The Year in Review: Top Ten Breast Stories of 2012

  |   By Elisabeth Dale

Breasts were, as usual, the focus of attention during 2012. But this year offered up surprising new views on several breast fronts. Some breast stories revealed more than others.

From Time Magazine’s image of a four year old boy standing on a step stool suckling at his mother’s breast, to the PR failures of the grand dame of breast cancer charities, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, to the shocking discovery that the brassiere is not such a modern invention. Which of these do you think is the most important news event of 2012?

1. Dangerous breast implants. The faulty European PIP Breast Implants were uncovered in late 2011, but whether or not they should be removed, and who should pay for those surgeries, dominated news outlets in 2012. In the end it turns out that these sub-grade silicone fillers may or may not put a woman’s health at risk. It all depends on the circumstances.

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2. Susan G. Komen for the Cure loses support. Komen decided to cut breast health grants to Planned Parenthood but reversed their decision in response to public backlash. It’s still not clear whether Komen will fully recover from the controversy, either financially or from a corporate branding perspective. One lesson to learn from this politically charged year: women feel strongly about equal access to breast health care.

3. Boobs on display. Time Magazine raised a few eyebrows, and sold plenty of old-fashioned print issues, by choosing a titillating breastfeeding photo to accompany a cover article on attachment parenting. By the end of 2012, the mother pictured was “mom enough” to wean her son. Meanwhile, Facebook continued to ban similar nursing photos posted by everyday mothers. And paparazzi surreptitiously snapped Kate Middleton’s royally nude (but not yet lactating) boobs, splashing them across Europe.

4. The joys of breastfeeding? Just not in public, puhleeze. Celebrities from Snooki to Beyonce filled social media with blissful tales of breastfeeding. But women continued to be tossed out of restaurants and shopping malls if they (legally) tried to feed babies in public. Nursing moms were cautioned to keep their breasts under control so they didn’t lose time pumping on the job. One restaurant owner had a customer complain of unsanitary conditions because she fed her infant at work.

5. Breast is best, or maybe not. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg backs an initiative to ban baby formula in the city’s hospital maternity wards. The Milk Wars ensue with bloggers debating whether women have a choice to breastfeed. The author of the new book, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History had her breast milk tested and found it loaded with toxic chemicals.

6. Breast cancer research controversiesNew research finds that breast cancer is not one but may be up to 10 different diseases. Other scientists caution that promoting early detection by encouraging women to have mammograms may harm them by finding earlier cancers that are treated unnecessarily. Another study discovers that female workers in plastic factories are at higher risk, which prompts calls for more research into environmental links to the disease.

7. Pink ribbons ripped apart. Shortly after the Planned Parenthood/Komen debacle, a scathing documentary, Pink Ribbons, Inc. hit theaters (and is now available on Netflix). The film slams the culture of breast cancer charities, and argues that an over emphasis on “awareness” does little to help those most at risk of dying from aggressive breast cancers. Others find that Komen oversells the effectiveness of mammograms as a way to raise dollars. Breast cancer patients also speak out before and after “Pinktober” to criticize charities that trivialize and sexual women’s bodies in the name of better breast health. Yet by year’s end, misleading headlines herald “breast squeezing” therapy as a way to eradicate the disease.

8. Plastic surgeons just want to help. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons picked October 17th to launch a new initiative: Breast Reconstruction Awareness (or BRA) Day. They even got Jewel to write a song for the occasion. The effort to promotes education about breast reconstruction options after mastectomy. The campaign was not embraced by all patients, some of whom found it self-serving and unnecessarily focused on reconstruction as “completing the circle” in a woman’s breast cancer journey.

9. Lingerie tales and sales. The world’s oldest bra, dating from the 15th Century is discovered in a castle's ruins. And the more modern Victoria’s Secret lingerie brand begins to lose some panache when, amid charges of racism, they cut the offensive runway model’s costume from their annual televised fashion show. Other critics point to their narrow view of the female form and sexuality. Is Victoria’s Secret going the way of the once treasured Victorian drawing room?

10. Boobs turn us all into boobs. A study finds that women, and not just men, objectify images of other women and identify them by their sexual body parts. Men, on the other hand, are seen as whole individuals. How to counteract this tendency? The authors believe we must focus on images of the total female body, not highlight our bits and pieces.

What’s your view? Which of these 2012 breast stories stood out?

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