Last month, model and body acceptance activist Kitty Underhill launched her #TotallyTubular campaign to raise awareness of tubular breast syndrome, a condition in which the breast tissue doesn’t develop fully, resulting in small breasts, a conical shape, narrow breast base and enlarged areola.
But tubular breast syndrome is so under-researched and under-discussed, no one knows how many people are affected by it. There's barely even a mention of it on the NHS website.
Yet as Kitty and many others know, this is a condition affecting so many women. And because no one's talking about it, there is still so many shame attached to tubular breasts, taking a huge toll on people's body confidence and mental health.
Here, she tells GLAMOUR about her experience with tubular breasts, her battle with body acceptance, and why it's imperative that we break the silence and stigma surrounding tubular breast syndrome.
My earliest memory of my boobs is when my mum took me to my first bra fitting at around 11 years old. I felt so uncomfortable, wondering why my boobs looked the way they did – small and pointed, almost as if they didn't fit my body – that I just burst into tears and couldn't go through with the fitting.
This distress and discomfort didn't go away. At an all-girls secondary school, boobs were inevitably one of the hot topics of conversation. I remember being 13, getting changed in the locker room after P.E. when a girl in my year yelled at me: "You need a bra!" and laughed.
That's when I felt the courage – well, peer pressure – to go and get a bra fitted once and for all. By then my friends had much bigger boobs than me so when I heard ‘34A’ I felt so disappointed. Not only that, but the bras were so much rounder than my actual boobs, they weren't the right shape for me at all. I kept wondering what was wrong with my boobs.
As I grew up, I did anything to enhance my boobs to make them look bigger, rounder and perkier. I would go out wearing two (!!) super-uber-to-the-max-XXL push up bras. I would contour my chest with bronzer. I took the pill as soon as I could because I heard it made your boobs grow (reader, they did not). I even made rubbed a bizarre concoction of fenugreek and body lotion over my boobs after reading online it would encourage them to grow (reader, once again, they did not).
It didn't help that my ex – the first person I allowed to see me topless – poked fun at my breasts by naming one of his game characters Nips, after my nipples. He showed it to me and laughed and I laughed too, desperately trying not to make it 'a thing'. But it hurt so much.
As a young woman, I felt incredibly ashamed and insecure about my boobs, and they caused me great emotional pain. My issues with accepting my boobs and my body decimated my mental health and led to disordered eating and incredibly low self-esteem as I constantly beat myself up for the way I looked.
It wasn't until last year when I was on Facebook that I stumbled across an article about tubular boobs. I’d never heard the term ‘tubular boobs’ before so I Googled it, and for the first time in my life, I saw boobs that looked like mine.
I was ecstatic – finally, representation of my body after 25 years – until I saw that the images were from plastic surgery websites, advising how to ‘correct’ this ‘deformity’, talking about their ‘significant embarrassment’, how they cause body image issues and even suicidal thoughts. I was heartbroken.
But then I began talking about tubular boobs on my Instagram page, and messages started coming in from other women saying: "I have tubular boobs too and I have never seen anyone else with them, thank you for speaking up!"
These women spoke about how insecure and alone they felt, just like I did for all those years. But as more and more messages came flooding in, I realised I wasn't alone at all. Tubular breast syndrome affects so many of us, yet no one is talking about it.
That's why I launched my #TotallyTubular campaign, to raise awareness, to show people that they're not alone, and that their bodies do not need fixing.
The way we view women's bodies is still so heavily influenced by the oppressive, cis-male gaze, meaning that anyone who doesn't fit into the white, slim, cisgender, able-bodied 'sexy' ideal are made to feel as though they're not good enough.
But I want all other women with tubular boobs to know that they deserve to love themselves and their bodies. By being proud of your tubular boobs, you're telling society that you deserve better; that things must change. No more stigma. All boobs are beautiful – no ifs, no buts.
This originally appeared on GLAMOUR UK | Ali Pantony