Boobs: What is there to say about them that hasn't been said? Turns out, quite a lot — from women. And if us gals have our way about the girls, we will be monopolizing the conversation about our boobs from here to eternity, which is kind of nice, seeing as how we've had so little say in their presentation up to now.
Over at the Daily Beast, there is a call to arms about boobs. "Women, It's Time to Reclaim Our Breasts," writes Emily Shire, in a piece that explores the way tits have been used against us for centuries, and what we are beginning to do about it. She writes:
More women are not only talking about their breasts, but sharing images, stories, and humor around the life-giving organs all on their own terms. From posing for post-mastectomy portrait photos to online comedy sketches about boob sweat, women are starting new dialogues about breasts that let women share their insecurities, revel in their sensuality, and laugh at the inherent silliness of having these things with nipples that drive so much of the male gaze.
Shire notes that boobs are "arguably more fetishized than either sex's genitalia," likely, I would speculate, because they are so much more difficult to hide. Though they may enjoy "hallowed sexual status," there is, as with everything, a dark side to hosting such tantalizing fruit so obviously on your person: Not being treated like one. She says:
Breasts are also often associated will illicit behavior. When studies show that girls in the U.S. tend to be developing breasts at younger ages, they note, with great concern, that these same girls tend to start having sex or drinking alcohol earlier. "You've got a 10-year-old who looks like a 14-year-old. We interact with kids based on the way that they look," Dr. Frank Biro at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio told Reuters.
This is where I will again point you to a wonderful reported book called Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut by Emily White, which explores the idea that girls who are branded as sluts as teenagers, no matter their actual sexual history, often had one thing in common: they developed early.
Having boobs means being treated sexually by men whether you're ready to be or not, and with that, comes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy of sexualization — being treated sexually means more likely to engage sexually, and so on. Having boobs, not having boobs, when they are gotten and when they are gone — these are the boob bookends of our lives.
So it's not surprising to learn that when photographer Laura Dodsworth interviewed and photographed 100 women and asked them how they felt about their breasts, she really learned how they felt about themselves as women. Dodsworth is currently raising money to fund the book version of this project, Bare Reality: 100 Women and Their Breasts, which you can lend your firm support to here. From The Guardian:
"We see images of breasts everywhere," says the 41-year-old photographer, "but they're unreal. They create an unflattering comparison but also an unobtainable ideal. I wanted to rehumanise women through honest photography."
Dodsworth interviewed each woman at length, starting by asking them how they felt about their breasts. The interviews soon became more emotional than she anticipated. "I found that, while breasts are interesting in themselves, they are also catalysts for discussing relationships, body image and ageing. I realised that this had become an exploration of what it means to be a woman."
Not that you would know this from how breasts are portrayed culturally. When it comes to boobs, I've noticed, they are either sexual or not, hot or not — it's as if there is no happy medium where a woman's breasts can be represented as all the things they actually are, often simultaneously: Sexual, asexual, novel, mundane, heavy, nonexistent, problematic, highly enjoyable, irritating, sweaty, or for women battling breast cancer or a high risk for it, ticking time bombs.
I will never forget the story a friend told me of seeing her mom who had very large breasts change out of her bra for the first time with a look of immense relief. She asked her how they felt, and remembers her mom sighing, "Like bricks."
Weirder still, how many women feel about their breasts is based more on how we think we are supposed to feel about them depending on how they are perceived in the culture rather than how we actually feel.
For instance, having big boobs is supposed to be great. "If I were you, I'd be playing with those in front of a mirror every day," I have been told at least one bajillion times a second my entire life. But every woman with big boobs is not living in nonstop bliss orgy of self-love: Big boobs hurt, are a pain, and don't get me started on how hard it is to find a good shirt (in fashion, big boobs are kinda trashy). To say nothing of the fact that they make us appear sexualized no matter what we are doing — ask any large breasted woman who's ever struggled to comply with workplace dress codes in spite of them. Sure, boobs are a wonderland I guess, if a wonderland means phenomenal sometimes but also fucking terrible.
Shire mentions the significance of Dodsworth's photo project:
Not all the women Dodsworth included had positive or affectionate things to say about their breasts. A 21-year-old talked about how male attention due to her breasts made her feel attractive when her mother had always made her worry about her weight; but her breasts were also a reminder of the unwanted sexual acts she was pressured into in college. A 33-year-old mother talked about how her breasts shrunk after nursing her children, and how it made her feel less feminine. A 101-year-old woman who fled Nazi occupation told of how an entire breast was removed when she discovered a lump nearly 50 years ago.
This richness is not the conversation we're having about boobs in mainstream culture. In that world, boobs are only as good as the number of heads they turn, the desire they incite, the attention they garner. Or the jokes they inspire. Shire writes:
There is a long history of the mammary glands as comedy fodder. How many Benny Hill scenes involved the creepy, portly man zooming about perilously near an unfathomably stacked woman? More generally, how many basic comedy sketches are structured around a guy ogling a busty woman, flummoxed into stuttering or so distracted he walks into a wall? Heck, even the slang for breasts sound pretty silly—boobs, ta-tas, titties.
Of course, the jokes, the nomenclature, the people doing the creepy but supposed to be funny stares, are almost always men.
Holy Christ, thanks for the mammaries, but that is finally changing. Shire cites a number of pop culture moments of boob breakthrough, woman-owned: the "Two Sports Bra" skit at College Humor where women wax honest about the liability of boobs in pursuing athleticism. The Free the Nipple movement to remove restrictions on female toplessness and female nipple exposure on social media.
And I would argue this is happening slowly but surely with all of our body parts. Period humor has never had heavier flow days than these. Wetlands — a raunchy coming of age story told through various fluids — is being touted as the grossest movie of the year, a "puerile delight," and it's about a woman. Who knows, maybe one day the definitive voice on women's bodies will come from actual women.
Demystifying women is an essential part of humanizing them, and we only needed bigger and better and more platforms to level this score. Because what is true of them is true of us: Our bodies are just as gross and hilarious and delightful as male bodies, and as long as we are telling the story, that is progress.
Image via Getty.