Honest talk about breasts: Documentary, says one viewer, ‘forces (men) to sit down and drink a cup of shut-up-and-listen.’

  • Elise Wilder, shown with her child, Sparrow, says seeing The Breast Archives changed how she relates to her body — and how their family talks about breasts. The documentary, produced by Easthampton filmmaker Meagan Murphy, right, will be screened Friday at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke.

  • “I hated the idea of my body being sexualized without my consent,” says Sparrow Wilder, shown with filmmaker Meagan Murphy and Sparrow's mother, Elise Wilder. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/24/2019 1:05:29 PM

When Elise Wilder returned to middle school after summer vacation in the mid-’70s, she began to receive attention in a way she had not before. Suddenly, boys and girls noticed that she had developed breasts.

“I was torn between liking the attention breasts got me and simultaneously loathing it,” she said.

Only a few months earlier, Wilder would get teased by peers because “everyone had breasts and I didn’t,” but that changed over the course of the summer. Then, in eighth grade, “I got angry attention from females because I had big ones.”

“I was confused about how to feel about my body and breasts,” Wilder said. “It solidified the narrative that people didn’t care about the real me.”

For a long time, Wilder said those feelings negatively affected her self-image, but a couple of years ago, she began changing the way she regards her breasts.

Seeing “The Breast Archives,” a documentary produced by Easthampton filmmaker Meagan Murphy, re-framed how she relates to her body and how the stereotypes in society have affected her own perceptions.

In September 2017, Wilder, 52, of Westminster, Vermont, and her child, Sparrow, went to the film’s premiere at the Academy of Music in Northampton. The film helped them start an honest conversation within their family about breasts.​​​​​

The film revolves around nine interviewees, women ages 32 to 68, who speak about how their breasts have affected their experiences with childhood, motherhood, sensuality and cancer.

“After seeing women talking about their struggles, and not just me, I felt like I’m not irrational, and that everyone is having these issues,” said Sparrow, 21.

Sparrow identifies as gender fluid and uses they/them pronouns. As they started to develop breasts, complicated and uncomfortable feelings followed.

“I considered having them removed, I didn’t want the attention,” Sparrow said. “I hated the idea of my body being sexualized without my consent.”

Women throughout the film say how substantive conversations about breasts with friends and family members were largely missing from their lives while growing up. There were quips or jokes instead of conversations about the complex feelings many felt.

“This film brought those buried feelings to the surface and let them breathe for the first time,” Elise said. “I was conscious of the attention breasts got me, but not cognizant of how those feelings spilled over to other parts of my life.”

“The Breast Archives” will be screened at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke on Friday, June 28, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Both Elise and Sparrow will be panelists for a post-screening discussion exploring cultural issues towards women’s bodies. They will be joined by Jennifer Allen, director of the Northampton YMCA, University of Massachusetts professor David Sela, social worker Susan Solis-Casteneda, and three subjects from the film: Rev. Sandra Harrick, Teresa Lorenco and Leslie Cerier.

“All women have vastly different relationships with their breasts and there is a lot of ignorance because we are lacking a conversation,” Murphy said. The panel will be an opportunity for “an in-depth discussion, for healing and to acknowledge that those conversations don’t always happen.” 

Richard A. Adams, an electrical contractor who lives in Montague and saw “The Breast Archives” when​​​​​​ ​​​​​​it premiered, said it gave him a whole new perspective on women and their experiences.

“It forces (men) to sit down and drink a cup of shut-up-and -listen,” Adams said. “How many men do you know that can actually sit down and be quiet and listen to women talk about their bodies?”

He said the film gives men, in particular, a moment to pause and be more aware of the shame that women may feel about their breasts. Viewing the film caused Adams to reflect back on his own interactions with women, and although he said he felt like he always had the best intentions, ​​​​​the film moved him to tears.

“Hopefully this movie promotes an authentic apology from men,” Adams said. He said the movie inspired him to reach out to the women in his life and say, “I am sorry for me as a man, and for the other men that have hurt you.”

A film interviewee said the documentary gives its audience a rare opportunity to talk about breasts in an earnest and open way, especially in a society that often portrays breasts in a sexualized manner. 

“Everyone deals with this stuff, and I knew in a logical way, but sometimes the logical doesn’t always override the emotional,” said Teresa Lorenco of Easthampton, one of the film’s subjects.

She said another one of the film participants had what she considered “ideal” breasts, but even that woman had issues with her self-image.

“She was very confident and I thought she would never have any problems with her breasts … and I was jealous of that confidence, but she still found something wrong,” Lorenco said.

“The message is that women’s breasts have to be attractive, bigger, perkier, with more sex appeal,” she said. “It makes women say, my breasts are not blank enough, and you fill in the blank.”

Gateway City Arts is located at 92 Race Street, Holyoke. Tickets for the June 28 screening and discussion are $10.

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