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


29th July’19  Today it is 10 years ago that I had a mastectomy and started out on my one breasted a-symmetrical life…

Today it is 9 years ago, that my brother had a star registered and named after me, to celebrate one year after BC ; the star is called ANNA ANNA…twice my name…emphasising that with all my imperfections and vulnerabilities,  I still can shine bright.

“How interesting ; ‘Anna Anna’ symmetry, circular-ness and doubleness…like breasts…if words were breasts would they be   ANNA ANNA ?”  Nina Gerada

“You’re a star and a palindrome! Asymmetrical love,xxx”                   Claire Collison ( one breasted too)

“…when my sister died, we named a star after her. It’s called ZORUMA (Zoe Ruth Marks) in the constellation of Cassiopeia. I love it.               Katie Marks

With love and gratitude to Nico, Wilma & Len


Nipples United

Whatever gender we are or identify with, a woman (cis/trans), a man (cis/trans), a non-binary individual, we all have Nipples.

In early fetal stages, all embryo’s are equipped with nipples. After an embryo is conceived, it is kitted out to become either sex, male or female. This is called it’s Bipotential State. During the first six weeks, certain pre-organ structures are laid down, including two parallel milk ridges. Born of ancient genes and common to all mammals, these ridges run up and down the length of the torso. If the fetus inherits female XX genes and the process unfolds in the expected way, then oestrogen will turn the primitive plumbing into a female reproductive tract. If the foetus inherits male XY genes, testosterone will inhibit that progression. But the nipples remain. ( from ‘Breasts, a natural and unnatural history’ by Florence Williams)

The nipple is at the center portion of the breast, and in females is linked to the mammary glands where milk is produced during pregnancy. The areola is the darker colored area surrounding the nipple. The little bumps around your nipples are hair follicles, which both men and women have. (I have been plucking nipple hair since my teens).

Nipples can be flat, protruding, inverted or a combination of these nipple types. The size of women’s nipples apparently varies much more greatly between individuals than the size of men’s nipples. (Medical News Today 30June2018 By Maria Cohut).

Also the colour of nipple and areola can differ greatly. Although according to Jane Sharp, a 17th Century midwife who wrote the Midwives Book or the Whole Art of Midwifery, “Nipples are red after Copulation, red as a Strawberry, and that is their Natural colour”. (from ‘Whores of Yore’, a curious history of Sex).

Some people are born with two nipples on one areola, Bifurcated Nipple, and some have Supernumerary Nipples, a condition where further nipples have developed anywhere else on the body. Supernumerary nipples, and less frequently supernumerary breasts, seem to be present in about 1-5 percent of the population. These alterations are more common in women, usually occurring along the embryonic milk line, which extends from the axilla to the groin.

But then I read about a 22 year old woman, who had developed a well formed nipple with areola on the sole of her left foot, with proper breast tissue and all. Such unusual and rare cases of Supernumary breast tissue are also known as Pseudomamma, (from Dermatology Online Journal 2006

French Artist Claude Cahun seems to use the nipple as a device to question gender in the above image. Born Lucy Schwob in early 20th-century France, she decided to call herself Claude Cahun, in France a name which can refer to either a man or woman. Ambiguity was her tool, her way of exploring gender and sexual norms through her photography and writing. “Masculine? Feminine?” she wrote in one of her books,“It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me”.

Anna Versteeg