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Where’s the pill in all this?

May 21, 2010
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Apparently the size of British women’s breasts is on the increase – 34B was average back in the day, now it’s 36D. I found this out thanks to an article in the Observer (the Guardian’s Sunday twin) a little while back, which had an air throughout of someone desperately trying to stick to sensible, Serious Newspaper reportage whilst mentally inundated with puns. Happily only a couple slipped through, and the Observer can’t really be blamed for the fact that the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons abbreviates to BAAPS. Still, it’s got to be better than how I imagine the Sun covered it. (With illustrations, probably.)

It’s actually an interesting read, talking to dieticians, clothing historians, bra designers, and a breast biomechanics researcher (for serious) about the history of the bra and the engineering challenges involved in making the damn things. Apparently the “challenge of enclosing and supporting a semi-solid mass of variable volume and shape, plus its adjacent mirror image” is an extremely complicated one! Well, yes. Phrased that way, it’s rather more obvious just how much of a challenge they’re dealing with.

The article suggests a whole pile of possible causes for the increase in average size: better nutrition, less disease, changes in sizing conventions, and the general trend of people getting heavier. (I’d imagine that the reality is a mishmash of all of the above.) One notable omission struck me, though – where’s the pill in all this?

Around 25% of Britain’s women are on hormonal contraception. Almost all varieties of the pill can have breast-size increase among their many side-effects – not necessarily a vast increase, but often enough to bump the user up a cup size or two, necessitating new bras. Multiply that by a couple of million women, and I’d be surprised if it wasn’t having a measurable effect on the national average.

I’m puzzled by the omission, especially since they mention xenoestrogens (other synthetic hormones – the sort that cause sex-changes in fish) as a possible contributing factor, so have clearly considered a hormonal component.

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