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Sport, Health & Wellbeing

Women’s breast satisfaction impacts their quality of life

A recent paper by University of Canberra researchers found women with larger breasts are less satisfied with their breasts and that this has significant implications for their quality of life and physical activity participation.

BroadAgenda Editor Ginger Gorman had a chat with two of the paper’s authors, Dr Celeste Coltman and  Dr Vivienne Lewis about their findings.

First of all, tell us about women and their breasts. There are so many different shapes and sizes of breasts. Why do we have low breast satisfaction at all? What are we measuring our breasts against and why?

Breasts vary widely – in fact no two are the same! We know that breast size ranges between 48 – 3100 ml, per breast, so the spectrum of breast sizes among women is really wide. Women can have small, medium, large or extremely large breasts due to excessive breast tissue.

As size increases, shape typically changes. Some breasts can be quite saggy, others not so much. Those that are sagging tend to splay outwards. The bigger the breasts, the more likely they are to sag, thanks to the force of gravity. It is likely that all of these factors influence women’s breast satisfaction.

Why did you decide to investigate how breast satisfaction was linked to health outcomes? 

The breasts change substantially across a woman’s lifespan – think puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause, as well as body mass fluctuations (which affect breast size) and changes to skin properties with aging (which affect breast shape).

Research to date has mainly focused on specific cohorts of women when examining breast satisfaction (e.g. mature women), but given the size and variation among our participant cohort we were really interested in better understanding the link between breast satisfaction across the lifespan and as a function of these key physical factors – age, Body Mass Index (BMI) and breast size.

From a health outcomes point of view, better understanding this link was important because there was some evidence to suggest that poor breast satisfaction is associated with reduced physical activity participation in women over 40 years, and this is linked to a host of negative health implications.

Who took part in your study? 

Three hundred and forty-five Australian women aged 18 to 84 participated in the study. The cohort was reflective of the variation among Australian women, with a range of body and breast shapes and sizes..

You found that breast satisfaction was influenced by breast size. Please explain this to us.

First, it’s important to understand how we measured breast satisfaction in our study. It was measured on a 4-point Likert scale (from 1 = “very dissatisfied ” to 4 = “very satisfied ”). Second, it’s important to highlight the range of breast sizes (volumes) of participants in the study –  ranging from 70 – 2,789 ml, per breast.

What our study found was that as breast size increased, participants were more likely to report being “very dissatisfied ” or “somewhat dissatisfied ” with their breasts.

Your paper found “greater breast satisfaction was associated with improved psychosocial and sexual well-being-related measures of quality of life, and time spent participating in physical activity.” How is breast satisfaction linked to improved psychosocial and sexual well-being measures? 

The key takeaway from our study is an association between breast satisfaction and Quality of Life (QoL) measures and this is influenced by BMI. We found that the effect of breast satisfaction on QoL measures was reduced among participants with a higher BMI. This means we must address the link between breast satisfaction and BMI when implementing public health initiatives regarding female body image and psychosocial and sexual well-being.

And now please explain why feeling better about your breasts might lead you to be more willing to participate in physical activity? 

We found that participants with increased breast satisfaction, which is strongly influenced by breast size, reported higher engagement in physical activity per week.

It’s important to note though that while breast satisfaction and breast volume (size) were found to influence physical activity behaviour, there are numerous other influencing factors that were not measured in our study including cultural factors, existing physical activity participation habits, personal control (decision making regarding self and health situations), interpersonal support systems and smoking status.

What does this mean for women with extremely low breast satisfaction and their overall health?!

What we do know from this research is that women with larger breast sizes are less satisfied with their breasts compared to their counterparts with smaller breast sizes.

Although the effect of breast satisfaction on physical activity participation was mild, the impact upon psychosocial and sexual well-being related measures of quality of life was substantial and needs to be considered when implementing future public health initiatives.

In order to improve psychosocial and sexual well-being related measures of quality of life, we need public health initiatives to increase total breast satisfaction. Critically, these initiatives must address the association between breast satisfaction and breast size and BMI.

This seems to mean it’s critical to get women feeling better about their breasts! As a society, how do we do this? 

Public health initiatives are required to normalise the conversation around breasts, in particular the NORMAL variation that exists in breast size and shape between women. We must also design inclusive equipment and garments that cater to the diversity in breast shape and size – in particular sports bras.

Women with large breasts report difficulty finding a sports bra to correctly fit and support their breasts during motion. However, a correctly fitting and supportive sports bra removes the ‘bra barrier’ to physical activity, and enables women to undertake physical activity comfortably and supported.

This article was first published on BroadAgenda on 29 November 2022. Photo: stock image.

Words by Ginger Gorman, the Editor of BroadAgenda. Ginger is a fearless and multi-award-winning social justice journalist and feminist. Her book Troll Hunting came out in 2019, and she is the gender editor at HerCanberra.

Ginger hosts the popular "Seriously Social" podcast for the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. Follow her on Twitter.

BroadAgenda is Australia’s leading research-based gender equality media platform, published by the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation.

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