Bare Reality: 100 Women, Their Breasts, Their Stories review

Just over a year ago Let’s Talk Breasts championed an innovative and ambitious project undertaken by Laura Dodsworth. The award-winning photographer had interviewed 100 women between the ages of 18 and 101 on the subject of their breasts, and aimed to self-publish the interviews accompanied by topless shots in a glossy coffee table book, raising awareness for and donations towards Breast Cancer UK in the process.

Dodsworth took her aim to Kickstarter, a popular fundraising platform, and within one day achieved the sum necessary for bringing the book to the market. In fact the project was so popular, she raised £31,891 in total (three times the amount needed), with the support of 907 backers. The resulting volume, Bare Reality, was released in July to great critical acclaim.

The team at Let’s Talk Breasts are now the proud owners of a signed copy of what is undeniably the most lovingly produced and movingly presented book on breasts we have ever seen. And given the fact we’ve reviewed a whole bookshelf of such editions over the last two years, that’s saying a lot.

Bare Reality was always going to be striking, considering the preview shots published on the website and Kickstarter campaign, and indeed the illustrations are no holds barred chest shots of one hundred pairs of breasts. As well as the obvious differences in size (AAA-K), age and ethnicities of the models, ten of the women interviewed have suffered from breast cancer, so the reader witnesses pictorial evidence of mastectomies, lumpectomies and scarring. Cosmetic enhancement and reduction are also in evidence, as are piercings and tattoos. Crucially, the photos are entirely untouched by society’s prevalent airbrushing technique.

But where the book really shines lies in the words of the women themselves. For Bare Reality presents such a raw, unashamed and intimate slice of what it means to be female that this book becomes a celebration of life itself – of self-acceptance, of courage, of triumph over adversity.

Alongside so-called ‘normal’ women, a priest, a Buddhist nun, a streaker, a lap dancer, a naturist, a transgender woman, ladies of all sexualities and Dodsworth herself strip off both literally and figuratively to discuss lumps, bumps, sex, breastfeeding, life-threatening disease and the changing attitudes towards the female form over the last century. Contrast the topless lap-dancing Nuts model with the 101-year-old Jewish lady whose breast milk dried up at the shock of Hitler invading Berlin, or the ‘hetero-flexible’ ex-dominatrix with the self-harming lesbian with body dysmorphia who has rejected her breasts. Dodsworth’s own story of how her father’s sex addiction fashioned her attitude towards her body and her recent discovery of a third breast (polymastia) is fascinating. Truthfully it’s hard to do justice to what is contained within these pages, but the results are breathtaking. As the naturist says, “This is what women do. We release and we share and we talk. It’s cathartic. It’s empowering.”

For every copy sold of Bare Reality, £1 is donated to Breast Cancer UK. If you have even a passing interest in breasts, health, women, femininity, identity or life itself, then we strongly recommend you buy a copy.

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