Revamp: Changing the Story on Breast ‘Ironing’

People always have excuses for all they do. For some reason, they think their reasons are valid. Belinda saw life in different dimensions as always.

She says, ” Mummy said I was not pretty. She reined insults on me. She started by giving me very tight vests to wear to hide my breasts. In her defense, she said it would ‘hold my body’. I could barely breathe and could only manage to smile when a joke was made. I was super ashamed of my body. It made me so uncomfortable in the midst of my friends. Some of them always wondered why I wore that. The older I got, I became more aware of my body and for the most part, my friends did not wear that and I thought, why should I? So I decided to stop. For a while, I felt free. Life was better. I could laugh at jokes and sit comfortably. Once mum found out though, it was the saddest moment of my life. She said I am not pretty. That my breasts are so big. To her, I won’t be able to play with my mates. Her distress was genuine but my feelings meant much more to me. To her she wanted me to fit in but she failed to understand our generation has a different feel; I could fit in because my friends accepted me for me.

Then Aunty Vero joined in the nagging. I hated her coming around because each time she saw me, the first words out of her mouth had to be, “Your boobs are bigger, you are getting out of shape, you should eat less” I mean.. This last time was more annoying. She said to mum that if nothing is done I will get pregnant at 15 since men will already see me as all grown up. This single observation from her got mum all worked up again. She started looking for all sort of things to fix my breasts. She was on the internet 24/7 looking for remedies for me. She made me take all sorts of concoctions. I mean I was just 14 and had to go through such agony. When all these failed, Aunty Vero again came up with more of her brilliant ideas. This time it had to be the most hurting. You know, my hate for wooden spoons and grinding stones does not stem from the fact that I hate cooking but from the fact that before I could fully know their use, they had been used on me in the worst way possible. Every morning, mummy would use the grinding stone to press my breasts and if it was not the stone, it was the heated wooden spoon married with some heated leaves. This went on for the next week.

Till date, I have a scar from that action. Not only that, I still have big boobs. Don’t get me wrong. I am 25 and have come to terms with the fact that I am busty. I am happy the way I am. I mean I love my person. This is because some wonderful women made me understand that I am amazing just the way I am. My mum realized what she did but this was so late. I did not always have it easy but I have decided to talk out for others to know. I might have found a way to go round it but other girls have had different stories. People use all sort of leaves and other methods like taking young girls to the river for a particular type of insects to bite the breast claiming this will help reduce it but all this to what end?


What

Breast ironing: Also known as breast flattening or breast sweeping is the act of using hard or heated objects like grinding stones, wooden spoons(spatulas) just to name a few to massage or “pound” the breast in a bit to decrease or slow down breast growth. The “breast ironing” process itself is painful and may make girls feel ashamed of their bodies. And ultimately, “breast ironing” is ineffective, as it does not stop breasts from developing.

National FGM Center Short video on Breast Ironing

Statistics

For many girls around the world, the onset of puberty represents a time of uncertainty, even anxiety, as their bodies change. But for approximately 3.8 million girls around the world that anxiety turns to anguish, as the start of adolescence brings with it a practice called “breast ironing.” It is a common practice in West Africa and Cameroon with several articles published.

Why

According to UNICEF, 38% of children in Cameroon are married by their 18th birthdays. More than a quarter of adolescent girls are mothers, and 20% of them drop out of school after getting pregnant, the Cameroon Medical Council reported. For this reason, Mothers claim this done for reasons like; To prevent unwanted pregnancies and protect their daughters from unwanted sexual advances and rape. It is mostly practiced in parts of Cameroon where boys and men may think that girls whose breasts have begun to grow are ready for sex. This is sad and demeaning; we ought to grow out of such thoughts. For other mothers, they just want their daughters to fit in.

Effects

Our bodies are vital and fragile and all we do to it could have really unhealthy effects. Most mothers say they do it for the good of their daughters but even though “breast ironing” is intended to protect girls from unwanted sexual advances, the practice can be both physically and emotionally traumatic.
Some of the health effects are explained:

Breast ironing is extremely painful and can cause tissue damage. As of 2006, there have been no medical studies on its effects. However, medical experts warn that it might contribute toward breast cancer, cysts, and depression, and perhaps interfere with breastfeeding later. Other possible side-effects reported by GIZ include breast infections, the formation of abscesses, malformed breasts and the eradication of one or both breasts. The practice ranges dramatically in its severity, from using heated leaves to press and massage the breasts, to using a scalding grinding stone to crush the budding gland. Due to this variation, health consequences vary from benign to acute. The Child Rights Information Network (CRIN) reports the delay of breast milk development after birth, endangering the life of newborns.

Breast ironing can cause women to fear sexual activity. Aside from physical effects, many women suffer mental trauma after undergoing breast ironing. Victims feel as if it is punishment and often internalize blame, and fear to breastfeed in the future. Victims may lose confidence and believe that they should not have breasts. All this is sad. It is thus very important for that this practice be avoided.

Do not scar your children and take away their smile.

Now to the moms out there, there’s this amazing article by my sister @ameakaf, ‘I Wish My Mom Had Told Me‘. It’s vital for all to have a read because you are a mom to someone. We can stop these practices by helping to change some of these ideas. If you can’t make the change, be the change.

Thanks

Fozao Mbi Vanessa

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