Not liking your breasts can actually has serious health implications. Here's what doctors say.

By Korin Miller
Updated February 07, 2020
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Body image can be a tricky thing to navigate—but one new study on women and breast satisfaction has found that it could actually impact your health.

The study, which was published in the journal Body Image, analyzed data from 18,541 women in 40 different countries who answered questions as part of a Breast Size Satisfaction Survey (BSSS) about their ideal breast size, how they felt about their breasts, and their overall breast health. The survey used more than 100 international experts and claims to be the largest cross-cultural study to look at body image that was ever conducted.

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After analyzing the data, the researchers found that nearly 71% of women were dissatisfied with the size of their breasts. Some—48%—said they wanted larger breasts, while 23% said they wished their breasts were smaller. Only 29% of women said they were happy with their breast size.

The exact measure of ideal breast size varied by country. Women in Brazil, Japan, China, Egypt, and the UK were the most likely to be dissatisfied with the size of their breasts (women in the US fell somewhere in the middle). Women in India, Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, and the UK had the largest ideal breast size. Women in Japan, the Philippines, Germany, Austria, and Malaysia had the smallest ideal breast size.

It’s not exactly shocking that the majority of women are dissatisfied with their breasts, but the researchers also discovered that women who were unhappy with their breast size were more likely to say they didn’t practice good breast health habits. That included doing breast self-exams and feeling confident about being able to detect changes with their breasts.

A study about breast perception can seem kind of random, but it actually goes deeper than what women think of their boobs, lead author Viren Swami, PhD, a professor of social psychology at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK, tells Health. “Our findings are important because they indicate that the majority of women worldwide may be dissatisfied with the size of their breasts,” he says. “This is a serious public health concern because it has significant implications for the physical and psychological well-being of women.”

Low breast positivity can also indicate other negative body issues for women. “Women who were more dissatisfied with their breast size were also more likely to have low self-esteem and happiness, as well as more negative body image generally,” Dr. Swami points out.

While Dr. Swami’s study noted that women who weren’t happy with the size of their breasts were less likely to do breast self-exams, it’s not currently recommended that women do these to screen for cancer, Janie Grumley, MD, a breast surgical oncologist and Director of the Margie Petersen Breast Center at Providence Saint John’s Center and Associate Professor of Surgery at John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Health. “But what’s alarming is that if you don’t like something about your body, you’re not paying attention to it—that can be a problem,” she says.

“When there’s a complete disassociation with your breasts, you have the potential to skip screenings and miss a lot of medical conditions that are treatable,” Sherry Ross, MD, a women’s health expert and ob/gyn at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., an author of She-ology, the She-quel, tells Health.

Women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, tells Health that she’s “not surprised” so many women are dissatisfied with their breasts, but she’s concerned about the mental well-being implications. “It can cause embarrassment and shame, harm self-esteem, and be detrimental to one's mental health,” she says.

Overall, Swami recommends that women try to view their breasts for what they are—important parts of their body. “Based on our findings, we urge women to focus more on the functionality of their breasts—to consider and appreciate the functions that breasts might perform—rather than their aesthetics,” he says. But as the numbers in the study suggest, this is easier said than done.

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