Banned Beauty

Kamini Tontines, 12, hides her breasts after her mother ironed them. The painful process involves heating a stone or another object and pressing it against the breast, melting the fat and causing the breast to recede. Many Cameroonian mothers believe that by flattening their daughters’ breasts, they can protect them from men who would otherwise make sexual advances or rape them. Photo: Heba Khamis.

by Heba Khamis – made in the fall 2016 as her final Diploma Project at DMJX.

In Cameroon early marriage, teenage motherhood and rape are common experiences for many girls and women. Girls reach puberty much earlier than the age at which they usually marry. One out of every five girls is a teenage mother.

In an attempt to delay or diminish breast development in young girls, it is a common practice for their mother or grandmother to massage pubescent girl’s breasts using hard or heated objects – mostly cooking tools heated over coals. Nearly a quarter of Cameroonian women have endured some form of breast ironing. The practices take different forms from village to village, but the goal is the same. Family matriarchs hope that flattening the girls’ breasts will delay or hide their maturity, so that these young girls will appear less attractive to men.

There is a fundamental contradiction between the physical pain caused by the practice of breast ironing and the love which motivates mothers and grandmothers to continue the practice. For mothers, breast ironing is a way to demonstrate their love by protecting their daughters. To hurt in order to protect is a way of showing love.

“After my aunt came back from work, early evening, she was waking me up to massage my breasts with a hot stone. She did it every day.” Antoinette, 27. Photo: Heba Khamis.
Kenmeni, is bandaging her daughter’s breasts after ironing them. she believes that her daughter needs to grow up and have a strong body first before having breasts. Photo: Heba Khamis.
Marianne, 13 years old. Her grandmother started to do breasts ironing to her one month before this image. By pressing the breast with a stick and wooden bowl. Photo: Heba Khamis.
Photo: Heba Khamis.
Veronica, 28, massages the breasts of her 10-year-old daughter, Michelle, as her other children watch. Veronica started to iron Michelle’s breasts seven months before this image was taken. Her older daughter, not pictured, refused to have her breasts ironed and became pregnant at 14 years old. Nov 2016. Bafoussam, Cameroon. Photo: Heba Khamis.
Suzanne, 11 years old. two months before that image was taken, she experienced breast ironing until her breasts were totally gone. Nov 2016, East Cameroon. Photo: Heba Khamis.
Suzanne, 11 years old, is posing with her mother Cecile. Cecile did breast ironing to Suzanne twice after cooking, using a hot stone until breasts were gone. Photo: Heba Khamis.
One of the methods, is to heat the stone on a grill after cooking and message the breasts with it. Photo: Heba Khamis.
Fabiola, 11, poses after having her breasts ironed. She has had her breasts ironed twice a day for three months. Photo: Heba Khamis.
In some areas in Bafoussam city, they use the seeds of the black fruits as a medicine. Locals massage young girls’ breasts with warm stone then they put the seeds in banana leaves. Photo: Heba Khamis.
Sandra, 13. When she turned eight and her breasts started to develop, for continuous five days, Sandra’s mother was massaging her breasts with a wooden spoon for one hour until they were gone. on the left is a drawing by Sandra for herself. Photo: Heba Khamis.
Noopiote- Justine is massaging her daughter’s breasts with a warm stone. Cameroonians do breast ironing secretly at home. feeling ashamed that their daughter already had breasts and does breast ironing. Photo: Heba Khamis.
Chimone, is posing with her mother.She started going through breast ironing two months before this image was taken. Photo: Heba Khamis.
Breast ironing includes many different methods and tools, that differ from village to village. Wooden spoon and stone are the most common ones. Photo: Heba Khamis.