© Laura Dodsworth
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Bare Reality: 100 women and their breasts

A hundred women have bared their breasts and their souls as part of a project to further understanding of how women really feel about their breasts, and how they really look.

There has been so much public debate about breasts recently, from Free the Nipple to No More Page 3, from breastfeeding selfies on Facebook to Rihanna on the red carpet. I think the time has never been better to hear how women really feel about their breasts, and to see how they really look.

I have always been fascinated by the dichotomy between women’s personal lives and how they are depicted by the media; between how we feel about breasts privately and how they are presented for public consumption. We see images of breasts everywhere in the media and yet “real” breasts are taboo, hidden away beneath clothes and bras.

“Bare Reality: 100 women and their breasts” explores how women feel about their breasts. 100 women bare all, bravely sharing un-airbrushed photographs of their breasts alongside intensely personal stories about their breasts, bodies and lives.

Growing up, I never thought my breasts were very attractive. They didn’t seem to measure up to the ones I saw all around me. I grew up believing my breasts were objects that should be “perfect” and desirable for men, and that they fell a long way short. The breasts we see in the media are often surgically enhanced, professionally lit, and photoshopped. Airbrushed breasts, belonging to models and actresses, not only create an unflattering comparison but present an unobtainable ideal. If a model can’t live up to the ideal of perfect breasts, how can anyone else? In creating Bare Reality I felt compelled to share un-airbrushed photographs of breasts.

We love telling our stories, and hearing other people’s stories. I wanted to re-humanise women through honest photography, present our breasts as they really are and burst the “fantasy bubble” of the youthful, idealised and sexualised breasts presented by the media. But the interviews are at the heart of the project. Bare Reality explores what it means to be a woman, and makes women subject, not object. Breasts are catalysts for discussing intimate aspects of women’s lives, such as growing up, sexuality, motherhood, breastfeeding, relationships, body image, health, cancer and ageing.

Creating Bare Reality has been an incredible two year adventure. I’ve met some amazing women, I am deeply grateful to them. Their stories have moved me, opened my eyes, inspired me, and healed me. They bared their breasts and their souls. I am honoured that they shared so much with me. I feel tender about my own experience as a woman and full of admiration and warmth for female experience.

I hope that you will be moved by the wonderful women who took part. I hope Bare Reality can transform you in some way.

This is how we look. This is how we feel.

Support “Bare Reality” on Kickstarter, and pre-order your copy of the book. £1.00 from every book sold will be donated to Breast Cancer UK.

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The New Statesman will be publishing stories from Bare Reality over the next month. Bookmark this page or return to this post for the next installment.

1: I’m one of the lucky ones

2: Breasts make you feel like a proper woman

3: God gives life and creates, and as a woman you can connect with that

4: Breasts are an integral part of my identity as a woman

5: My milk went when Hitler marched in

NS
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Labour is condemned to watch helplessly as Theresa May consolidates power

The Zombie Party is too weak to win and too strong to die. 

Labour’s defeat to the Tories in the Copeland by-election in Cumbria, which the party had held for more than 80 years, is a humiliation for Jeremy Corbyn and his moribund party. This is the first time a governing party had gained a seat in a by-election since Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives won Mitchum and Morden in 1982. 
 
The victorious candidate Trudy Harrison, who increased the Tories’ share of the vote in this former Labour “stronghold" by more than 8 percentage points, hailed the victory as “truly historic”, while Labour MP John Woodcock called it a “disaster”, and even the shadow chancellor and Corbyn ally, John McDonnell, conceded it was a “profound disappointment”. 
 
At a time in the electoral cycle when a credible opposition should be winning by-elections and riding high in the polls, Labour is in disarray: rejected, humiliated, ridiculed. It has all but collapsed in Scotland, where the Tory leader Ruth Davidson has emerged as the popular, unapologetic leader of Unionism. And in England the danger now is not that it will lose seats to Ukip — whose leader Paul Nuttall was rejected yesterday in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election, which Labour held on a low turn-out after a dispiriting campaign — but to Theresa May’s Conservatives. 
 
The Copeland result was a vindication for Theresa May. When recently I interviewed her in Downing Street she had a simple message for Labour: we are coming after your voters – and she is. 
 
Because of its embrace of the radical left and internal divisions, May accused Labour of abandoning many of its traditional supporters. The party was not responding to their concerns on issues such as “the impact of immigration on lower income levels”.
 
True enough: Corbyn favours mass immigration and open borders yet is an economic protectionist – a classic Marxist position but electoral suicide in our new emerging post-liberal era in which populist movements are rising across Europe and an America First nationalist is in the White House.
 
“I hope there are Labour voters,” Theresa May told me, “out there who will now look at us afresh and say, ‘Labour hasn’t responded to our concerns, it hasn’t recognised what matters to us, but the Conservatives have seen that and are responding to it. I want our greater prosperity not to be confined to particular groups of people or a single part of the country.”
 
The polls suggest that more than simply disaffected Labour voters are looking at the Tories afresh, as we embark on the epic challenge of negotiating the Brexit settlement.
  
May believes that Brexit was not only a vote to leave the European Union but a demand for change from those people – many of them in places such as Copeland - who felt ignored and excluded from prosperity and greater opportunity.
 
Her vision is for a “Great Meritocracy” (whereas Corbyn’s is for a socialist republic) combining greater social justice with enhanced social mobility. It’s an intellectually fascinating and ambitious project and, if successful (and many doubt her, not least her own right wing), it has the potential to condemn Labour to electoral oblivion.
    
The collapse of the Labour party as a stable and credible political force is dismaying. Many of the party’s problems precede Corbyn, who is sincere and determined but is not a national leader. But then neither was Ed Miliband, who misunderstood the financial crisis, which he believed had created a “social democratic moment”, and misread the country he sought to govern. Miliband treated politics like an elevated Oxbridge PPE seminar and introduced the new rules by which the party elected its leader, disempowering MPs.
 
The distinguished Cambridge historian Robert Tombs has called the European Union a system of “managed discontents”. Something similar could be said of Corbyn’s Labour, except that its discontents are scarcely managed at all.

Most Labour MPs despise or are embarrassed by their leader. The MPs are divided and demoralised, with some pondering whether to follow Tristram Hunt and Jamie Reed (whose resignations created respectively the Stoke Central and Copeland by-elections) out of politics. The Corbynites are breaking up into factions (one hears talk of “hard” and “soft” Corbynites), and Corbyn himself is incapable of appealing to those who do not share his ideological convictions.
 
For now, the Labour leader retains the support of activists and members and, crucially, of Unite, Britain’s biggest union and the party’s paymaster. But even his friends must accept that he is leading the party in only one direction – into the abyss.
 
On the eve of the two by-elections, Corbyn posted a message on Facebook: “Whatever the results, the Labour Party – and our mass membership – must go further to break the failed political consensus, and win power to rebuild and transform Britain.”
 
The statement was received with derision on social media. The idea that Labour can win power any time soon (notwithstanding some black swan event) is magical thinking. Corbyn’s personal ratings among traditional working class semi-skilled and unskilled Labour voters are catastrophically poor. He appeals to students, affluent metropolitans with degrees, and minority groups. As for the majority of the electorate, forget it.
 
MPs are reluctant to challenge Jeremy Corbyn because they know any leadership contest would revitalize his leadership, as happened last summer when the Welsh MP Owen Smith mounted an ill-considered and doomed “coup”. Nor is there a pre-eminent candidate waiting in the shadows to strike, as Michael Heseltine was in the last years of the Thatcher administration.
 
So Labour will continue to be the Zombie Party: too weak to win but too strong to die. Its founding mission was to defend the labour interest and to create a fairer, more ethical society. But Labour has lost its role, its confidence and sense of purpose. Obsessed by identity liberalism, bewildered by Brexit and led by a radical socialist, Labour can only look on helplessly as the Tories start to win seats in its former heartlands and hunker down for another decade or more in power.

This column was originally published in the London Evening Standard.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.