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This powerful viral image shows what milk ducts actually look like

We think about them all the time as new moms, but what our milk ducts actually look like is a bit of a mystery. That's why a tweet showing the female muscle system is going viral.

Hundreds of thousands of people are liking, sharing and talking about this image which shows milk ducts in their unskinned form. The clusters of milk ducts look like flowers, and social media users are freaking out.


Some are terrified, some are fascinated and some have questioned the source of the image and whether it is realistic.

"At first I thought someone put flowers over boobs because art. Now, it looks like a weird alien creature lives inside my body and I'm terrified," wrote one woman whose tweet has been liked more than 23,000 times.

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Here's the thing though, this isn't terrifying. It's beautiful.

Those petal-like structures aren't actually the ducts, those are lobes, which contain the alveoli. That's where the body makes the milk, which then travels down those little tubes (those are the ducts) to the nipple.

There's nothing scary about it, in fact, it's kind of magical. The female body really is a work of art.

Still, some internet commenters have criticized the BBC, Motherly and other outlets for posting the image, which may have originated from an iPad app called Anatomy & Physiology, and spread via an Imgur post before finding its way onto Twitter.

"Backlash against the image points out that it does not appear to be entirely anatomically correct (for example, the lobes are much more 'perfectly arranged' than they would be in real life)," says Motherly's Digital Education Editor, Diana Spalding, a midwife and pediatric nurse.

"It is also unclear where the original work came from, which means we have to be cautious with our use and interpretation. This said, what matters most here is the 'why'. Why are people so fascinated with this image? Why did this image go viral? The answer is empowerment," says Spalding.

We want to know what is going on inside the bodies that grow and feed our children and propel us through life, and to Spalding, the intense interest around this imperfect image suggests that the demystification and reclamation of the female body are long overdue.

"My sincere hope is that this conversation inspires others—artists, health care providers, scientists and more—to explore new and innovative ways to teach people about their anatomies, so that people can become active participants and advocates in their own healthcare," she explains.

Sometimes a viral image is so much more than just a "creepy" tweet.

[A version of this post was published on April 25, 2019. It has been updated.]

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