Meagan Murphy had worked as a journalist and director for more than a decade when she stumbled upon her next big subject on a trip to Egypt. While not unusual for tourists to be wowed by the majesty and grandeur of the pyramids, Murphy found herself marveling at something else: the towering, topless figures of the goddesses.
“I became inspired by the idea that women’s breasts contain an ancient wisdom,” says Murphy.
She began working on The Breast Archives, a new documentary that explores nine women’s personal stories. From the shame and awkwardness of puberty to the changes and wisdom of adulthood, they show that women’s experiences come in all shapes and sizes.
“Each of us shares a similar path from our girlhood into an awaiting culture that happens to frame the breasts as exclusively sexual,” says Murphy. “For many of us, this is a journey that’s bumpy, contradictory, even dangerous. Yet other memories from our adolescent corridors are exhilarating, surprising, and often hilarious.”
“One of the best things about this documentary project has been discovering that our breasts are a treasure trove of stories.”
We spoke to Murphy in advance of the March 10, 2018, premier of The Breast Archives at the Women’s International Film & Arts Festival in New York City.
What have been some of the most interesting findings and trends you’ve identified while working on The Breast Archives?
Meagan Murphy: When I first heard about The Barbie Mystique Study that found 85% of women were “dissatisfied” or “ambivalent” about their breasts, I was astonished. It’s also been extraordinary to learn the degree to which a women’s relationship with her breasts will influence the overall attitude she has toward her health and body. Yet this aspect of our lives is profoundly unexplored. Despite the central role the breasts play in puberty, sex, motherhood, health, and aging, many women rarely discuss them.
Today’s high rates of cosmetic breast augmentation and breast cancer, and a woman’s continued susceptibility to sexual harassment, are all parts of the conversation.
How does the media affect our perceptions of our breasts and bodies?
Meagan Murphy: Because girls’ bodies are judged and sexualized from a very early age, it’s rare for a woman to be able to define her breasts on her own terms. As girls approach the age when breasts begin to develop, most are taught to see their breasts as inappropriate and to carefully hide them. The media message then flips and begins demanding that teens teasingly display unrealistically perfect breasts. This occurs when young women are newly sexual and particularly susceptible to internalizing cultural messages about their bodies. Often their reaction is to disconnect from their own bodies, in order to create protective psychological armor against the toxic ideas with which they are inundated. This dynamic compromises their relationships with their breasts in multiple, layered ways.
How did your partnership with Planned Parenthood come about?
Meagan Murphy: While attending a large regional festival in western Massachusetts last July, I saw a Planned Parenthood table and walked over. It was there that I met Lisa Ford, a volunteer who had recently formed a local action group in Brattleboro, VT in response to potential federal funding cuts to this essential resource. We struck up a conversation about how communities of women with shared passions are often disconnected, and when I suggested a screening of my film as a way to bring women together, she was enthusiastic. Our event, which took place in mid-February, was a wonderful success. The proceeds were donated to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
Who should we bring to the screening on March 10?
Meagan Murphy: The Breast Archives will appeal to women of all ages, but is best for teens age 14 and up. At screenings I often see moms and daughters, as well as sisters. Friends who attend together will find themselves talking late into the night! Men also appreciate the film and say they’re able to realize a new dimension of empathy for women, and a deeper understanding of the influence that a woman’s breasts can have on her sense of self. Seeing the film together can be a very tender and romantic outing for a couple.
The Breast Archives will be presented at the Women’s International Film & Arts Festival on March 10, 2018, at 5:45pm, at The Village East Cinema in New York City. Tickets can be purchased here.