visual researcher

Heba Khamis

‘Banned Beauty’ is a long term and ongoing visual research, I started in late 2016 about the practice of breast ironing in Cameroon.

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. The complexity of this contradiction is central to my project.