Teenage Breast Management

An excerpt from "The Body Project, and Intimate History of American Girls" by Joan Jacobs Brumberg.

Published October 17, 1997 8:01AM (EDT)

In 1952, in an article in Parents' Magazine, physician Frank H. Crowell endorsed bras for young girls and spelled out a theory and program of teenage breast management ... In the interest of both beauty and health, mothers in the 1950s were encouraged to check their daughters' breasts regularly to see if they were developing properly. This was not just a matter of a quick look and a word of reassurance. Instead, Crowell and others suggested systematic scrutiny as often as every three months to see if the breasts were positioned correctly. One way to chart the geography of the adolescent bustline was to have the girl stand sideways in a darkened room against a wall covered with white paper. By shining a bright light on her and having her throw out her chest at a provocative angle, a mother could trace a silhouette that indicated the actual shape of her daughter's bosom. By placing a pencil under her armpit and folding the arm that held it across the waist, mothers could also determine if their daughter's nipples were in the right place. On a healthy breast, the nipple was supposed to be at least halfway above the midway point between the location of the pencil and the hollow of the elbow.

By Laura Green

Laura Green is an assistant professor of English at Yale University.

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