A NSFW Playboy.com article claims to summarize, "how and why women's breasts have changed over the years," from '60s torpedo boobs to today's rounder implant-inspired ideal. But it isn't women's breasts that "evolved," now is it?
For those who can't (or won't) click the link, it uses photos of 12 Playmates going back to the '50s to illustrate each decade's in vogue breast shape. In the post-WWII era, breasts were "natural, wholesome, fun," whatever that means. Apparently the '60s rocket-shaped breasts were a response to the Cuban Missile Crisis: "It was a palpable physiological response to the tension, almost as if to say 'You're gonna point those things at us? Well, we're gonna point these things right back at you!'" In the '70s boobs were allowed to droop, but with the advent of breast implants in the '80s they were required to be round and firm like grapefruits. Then in the '90s, "smaller, more athletic breasts (an 'alternative' to '80s racks, if you will) came back into vogue." Playboy claims that in the past decade we've developed "appreciation for all boobs great and small" — as long as they're bare and attached to a thin blonde woman, judging from the photos.
While this is a good summation of how breasts have been portrayed in the media in the the past 60 years, unsurprisingly, the anonymous author of the feature acts like women passed around a memo on the new breast style for each decade and developed accordingly. Obviously in reality, breasts have always come in all these shapes and sizes, but the editors of Playboy decided certain styles were no longer worthy of being ogled in their magazine.
Playboy may no longer be the arbiter of what's sexy — I've never met a guy in his 20s who didn't get his porn on a free internet site — but it's fascinating to look back through the magazine's archives and see how the mainstream idea of what a woman should look like has changed. Recently, I came across some sort of Playboy retrospective in a used book store. I expected to see curvier Marilyn Monroe types in the older photos, but the models were even fleshier (and hairier) than I'd anticipated. And their breasts, uh, stood out, in particular — they were different from anything you'd see in a modern porno. As I stared at women with large sagging breasts and slightly pudgy thighs and others with totally flat chests complementing their gigantic bushes, all I could think was, "there's no way Hef would put this woman in the magazine today."
Unlike the ladies on The Girls Next Door, I didn't dream of having my appearance validated by Playboy as a child, so I wasn't very focused on the magazine's narrow overall portrait of what I should look like naked. Some of the changes, like the use of thinner models and the sudden appearance of black models in the '70s, clearly isn't particular to porn. However, I do hold the magazine partially responsible for one issue that's bothered me since I was a teen — the continually changing concept of what breasts should look like.
When I was in high school, my mother complained constantly that I needed a better bra. At first this was probably true, since I'd shot up to a DD but was still squeezing myself into a C because I didn't want to go through the irritation of bra shopping. But even after what I considered a successful trip to Victoria's Secret, anytime I tried on new clothes she'd suggest that something was off in the bust or complain that I needed to tighten my straps because I was "hanging too low" as she elegantly put it.
My mom has a '50s mindset I didn't fully comprehend until I encountered Betty Draper, and favors the type of bras that come in boxes from the department store. I always assumed the source of our epic bra conflict was that she wanted her newly-chesty 15-year-old daughter to wear a matronly support bra contraption rather than a lacy push-up bra that came with a matching thong.
Finally, after one particularly tear-filled shopping excursion during my quest to find a prom dress, I snapped and opened the door to the dressing room with only my bra on. I asked what, exactly, her problem was with my breasts. "They're just so round," she said. It wasn't that my underwear was too sexy, we had a fundamentally different idea of what breasts should look like. She preferred her brand of itchy, "full-figure" bras because that's the closest thing you'll find to Mad Men undergarments in this day and age. The sweater-missile shape was drilled into her head as the ideal when she was young. As someone who grew up in the '90s, shots of Pamela Anderson bouncing down the beach with two half-melons under he swimsuit stuck with me even though I've never even seen an episode of Baywatch. Thanks to the boom in implants during my lifetime, I subconsciously pictured breasts like the set modeled by Miss October 2001 in the Playboy article, and was disappointed when I wound up with something closer to Miss January 1973 — so untrendy!
Society's entire obsession with breasts is bizarre, but it's particularly strange that they're the only body part that can go out of style. There isn't really an ass shape that defined a decade (though J.Lo may disagree), or a nose that fell out of favor in the past 30 years. Plus, there's no similarly fetishized body part for men. Bigger, more muscular chests became popular in the '80s with He-Man toys and various Rocky sequels, and that definitely affected boys' body image at the time (as shown in the great documentary Bigger, Faster, Stronger.) But aside from a general demand to be "bigger" you could not make a similar gallery of the most popular peck (or even penis) shape of the past few decades.
The idea of an "in" style of body part is insane not only because it doesn't have any bearing on what humans actually look like, but because it doesn't necessarily reflect what people are attracted to. It may be more acceptable for current male heartthrobs not to be built, but personally, I'm less attracted to super-skinny hipster dudes. People may be influenced by the images they see in porn, but I'm also pretty sure guys didn't start shunning big-breasted women en masse in the '90s because Playboy featured more small boobs.
I was reminded of this as I read through Playboy's big book o' naked ladies. My boyfriend found me in the bookstore, and after pointing out that I should be more discreet about flipping through porn when there are kids running around a store, I showed him the book. Somehow, even as a man who grew up with internet access, giving him access to an endless barrage of perky, Pam Anderson-esque boobs, he said, "Honestly, I think the women from the older pictures look better." And I have to say, he's been handling the fact that my breasts have been out of style for 40 years rather well.