Breasts and the Sexualization of Women

Here’s another one from the archives, posted on November 7, 2004.

This was a time before the idea of nipple sensitivity and a breast reduction had even crossed my mind. Since this paper was written (again for my Womens Studies class) I have become sexually active and my views on this issue have changed slightly, but I do still believe there is an over-sexualization of the breasts in America.

As I’ve hinted at before I have some pretty strong beliefs about issues relating to pregnancy and childbearing, and the right to breast feed in public, in any location, as long as an effort to conceal the breasts is made, is included in those beliefs. How to preserve the sexual nature of the breast for the marital relationship, while opening up the opportunity for women to use the breast as it is intended (for breastfeeding)? I still have no idea.

Breasts and the Sexualization of Women

If a child were to learn everything he knew about breasts from television and the media he would think that breasts are meant to be shameful, sexual, forbidden, big and upright, and existing solely for the pleasure of men. Exposure of breasts is considered indecent exposure in many places, and a man by the name of Joe Francis is now a millionaire from a home video series called Girls Gone Wild that features young women frequently baring their breasts to the world. Young girls who are exposed to the “fake and perfect” breasts of Hollywood develop a distorted view of their own bodies, eventually yearning for this perfection and attempting to realize it through plastic surgery. In all actuality, breasts are only reproductive organs because they produce milk. As a culture we must realize that though breasts are a part of what makes a woman female, they are not intended for a sexual purpose.

To understand how outrageous it is for breasts to be regarded in the way that they are, it is important to understand what other cultures value, as well how they view a woman’s bosom in their own culture. In our own culture during the 1920’s a flat chest was seen as the ideal. Bra’s were invented during this time to flatten a woman’s chest; strange to imagine in our society of push-up bra’s and implants. It is not just our culture that resorts to strange methods to changing the natural shape of a woman’s body. Padaung women in Burma are considered appealing if they have long necks, through the use of metal rings introduced around the age of five a young engaged girl can have a neck that is stretched up to 25 cm. In Vanuatu, Malakula a young child’s head is bound from the time that it is 1 month old. This process is continued for about 6 months to produce the desired, elongated shape of the head. A person with a finely elongated head is thought to be more intelligent, higher in status and closer to the world of spirits. Ironically, the women of the 1800’s worried about being too thin. In an advertisement from 1890 Professor Williams comes to the aid of women who would like to gain a few extra pounds.

Don’t look like those poor unfortunates who, shorn of her artificial inflationary devices & pads, must, in the confines of her bedroom, through shame, try to cover her poor thin figure from the gaze of her beloved spouse.

“In four weeks Professor William’s famed FAT-TEN-U Foods increased my weight by 39 pounds, gave me new womanly vigour and developed me finely.”

Professor William’s “Fat-Ten-U Foods are guaranteed to make the thin Plump & Rosy with an Honest Fleshiness of Form!

As we reflect on what we value as American’s today, it is easy to see that the things that makes a woman beautiful change extensively over time. Today when women are seen wearing leggings, extremely big hair, and gaudy makeup, they are termed to be “living in the past” or “living in the 80’s”. Yet, twenty years ago those things were the very height of fashion. Just as the view of what makes a woman’s overall appearance enticing has changed, so have the ideas about what is the ideal shape of a female chest. Not all men in the world have such a distorted view of the mammary glands however. Carolyn Latteier, the author of Breasts, The Women’s Perspective on American Obsession, relayed some of her views on the subject.

“Well, we do have a peculiar obsession with breasts in this culture. A lot of people think it’s just the human nature to be fascinated with breasts but in many cultures, breasts aren’t sexual at all. I interviewed a young anthropologist working with women in Mali, in a country in Africa where women go around with bare breasts. They’re always feeding their babies. And when she told them that in our culture men are fascinated with breasts there was an instant of shock. The women burst out laughing. They laughed so hard, they fell on the floor. They said, “You mean, men act like babies?”

The women of the Mali culture were amazed to hear that men could have such a fascination with something that they had to deal with every day. The sexual attitude that the Western culture has developed concerning a women’s chest has classified them as sexual organs, another part of the female genitals. This assumption is incorrect; breasts have no part in producing a child, merely in nourishing one. The basic anatomy of the breast is the glands, fatty tissue, ducts, and nipple. Instead of honoring it for the miracle that it is, men have turned the breast into an obsession. It is interesting to note that it is the nipple itself that seems to be causing all of this stir. Some of the string bikini’s seen on music videos are nothing more than two tiny triangles on top, but as long as her nipple is covered the soft porn on display is allowed. The nation was shocked to see Janet Jackson bare her breast during the halftime show of the Superbowl game, yet they had know problem with the provocatively dressed dancers surrounding her who were bumping and grinding with everything they had.

Many women across our country, as well as countries much like ours have attempted to confront this backwards way of thinking. The Topfree Equal Rights Association was started to fight back against this view of breasts by emphasizing that fact that if a man is able to take his shirt off in a public facility, so should a woman. Many people will attempt to fight against movements such as these for varying reasons. Conservatives will simply not approve, but it would be the pornographic industry that would fight back the hardest against the de-sexualization of women. Without the mystery and forbidden nature of a woman’s chest the porn industry would lose billions of dollars each year. Arguments will also be given that defend the biological and chemical differences in men and women and in their brains. These arguments cannot hold their own, since it is not all cultures that feel this way about breasts.

Though the concept of women walking around topless equally with men is a bit extreme, as a culture we need to change our view about women and their bodies in general. Women should never be rebuked for breastfeeding in public, and young women across the country should not feel so extremely bad about their bodies that they would resort to methods as drastic as plastic surgery. It is unfortunate that the upcoming generations of children will be raised to think that the purpose of the breast is to sell beer, instead of providing the best possible nutrition for the baby.

10 thoughts on “Breasts and the Sexualization of Women

  1. Interesting thoughts. It is really bizarre the way the definition of female beauty has such swings and roundabouts and yet the generic view of male attractiveness stays much the same – solid, with muscle is better. Obviously there are exceptions, like emo culture etc, but I would say for the most part women still view “strong” men as attractive.

    By contrast, as women have been able to gain more and more power in terms of careers and politics, beauty is defined by images malnutrition and plastic. It seems that if we gain strength in one area, we have to become increasingly weak to be deemed beautiful.

    I’ve always viewed my breasts (which are rather large) as potential baby feeding devices that have gotten a tad too big for their boots. I’ve never really viewed them as an asset in looking attractive. That being said, sometimes they make a bit of a spectacle of themselves despite my efforts to keep them covered up and reigned in.

    Jenna Reply:

    I learned from a very young age just how powerful my breasts can be around men. It was knowledge I probably abused a little bit throughout my teenage years. 🙂

  2. I have always been fascinated by the research done in cultures where the breast is not at all sexualized, but I don’t think that either way is “better” or “more natural” than the other. In Proverbs, I believe, there is a verse that exhorts husbands to be captivated by their wife’s love and “satisfied by her breasts always.” Not to mention all the breast stuff in Song of Solomon, so I don’t think God has a problem with sexualized breasts. 🙂

    I do HATE the idea in our culture, though, that breasts are only about sex, all the time, and that breastfeeding is gross and diminishes a woman’s attractiveness. We need to reach a balanced view that breasts are beautiful, in all their functions, whether it’s to feed babies or to bring pleasure to men.

    From a purely editorial perspective, I am somewhat confused by the anecdotes of other women’s body image fluctuations over time and culture. It seems to take away from the main discussion of breasts. But I also know what it’s like to be writing a 3-page college paper and realizing you have enough info for a 1-pager. 🙂

    Kristin Reply:

    I agree MrsW, that on some level God created our breasts to be pleasing to our husbands and to ourselves. But truly there is a purpose for them that is more often than not, overlooked.

    MrsW Reply:

    Oh yes, I completely agree. All I was trying to say was in response to this paper written by a young woman who was not at that time married or sexually active is that it can be good for breasts to be viewed sexually as well as for feeding children, and differences among cultures should not be moralized with one as “good” and one as “bad.”

    If you notice the second paragraph of my first response, I said that breasts are beautiful in ALL of their functions, in which I implied my support for breastfeeding (discreetely public or private).

    Jenna Reply:

    Yes, I admit it isn’t a perfect paper, and I wouldn’t write it the same way now. I’m just too lazy to rewrite it 🙂

  3. I always thought it was hilarious when I read Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and he notes that women found a man’s calf attractive. It was like, biceps…who cares! I want to see some tight leggings that show off my man’s calf! WOOT! :oP And in that same culture and time the breast wasn’t thought of at all, b/c most were hanging out all over the place anyways. The ankle however. If a woman showed that off…well, can we just say hussy! ;o)

  4. I never really thought much about my breasts or anyone elses until i started breast feeding. I HATE BREASTFEEDING but only because the breasts represent a sexual thing to men, and probably to women. But i LOVE breastfeeding for the proper nutrients it gives my son, and its way cheaper. It would make my job a TON easier if breasts werent viewed sexually. I feel like i cant go anywhere having to breast feed every 3 hours and with naps included. I can only make small trips here and there rushing home or feeding the baby in the car because its not considered approriate to publically feed your baby (even if you are covered, its still weird). Plus who wants rock hard boobies that are way to large for your body? NOT ME!

  5. Hi-five! I love this! I think you may know this, I am VERY PRO breastfeeding in public, so this is great. And, I think you may know this too, have VERY STRONG OPINIONS about childbirth and rearing.

    Jenna Reply:

    A friend and I argued today over this mediastorm happening in Britain over a picture of a child pretending to breastfeed a baby doll. ( I disagree with the idea of allowing your child to do such things in public, as I think they are inappropriate. I wouldn’t allow my children to pretend to breastfeed or pretend to “have a baby” in public places. She says that children shouldn’t be “punished” for imitating something that is beautiful and natural. I believe it is important to acknowledge the bounds of social propriety that may exist (and aren’t causing anyone any harm). What are your thoughts on this?

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