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Trigger warning: this post talks about abuse
When my son was breastfeeding today he pointed at my nipple and said ‘dirty’ (it had kind of wrinkled up). ‘No, it’s clean’, I replied, slightly surprised by his comment but not too phased. Then it struck me, I actually meant it. For the first time in my life I really believed my breasts were clean.
That might sound strange to you, but for many, many years I considered my breasts to be dirty. Dirty vessels that contaminated the rest of me. If I was somewhere where I felt uncomfortable – walking through a quiet park alone at dusk, or down a side street late at night – it was my breasts that became the focus of that fear. It was my breasts that I hated when the boys made jokes about them in class making me feel different from the other girls. In my mind my breasts were two big red flashing lights, attracting would be users and abusers.
If this is sounding familiar to you then maybe you are also one of the one in three females in the UK who have experienced a sexual attack in their lifetime. That’s a shocking statistic for a country that claims to have half decent rights for girls and women. It’s a statistic that shows we have a long, long way to go.
I was sexually attacked as I was entering my teenage years. No-one really talks about what it’s like to live with the aftermath of that and, no doubt, it’s different for everyone. For me, the impact of that day stayed with me throughout my life. Whether it was a fear of a stranger, or a belief that boys, including those I liked, were only interested in me for my breasts (or, as I got older, for sex). Those feelings were there. Day in, day out. Year in, year out. Sometimes I used that to my advantage, putting them on show for a night-out. Sometimes I wanted nothing more than to make them disappear and tried to do just that by hiding them away under big baggy jumpers in the hope that no one would notice them.
Then I had a child.
Suddenly I was expected to breastfeed.
Hell, suddenly I wanted to breastfeed in public – it was my right and my son’s too. I almost can’t believe it when I think back to how concerned I was the first time a male friend came round. What would he think if (when) I started breastfeeding my little one in front of him (my son was just days old and seemed to need feeding every twenty minutes so there was no avoiding it, and why the fuck should I avoid it). But looking back that feeling disappeared quickly. I soon realised it didn’t matter. No-one cared. My breasts really weren’t that interesting.
Now, two years down the line, I’ve realised the fears I attached to my breasts have vanished. I guess it was a gradual thing, so gradual I didn’t even notice it happening.
All those (subconscious) associations I made between my breasts and it being my fault I was attacked, have gone.
Now, I don’t feel like my breasts are dirty.
Now, I feel pride that my breasts have given life to my son from the day he was born.
Now, I gain strength from the knowledge that my breasts have nurtured my son and comforted him for two years and counting.
That is why I have breasts. Not to attract men – men I want, or men I don’t want. And although my breastfeeding journey (with this little boy at least) is coming to an end, it’s amazing to realise what change it has made for me. I only hope it stays that way.
The Survivors Trust is the national umbrella agency for over 130 charities in the UK that provide support and advice to people who have suffered sexual abuse. Their website provides details of local charities who can support you.