Breast Plates

Protective shield, religious artefact, status symbol, fashion garment, memento, souvenir…

Since ancient times the Breastplate has been a warriorsmainstay to protect from injury. Initially made of leather, bronze or iron, these solid plates were replaced with chainmail by European knights but later on gained popularity again. Apart from protection the plate could be a status symbol, embellished for display and delight.

In classical mythology, Zeus, king of the gods, wore a leather breastplate (Aegis) thought to possess supernatural power. Like the warrior’s breast plates, the Aegis was a protective device.

More contemporary versions of mythological and fantasy creatures are often seen wearing breast plates mirroring the shapes of their torso, expressing beauty, strength or status.

Breastplates are also found within the religious realm. According to the book of Exodus, the high priest of the Israelites wore a sacred square breastplate with 12 jewels, each representative of a specific tribe. These plates were largely ceremonial in purpose “for glory and for beauty” rather than utility (Exodus 28:2).And whilst this was about beauty for the glory of a God,in the 19thCentury the breastplate started to appear in the secular realm of fashion, celebrating the beauty of the human physique mirrored in these moulded shapes, emphasizing the architectural silhouette of the body rather than decorating it.

In 1875, a female version of the ‘cuirasse bodice’ appeared in fashion magazines and remained en vogue throughout the 1880’s. It had “the appearance of a piece of armour,” notes historian Penelope Byrde in her book, Nineteenth-Century Fashion.

Although Tom Fords snazzy pink breast plates ( SS20 runway collection) are currently all over social media, many designers before him appropriated the plate including Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueenand most notable Sinead O’Dwyer . The only female designer on the list, O’Dwyer is exploring how we perceive our bodies versus the reality of what our bodies actually look like. Instead of  forcing your body to fit into a garment she creates pieces that fit the body.

Protective shield, religious artefact, status symbol and fashion garment, for me the breastplate became a memento, a souvenir. Just before my mastectomy we did  a plaster mould of my chest from which a bronze breastplate was made, a reminder of what was and no longer would be…

Anna Versteeg

Breasts & mobile phone Radiation


I’ve been looking into some research on how mobile phone radiation might be a human carcinogenic.

In her lecture “The truth about mobile phone and wireless radiation”, Dr Devra Davis (Youtube 2 Dec 2015) presents scientific evidence showing how breast cancers have developed in women who wear their mobile phone in their bra or breast pocket.

Unusual multi focal tumours developed right under the skin surface directly under mobile phone antennas, without significant histology in deeper ductal and lobular units (where cancers normally develop).

Her precautionary advice is ;

1 Avoid carrying your mobile phone on your body. 2 Use mobile phone away from your head on loudspeaker or with headset. 3 Put mobile phone on ‘flightmode’ when not in use. 4 Keep mobile phones out of the bedroom when asleep.

A sensible New Years resolution …?

Photo ; iBoobies iPhone cover

Cleopatra’s Breast



Cleopatra’s Breast

According to popular historical accounts, Cleopatra, the last active pharaoh of ancient Egypt, committed suicide by holding an Asp (Egyptian Cobra) to her breast and allowing it to bite her, killing her with its poisonous venom.

After several power struggles within her own family, Cleopatra began to court the rulers of the Roman Empire. She first became Julius Caesar’s lover and bore him a son. After Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC, she aligned with Mark Antony (father to three of her children), who ruled Rome in the power vacuum following Caesar’s death, and was in opposition to Caesar’s legal heir, Octavian.  After losing the Battle of Actium to Octavian’s forces, Mark Antony committed suicide. Cleopatra followed suit, apparently to avoid the humiliation of being paraded as a prisoner in a Roman triumph celebrating the military victories of Octavian.

Octavian then made Egypt a Roman province and became its first emperor, changing his name to Augustus.

This historical account has inspired countless works of art throughout the centuries. I encountered this bronze statue in Hampton Court Palace this week.


False Breasts

‘False Breasts, Mwinya’, collected by Cambridge anthropologist Gregory Bateson (1932) and exhibited in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge.

They belonged to the Iatmul people, a large ethnic group of about 10,000 people inhabiting some two-dozen politically autonomous villages along the middle Sepik River in Papua New Guinea

These two gourds are carved and painted to resemble female breasts. They were worn by men who assume female attributes during a naven ritual, when gender roles are temporarily reversed.

Bates developed the concept of schismogenesis, ‘creation of division’, in the 1930s, to account for certain forms of social behavior between groups among the Iatmul people.

He observed how people interacted through competitive relationships (rivalry) and through dominance and submission (men & women). Men would act dominant, leading women to act submissive, to which men responded with more dominance, and so forth.

Bateson realised that when left unchecked, schismogensis would cause Iatmul society simply to break apart. Some social or cultural mechanism was needed by society to maintain social integration. That mechanism among the Iatmul was the naven rite.

During these naven rituals, groups of women and groups of men seemingly inverted their everyday, gendered-norms for dress, behavior, and emotional expression. These temporary role reversals served to correct schismogenesis, enabling the society to endure.


Breasts, Asymmetry & Fashion

Many thanks for all who joined our Breast, Asymmetry & Fashion event (Thursday 24th Oct’19) and our inspiring speakers ; Nina Gerada @ninagerada, Claire Collison @adalodge and  Katy Marks@citizensdesignbureau  A wonderful evening, raising funds for @breastcancerhaven, talking breast and connecting amazing people.
There is an increase in women with an asymmetrical chest after a lumpectomy or a mastectomy without reconstruction. Instead of hiding the scars and asymmetry behind a prosthesis, this event will explore how we could express our asymmetry and embrace the beauty of our new bodies, through an exhibition and a series of short talks.

Diversity of the Breast Catwalk Show


The ‘Diversity of the Breast Catwalk Show’ yesterday at club Vout O Reenees was a great success. Rachel of Buttress and Snatch organised this unique event, with young, mature, full breasted, small breasted, one breasted bodies doing the catwalk in a range of imaginative lingerie. A hugely inspiring event, with an artificially breasted DJ who kept us dancing all night long…

The Unobra, developed for single breasted women was modelled during the show as well and managed to go viral on social media as soon as the first picture was posted, check it out on

This was a truly important event, celebrating diversity, empowering all involved and inspiring all supporters and visitors.

An impressive £ 700 was raised for Breast Cancer Haven !

The Unliberated Breast

Breast-feeding Screens  I was at Ikea this week with my 18year old son, who will be flying the nest to move into his student flat. Whilst sampling some of Ikea’s finest gravlax and cinnamon buns, I spotted this curved screen at the end of the restaurant sporting a snazzy logo ‘nursing area’.

I imagined myself 17 years back, breastfeeding this same son who now towers over me;  Would I want to remove myself from the table and hide myself behind a screen to feed him? NO, I would want to sit at that table and talk to my friends whilst nursing. I was shocked to realise that nursing mothers are still asked to remove themselves from the social, public context and make themselves invisible.

It made we think of Black Breastfeeding Week , celebrated for the first time in the UK last month (25th – 31st August) and a post I read on @theunsungheroines about the history of breastfeeding trauma which has passed down through generations. The terror, oppression and gendered dehumanization of black slave women in the past may still be hindering breastfeeding in the black community ;

A lot of slave babies died during slavery because they weren’t breast-fed. Mothers were forced to breast-feed their white oppressors baby’s whilst their own babies were fed on concoctions of dirty water and cows milk. The system of slavery functioned by removing all agency from black bodies.

When will our breasts finally be liberated from oppression and convention?

Anna Versteeg

BBC Listening Project

On Monday this week I was invited to join the wonderful Claire Collison (artist, poet, writer) in conversation, recorded at BBC Cambridgeshire by the brilliant Kerry Devine as part of the Listening Project by BBC Radio4 & the British Library.

Two single breasted women talking about asymmetry, shifting norms, friendship and all things breast…

Claire contacted me at bbookproject  earlier this year as she felt we were kindred spirits. We first met at 5th Feb, which we later realised is the Day of St Agatha , the patron saint of breastcancer patients, who lost her breasts as a torture punishment for refusing to marry this Roman prefect.

Claire and I  haven’t stopped talking since.  Our recorded conversation will  be broadcast early 2020, as Claire noted, a very symmetrical year.

Anna Versteeg


This image was recenly removed from the bbookproject Instagram account. I tried to argue it was a work of art but to no avail.

I was intrigued when I found this piece hanging in the toilet of the headquarters of the fabulous

Founder Sally Emslie told me she bought the work of Sigurros Eidsdottir, who found a stack of 70ies lesbian porn and used it as part of her art graduation work at Central St Martin’s London.

For me the diamontied nipples make the image very playful and provide an interesting commentry on the original ‘porn’. I find it disappointing that we can’t have these conversations without being censored.

Paper Porn series 2015. Collages on paper with found imagery and diamonties by Sigurros Eidsdottir
Anna Versteeg