“Your left breast is smaller than the right one”

left breast is smaller

It’s December, 2014. During the colder months of winter in Northeast China, I take every chance for a soak and body scrub in one of the many bath houses across town. Which during that time is usually once or twice a month. Our son is still a baby. I hand him to my mother-in-law to take care of him for an hour or two. I always go to the same place and have a little chat with the employees.

After finishing the body scrub this time, the employee looks at my breasts and observes:

“Your left breast is smaller than the right one”.
“I know. It’s even more obvious now that I’m breastfeeding.”
“My left breast is also smaller than the right one.”

She then goes on: “You can let your baby drink more from the left breast. That way it will become bigger.”

This conversation reminds me of another chit-chat about breasts: When I went to a massage place about two years earlier in Shenzhen, the female employee told me that my breasts are almost non-existent.

Talking about breasts is no taboo in China

One of the quirks of living in China is that female employees in bath houses, massage parlours, underwear shops, or sometimes complete strangers on the street, will not think talking about (and sometimes even touching) your breasts is taboo. While this used to make me feel uncomfortable in the beginning, I now think being able to talk about women’s issues with other women is great. In China, it’s also completely okay to talk about your menstrual problems with others. And that doesn’t only include women, but sometimes also men (albeit maybe not male strangers you run into on the street). My husband has never thought it weird if I talked about my menses, but has tried to help me find solutions for back pain and other related issues. My mother-in-law will sometimes ask me if I’m on my period so she can prepare the right food for me. I have also overheard female co-workers talk with other female co-workers about trying to get pregnant and infertility issues. It can sometimes be of huge help to hear of others who have been in similar situations without the issue being regarded as such a big taboo.

Knocked Up Abroad Again

This little conversation about breasts also appears in my story about being pregnant and raising our son in China in the anthology “Knocked Up Abroad Again: Baby bumps, twists and turns around the globe” by Lisa Ferland. Pre-order the e-book or a physical copy of the book by backing the project on kickstarter. The project will only come to life if the pledged goal can be reached. You’ll get to keep all your money and won’t be charged if funding doesn’t succeed.

Have you ever had a similar conversation? I’d love to hear your stories.

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About

Hi, I'm Ruth, welcome to China Elevator Stories! I have been living in Kunming and Shenzhen in the past and am now staying in Northeast China with my Chinese husband and our baby and toddler son. Join us on our journey bridging worlds!

7 comments

  1. David Boone

    I think this must be partly a generational thing. I have the impression that women of my wife’s generation (born 1962) and older were quite reticent about discussing such intimate details. According to her, she never discussed sex with either her mother or her older sisters. And I was also led to believe that Chinese people in general were rather prudish when it came to sexual matters. However, I was amused to see a photograph of a White woman naked from the waist up in the window of (I believe) a breast augmentation clinic near our apartment building. Perhaps it was an example of a kind of National Geographic logic, where the nudity of someone of another race doesn’t really count as nudity. It seemed incongruous to me. I told my wife that photos of topless women would not be seen in public in the USA, although Americans are fairly open in terms of sex nowadays. My wife has suggested that I go to a bathing establishment with a nephew of hers. I was reluctant at first, and this article has only increased my reluctance to go. I shudder to think…

    • Two women talking about breasts is not the same as talking about sex. Breasts are usually just seen as a normal part of the body, they are not being sexualised when two women talk about them.

      A lot of underwear advertisement features women with Caucasian features. Western women are seen as more promiscuous by most Chinese, thus it seems ok to show them only with underwear (never saw an ad with a completely topless woman though).

      • David Boone

        I wasn’t conflating discussions about breasts, between women, with discussions about sex. I was moving on to what I thought…perhaps mistakenly…was a related topic, namely Chinese attitudes toward nudity and sex. But I am under the impression that my wife’s reticence was with regard not only to sex, but also to nudity, and perhaps more generally, to body issues. The Chinese women mentioned in the article seem to have a matter-of-fact attitude toward the human body which I associate with Europeans, not Asians. This I find surprising. But I am probably mistaken…and ignorant, of both European and Asian attitudes. In any event, it is probably unwise for a man to engage in this sort of discussion.

  2. Very liberating to talk with other women about one’s breasts. Nothing to shy about as all woman all over the world have breasts, some bigger and some smaller than others. In Australia I haven’t come across this openness about talking about breasts, even among my Chinese or Asian friends.

    Our bodies change over time, so do our breasts. Glad you accept your body for what it is 🙂

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