­pany Ber­lei con­ducted in the 1920s and found that women in 1999 were 3cm taller, 5kg heav­ier and have a 4cm larger waist cir­cum­fer­ence.

If bra com­pa­nies’ sales fig­ures are any in­di­ca­tion, women’s fig­ures have con­tin­ued to change. Tri­umph spokes­woman Phillipa Nina says in 2000 the com­pany’s most pur­chased size was 12B. To­day, it’s an even split be­tween 14C and 14D. “While these sizes cer­tainly aren’t at the larger end of the mar­ket, it does in­di­cate Aus­tralian women are in­creas­ing in size,” Nina says. “I can also say that our sales of cup sizes D, DD and above have in­creased in the past five years by ap­prox­i­mately 11 per cent . . . and there are more full-fig­ure bras, both fash­ion­able and func­tional, avail­able. This is due to mar­ket de­mand and also to the fact that de­vel­op­ments in fab­ric technology and ad­vances in de­sign ca­pa­bil­ity are al­low­ing fash­ion­able, pretty and sexy bras to be man­u­fac­tured into larger sizes and still pro­vide the sup­port and com­fort these women need.”

Nina says the most pop­u­lar size sold varies from maker to maker depend­ing on the size ranges they pro­duce, and also varies among re­tail­ers, depend­ing on their cus­tomer pro­file. So all this talk of bust size

in­creas­ing could sim­ply point to lin­gerie com­pa­nies see­ing a mar­ket for larger-busted women that ex­tends be­yond the aw­ful beige min­imiser bras that were the only choice about 10 years ago.

Women up to a D cup aren’t the only ones who want lin­gerie that’s pretty, sexy and func­tional. They’re not the only ones who want to mould their busts into dif­fer­ent shapes for cer­tain oc­ca­sions – like min­imis­ing for sports, sim­plic­ity and com­fort for work and push-up for a night out.

That’s where Sue Bow­man steps in. Four years ago while work­ing in plus-size fashion she con­stantly en­coun­tered women seek­ing pretty un­der­wear to go with their new dresses. Like the big­ger lin­gerie com­pa­nies, she saw a niche in the mar­ket and pounced. Now she owns lin­gerie bou­tique Cheeky Curves, sell­ing bras, bathers and all kinds of naughty un­der­wear ac­ces­sories to match. With a kind of evan­gel­i­cal zeal she says her cus­tomers are all nat­u­ral, with an av­er­age cup size of H from sizes six to 24. Bow­man will have bras al­tered to ac­com­mo­date large cup sizes with small back sizes – just as she does for her largest cus­tomer, a 14N. “I see more big boobs than any­one in SA,” she says. “By the time our cus­tomers find us they’ve had the worst ex­pe­ri­ence, or they tell you that bra fit­ting is a hor­ri­ble chore. So we try to boost con­fi­dence and make them feel fab­u­lous and fem­i­nine. Quite of­ten peo­ple leave laugh­ing rather than be­ing in tears, so it’s very re­ward­ing to leave them feel­ing happy and em­pow­ered.”

Bow­man’s em­ployee, Ellen Gava, was any­thing but happy be­fore she came into Cheeky Curves to buy a bra for her school for­mal dress. The 19-yearold re­calls be­ing teased when she was in Year Seven for be­ing a size 12D, hat­ing PE class in high school be­cause she couldn’t find a com­fort­able sports bra and only fit­ting into styles de­signed for older women. “It was aw­ful in school, be­cause you don’t get ha­rassed just by girls, you get ha­rassed by boys,” Gava says. “Go­ing shop­ping was aw­ful be­cause the only bra that fit­ted was black or nude and re­ally grandma. It came right up my chest, so I had to wear shirts that were re­ally high. That’s bad when you have big boobs be­cause it makes you look big­ger. I pretty much hated my­self.”

Bow­man sold Gava an age-ap­pro­pri­ate bra for her for­mal dress that made her feel com­fort­able, volup­tuous and happy. Now she’s a Cheeky Curves con­vert and em­ployee, hap­pily ex­plain­ing that she has fi­nally been fit­ted as a 10G and en­thus­ing about the lat­est styles and technology. “It’s bad wear­ing the wrong size bra,” Gava says. “I went from an E to a G in three months or some­thing. The weight was so bad, I used to have to lie down on the floor




at school be­cause I couldn’t sit in a chair any more. Once I got a bra that fit­ted it got bet­ter. It’s nice not hav­ing to just get min­imis­ers . . . my boobs were in the way of my arms, but now I can swing them.”

Cheeky Curves isn’t alone in recog­nis­ing the bucks in busts. Depart­ment stores have also caught up. Walk into any lin­gerie sec­tion and the bras for larger women are no longer at the back of the store and on the bot­toms of racks. The Tri­umph sec­tion at Har­ris Scarfe’s Run­dle Mall store places full ranges of bras to their new J cup in fash­ion­able lace and satin at the en­trance to their sec­tion.

Tri­umph fit­ter Jean Hamil­ton has seen thou­sands of breasts in her 22 years work­ing for Tri­umph and says she’s fit­ting girls ear­lier for their first bras. “When I first started they only had pure cot­ton bras with no stretch in them at all,” she says. “Now ev­ery­thing has changed. There are so many beau­ti­ful styles for all shapes and sizes.” Hamil­ton says be­ing fit­ted cor­rectly for a bra that doesn’t cut in, ride up or slip down can lessen the pain and dis­com­fort large breasts can cause.

Ade­laide Uni­ver­sity Pro­fes­sor Ma­ciej Hen­nen­berg knows all too well the im­pact larger breasts have on the body. His anatom­i­cal re­search is help­ing a Flin­ders Med­i­cal Cen­tre study de­ter­mine the qualificat­ions for breast re­duc­tion surgery. Pro­fes­sor Hen­nen­berg has mea­sured the chest cir­cum­fer­ence – the mea­sure­ment around the body, rather than just the cup size – of hun­dreds of women to de­ter­mine that body cir­cum­fer­ences are in­creas­ing faster than height.

“Some women, for a num­ber of rea­sons, end up hav­ing breasts that are dis­pro­por­tion­ately large com­pared to their bod­ies,” he says. “This is where the prob­lems oc­cur, sim­ply that the body weight is dis­trib­uted in a way that is not an­tic­i­pated by our skele­ton. In other words, our bones and our mus­cles do not grow to carry so much weight in front of the chest. This big weight pulling the front of the trunk, which our skele­ton is not ad­justed to, pro­duces shoul­der pain, back pain and tired­ness. Also, large breasts usu­ally are heavy so they hang down on to the chest or some­times even on to the skin of the stom­ach, and rashes are pro­duced, which is ex­tremely un­com­fort­able. So hav­ing larger breasts is not fun at all. It’s a fairly big health prob­lem.”

It’s a prob­lem that many women also link to breast can­cer, with larger breasts ru­moured to be more sus­cep­ti­ble. Not so, Ade­laide Uni­ver­sity breast can­cer re­searcher Dr Theresa Hickey says. She points out the dif­fer­ence be­tween breast size and breast den­sity. Breast size is concerned sim­ply with cup size; breast den­sity is about the struc­tures within the breast: fat, con­nec­tive tis­sues that give

the breast struc­ture and hold the glan­du­lar tis­sues, and the glan­du­lar tis­sues them­selves, which pro­duce milk. “It’s the glan­du­lar tis­sues that be­come can­cer­ous,” Dr Hickey says. “You can have very dense breasts but they can be small, and you can have very large breasts, but if a lot of that large breast is fat, they might not be dense. Breast can­cer risk re­ally de­pends not so much on the over­all size of the breast but the over­all com­po­si­tion of that breast.”

Dr Hickey says US re­searchers have been in­ves­ti­gat­ing the link be­tween the early on­set of pu­berty, which in­cludes pre­co­cious breast devel­op­ment, and larger breasts. Chil­dren are en­ter­ing pu­berty at a younger age, some­times be­cause of in­creased en­ergy lev­els as­so­ci­ated with obe­sity. Breasts be­gin to de­velop in pu­berty when oe­stro­gen pro­duc­tion kicks in and stim­u­lates breast ducts. When pu­berty starts early, at about 10-years-old, women can av­er­age more than 40 years of oe­stro­gen pro­duc­tion be­fore menopause in their mid-50s, pos­si­bly in­creas­ing their risk of breast can­cer due to pro­longed oe­stro­gen ex­po­sure. The con­tra­cep­tive pill and the fact that women are hav­ing chil­dren later also play with hor­mone lev­els and de­ter­mine the de­gree of oe­stro­gen ex­po­sure. Even the ev­ery­day plas­tic bot­tle has been caught up in the breast de­bate, given that many are made with the chem­i­cal Bisphe­nol A (BPA), which has a sim­i­lar struc­ture to oe­stro­gen.

With so many en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors at play it’s dif­fi­cult to pin­point just what is the cul­prit, Dr Hickey says. She also be­lieves breast aug­men­ta­tion rates skew the per­cep­tion of in­creas­ing breast size among women. “Of course hor­mones are one of the main things that drive breast devel­op­ment. Peo­ple with ab­nor­mal hor­mone pro­files, you can see that in their breasts, that’s true for men and women. Men who have too much oe­stro­gen de­velop breasts. As a sci­en­tist, I would say: ‘To what de­gree does this larger breasts idea re­flect women hav­ing breast aug­men­ta­tion?’ You’d be sur­prised by how many peo­ple do have their breasts in­creased.”

Plas­tic sur­geon Dr Gwyn Mor­gan wouldn’t be sur­prised by the num­bers hav­ing breast implants. Or re­duc­tions, for that mat­ter. About 80 women each year sized from about a DD cup to a J cup go un­der his knife to have their breasts re­duced in op­er­a­tions that last about two and a half hours and cost about $10,000. The most re­quested size is a large C – which can mean at least 1kg of tis­sue re­moved from each breast. “I think there prob­a­bly are more peo­ple with large breasts now,” he says. “But that’s be­cause I see lots of these women with them. It has prob­a­bly bi­ased my view a lit­tle.”

There are sev­eral ways to re­duce breast size, but Dr Mor­gan prefers to tuck the breast tis­sue back un­der the skin en­ve­lope, bring­ing the blood and nerve sup­ply to the nip­ple from above. In this way he’s able to pre­serve much of the glan­du­lar tis­sue and give his younger pa­tients a bet­ter chance of be­ing able to breast feed.

Russ, one of Dr Mor­gan’s pa­tients, won’t know if she will be able to breast feed un­til she has chil­dren. That’s just one of the is­sues cou­ples talk over when a woman is de­cid­ing whether to have a breast re­duc­tion. Dr Mor­gan says he of­ten sees cou­ples at odds over the pro­ce­dure when the man wants his wife to keep her large bust. “The men come out and say, ‘I don’t want my wife to have this op­er­a­tion’. My re­ply is, ‘Well, you don’t have to wear them’. I think a lot of the new-age men are more sym­pa­thetic to their wives’ prob­lems than in the past.”

They might also find that re­duc­tion gives their wives a new out­look on life. Pre-op­er­a­tion, some women roll over in bed at night and find that the mo­tion of their breasts from one side to the other wakes them up; oth­ers have deep grooves in their shoul­ders from their bra straps; and many can’t find cloth­ing to fit their topheavy fig­ure. Post-op­er­a­tion – like Russ – Dr Mor­gan’s pa­tients of­ten find the change is more than phys­i­cal.

“I like do­ing it be­cause you al­ways get grate­ful pa­tients,” he says. “A pa­tient said some­thing to me the other day that no one has ever said to me be­fore. I said to her, ‘What’s the best thing about hav­ing a breast re­duc­tion?’ She said, ‘Men now look me in the eye’.”

Lyn Russ

Be­ing fit­ted for a big bra need not be painful.

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