Girls know that growing up means growing breasts. But for dancers, going through this change can be extra awkward—especially since we spend hours in leotards, analyzing our bodies in the mirror.
We’ve got your breast interests in mind! Read on for answers to your most embarrassing boob-related questions, from size and shape to hair and sweat.
Can I predict how big my boobs will get—and can I change my fate?
Breast size is genetic. Take a look at your mom’s chest, and ask her when she started and stopped growing. Chances are you’ll follow in her footsteps. Gynecologist Vanessa Cullins of Planned Parenthood in NYC points out that breasts are made of fat, so they’ll change a bit in size as you gain or lose weight. But for the most part, your destiny is sealed, and it’s not worth dieting to try to change it. “Try not to stress about it,” Cullins says. “Whether yours are big or small, all sizes are normal.”
(Photo by VoyagerIX/Thinkstock)
My friends have started to grow breasts, but I haven’t. What gives?
Girls may start to develop as young as 9 or as late as 14. And they’ll usually continue to grow and change throughout their teenage years. “It just has to do with when your body decides to enter puberty,” says Dr. Lonna Gordon, adolescent medicine fellow at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in NYC. “You do need a certain amount of body fat to start the process, so thinner young women may go into puberty later than their heavier friends.” If you’ve had your period but still haven’t started to grow at all, get checked out by a doctor.
My breasts are two different sizes. Is that normal?
“Just as your feet may be slightly different sizes, it’s very common for one breast to be bigger than the other, especially at first,” says Dr. Judith Cothran, gynecologist at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago. “But they generally even out over time.” A very small percentage of women will have breasts that are dramatically different sizes their whole lives. If your breasts have stopped growing (usually three to five years after they start growing), and you’re still concerned, you may want to pad one side of your bra or ask your doctor about other options.
Why do my breasts feel sore?
Just like the rest of your body, your breasts get growing pains. “Growing pains are normal,” says Cullins. “It’s also common for breasts to feel swollen or tender before and during your period.” You can take ibuprofen if the tenderness is bothering you. See a doctor if you notice a change in the way your breasts or nipples look along with the pain.
My breasts feel lumpy. Is that normal?
Breasts are made up of tissue that naturally feels a little uneven and lumpy. That’s why it’s important to be familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel, so you’ll be aware if a lump that’s potentially dangerous shows up. Even though it’s unlikely that a teenager will develop breast cancer, it’s good to know how to check your breasts. Some doctors recommend checking regularly beginning at age 21, unless family history warrants earlier screening. Gordon suggests doing a self-exam in the shower when your fingers are slick, rubbing in concentric circles from the outside of your breast in toward the nipple. “Ask your doctor about any new lump that is painful, hard or immovable,” she says.
My nipples look different than my friends’. What does a normal nipple look like?
Actually, there’s no “normal” when it comes to nipples. “Nipples come in all shapes and sizes and can change over time,” Cullins says. “Your nipples may get bigger as your breasts get bigger or darker or puffier as you grow older. Nipple color ranges from light pink to brownish black. Some stick out like buttons, and others look more like slits.” If you’ve already finished puberty and the appearance of your nipple changes drastically—like going from an “outie” to an “innie”—check with your doctor to make sure everything’s OK.
Why are there dark hairs around my nipple?
It’s common to have darker hairs around the areola, or the darker skin that surrounds your nipple. “About 3 out of 10 women have a few hairs there,” Cothran says. “If you don’t like them, just pluck them out with a pair of tweezers.”
My boobs have stretch marks! Will they go away?
While you grow, it’s normal for stretch marks—pink or purple lines along the sides of your breast—to show up. “This is because your skin can’t always keep up with your growing breasts,” Cullins says. “Stretch marks may start out dark and raised, but most will fade and become less noticeable over time.”
What can I do about gross under-boob sweat?
It’s common to sweat more under your breasts than on other parts of your body. If it’s uncomfortable, Cothran recommends applying a thin layer of a powder with a cornstarch base before a long day of rehearsal.
Bra Basics: In need of a support system beyond the flimsy shelf bra in your leotard? You’re not alone. Here are five tips for making sports bras work in class or performance.
1. One sports bra may not be strong enough to support bigger breasts during a fast petit allégro. “For women with larger breasts, I recommend wearing two sports bras to give proper support and help with discomfort,” says gynecologist Judith Cothran.
2. That said, trapping your breasts while you sweat can result in no-fun-at-all acne or even a fungal infection, so it’s important to make sure your breasts can breathe. Cothran recommends a bra made of cotton.
3. If you’re concerned about your bra showing in class, opt for leotard styles with more shoulder and back coverage to hide extra straps. Want to go braless? Halter or high-neck leotards tend to offer the most support and prevent spill-outs.
4. For performances, use foundation to help white or nude bra straps blend with your skin. Several dancewear companies sell bra tops with clear straps to wear under costumes. But these can reflect stage light, so apply a layer of face powder to dull the shine.
5. If your studio has a strict dress code, and you can’t find a bra that works, talk to your teachers. Chances are, they’ll be happy to help you find a solution that you’re comfortable with.
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Beloved by ballet fans for her lucid technique and onstage effervescence, by her Instagram followers for the deftly curated photos and videos she shares of her glamorous life, and by fangirl Jennifer Garner for all of the above, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston is one of the rare ballet stars who's achieved mainstream fame. A native of Sun Valley, ID, Boylston trained at the Academy of Colorado Ballet and the Harid Conservatory before joining the ABT Studio Company in 2005. She entered the main company as an apprentice in 2006, and attained principal status in 2014. In addition to her successes with ABT, where she dances nearly every major ballerina role, Boylston has served as artistic director of the annual Ballet Sun Valley Festival, which brings high-level performances and classes to her hometown. And speaking of famous Jennifers: Boylston recently appeared as Jennifer Lawrence's dance double in the film Red Sparrow. Catch her onstage with ABT as Manon, Odette/Odile, and Princess Aurora during the company's Metropolitan Opera House season this summer in NYC. —Margaret Fuhrer