There’s nothing like a picture of a comely young woman in her underwear to perk up one’s sagging spirits of an evening, but when I was alerted to the following story on the FB page of my friend Ms L. W. of Glastonbury I immediately smelled a rat.
This lavishly illustrated story (probably best not open this one at work) reports a 15-year study by sports scientist Dr Jean-Denis Rouillon from the University of Besançon, showing that wearing brassières, far from keeping everything pert and upstanding, actually makes breasts saggier. “Medically, physiologically, anatomically – breasts gain no benefit from being denied gravity,” Dr Rouillon is reported as saying.
Once I’d managed to tear mes yeux away from the picture at the top of the story, my critical faculties were once again restored. ‘Rouillon and his team spent years measuring the changes in the breasts of 330 women’, the story continued, ‘using simple slide rule and caliper at the Centre [blah blah] where he carried out his research.’
Now, I spent my graduate years measuring fossilized bones with an array of high-tech equipment including calipers, and – the only equipment I have ever purchased – a haberdasher’s tape measure (price £0.45). Measuring bones consistently with calipers is quite hard, and fossil bones are structures that are consistently solid and which are always the same shape. Measuring circumferences with a tape measure is so difficult to do accurately I eventually gave it up as a bad job. If bones are so hard to measure, how would one use calipers to measure consistent changes in objects as protean as breasts?
What’s more, being, as I am, a man of the world, I am aware that breasts vary enormously in size and shape between women, and even in the same woman, let alone in a 15-year longitudinal study. It struck me, therefore, that a sample of 330 was probably too small. And what would the controls have been like? Were those fine ladies at Messrs Rigby and Peller, corsetiers to Her Majesty, not to mention Mrs Crox, called in to advise on a comfortable fitting?
Aside: Mrs Crox’s late father served in the Household Cavalry and on occasion was called upon to ride next to the Queen during the Ceremony of Trooping the Colour. Being a tall man, he was able to get a good view of the Royal Cleavage, and according to him (Fathers-in-Law let you know these things), H. M. was, in her day, pretty well stacked.
But I digress.
The results of the Besançon Study, if one might distinguish it with such an appelation, look intriguing. ‘[W]omen who took off their bras for good experienced a 7mm lift in their nipples each year they didn’t wear a bra,’ the report claims. Being, as I have said, a man of the world, as well as one experienced in matters of variation, I can only remark ’7mm relative to what?’ before noting that, in fact, 7mm is nothing. ‘Phwoar,’ as I might very well say to myself, ‘just check out the error bars on that.’
And, in any case, who measures anything with a slide rule?
The scientist in me cried out as if in anguish – where is the original
sauce tzores source of this story, notwithstanding inasmuch as which, a published paper, already, whence I could satisfy such concerns as mensuration, sampling error and so on and so forth in like fashion? Two links in the body of the story refer only to secondary sources. Google Scholar and PubMed show that J.-D. Rouillon is indeed a sports scientist in Besançon with a long list of publications in sports and exercise physiology, but nothing remotely mammary.
Keying ‘Rouillon’ into Google News, however, brings up a vast array of stories about going bra-less, illustrated as one might imagine. Reading through them all – hell, someone has to – reveals a variation in the number of women studied (130, in some accounts, rather than 330), but no primary, peer-reviewed research. All roads led back to this news-agency copy.
None of these stories mentioned the only link I have found between a J.-D. Rouillon and breasts, which I came across in a pdf of a bibliography of something else, and which goes as follows:
Pierrot L, Rouillon J-D. The development of the breasts after discontinuing wearing bras: a preliminary longitudinal study of 33 volunteer sportswomen. Thesis presented Dec 19, 2003, Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, Besançon, France.
This was a doctorate thesis? Measuring breasts in a small number of undoubtedly fit, well-toned, and – let us not forget – willing young women, and doing so repeatedly? Nice work if you can get it. Perhaps they’re like that, you know, in France. Ooh-la-la, and all that.
UPDATE: I have since found this link to the same research, and this link to an actual journal article from Japan which possibly says the same thing. Since writing the post I have also discovered that the sagging of breasts with age has a medical term, which I might try in Scrabble one day if given the chance. The term is ptosis, which I always thought was the name of Nefertiti’s younger brother, but one learns new things every day.
Now, as my own experiment, I am going to see if an apposite choice of tags can drive this post to the most-seen of any in Occam’s Typewriter. You just watch me.