Friday, March 9, 2012

Boobs, a rant

Is there any other part of the human anatomy that people are so conflicted about? But first, a quick word from our sponsor.

Thursday was an easy run, trying to find my feet. It took a long time to find a stride and I never did settle in. Ran about 40 minutes in nice weather. Not quite Bermuda (photos and video if you missed them) nice, but Calgary nice.

There's a running joke in Coupling (the British version), where the character Jeff accumulates nicknames for breasts. He can't find a word for something, and his buddy Steve says "...and yet you have x (many hundreds of) words for breasts." Don't we all. Probably as many words as there are emotions or thoughts about them.

We can't get away from them. For many of us, they're right in our faces shortly after we're born. It's what they're for, to feed babies. Well, the female ones are. Even though I've had a pair for mumblty years, I'm not sure what the male ones are for. It should be clear I'm mostly talking about the female ones, unless I'm specifically mentioning the guys.

What I don't get is why some people think that breast feeding a child is obscene. Some women have got into trouble for doing it, even when the entire chest was covered. Or they are relegated to some private room, making the assumption that a nursing mom is unfit for public company. As I understand it, once you've started down the breast feeding path there is no turning back. Babies need lots of little meals, and they have to happen no matter where you are or when it is. It's no big deal for people to see other people eat (assuming a minimum of table manners), so why is it a big deal to see a baby eating? I'm not suggesting a woman take off her shirt in the mall food court and make a display of it, but there are ways to be discreet about it. Discreet, but not secretive or ashamed, the same as good table manners. There are all sorts of mixed up thoughts about breasts, and anything associated with breasts.

Personally, in modern society, North American society in particular, I blame movies and television, and the fallout from the weird religious ideas about treating women as property. These religions dictated what women wore and how they should behave to be "decent". Breasts have been one of the major battlegrounds.

Almost all guys, even gay ones, like to look at breasts. Many women do to. Those curves, the soft skin, the subtle or not so subtle jiggle that happens when she walks, who wouldn't like to look? The well brought up of us don't stare at them, or talk to them, but the temptation is there sometimes. I remember one well endowed young lady running a museum gift shop. It took a bit of doing to read her T shirt, but it said "I see you've met the twins."

There, in a nutshell, we have the issue. Guys like to look. I'm particularly attracted to words, and have been known to read almost anything. Words on a T shirt are then doubly compelling. Yet I'm not "supposed" to look, and women know perfectly well we're going to. Much of modern fashion does everything possible to make us look. There are several times I've asked for permission to read a T shirt, just to avoid being thought a perv. I've never been refused.

I appreciate that women have to walk a fine line here too. Show them off too much and other women will hiss at you, and some guys will start leaving a trail of drool and get all stupid. Wrap them up, hide them, buried under layers, and it's like you're denying part of yourself.

Movies and TV had taken this desire to look and built it into decades of marketing. Having the starlet of the day flash her breasts attracted attention to the movie. If you can't see many breasts in real life, going to the movies to see them, particularly famous ones, seemed to be your only option. So then the MPAA got into the act, determining how much flesh can be shown to people of whatever age. That had the peculiar effect of driving movie producers into exposing breasts just to get the rating, and drive audiences to see an otherwise terrible movie. One of their assumptions seems to be that breasts and words are dangerous but guns are not.

Much as I like to look, when there isn't a reason for them to be shown in the movie, it actually cheapens the movie experience for me. Or when there is a reason, and they aren't shown. One example. The movie couple are enjoying the moment after. You know. The sheets are arranged (always!) to hide her breasts, and show off his chest. It must take a while between takes to get the sheet tucked just right. Even when she's getting up she will drag off the sheet and wrap it around herself. Who in real life does this? If you've just had sex with him, he's been all about the breasts and everything else. Wrapping up makes it clear you're in a movie and detracts from the movie experience. There is all sorts of movie teasing about breasts, determining exactly how much can be shown, all driven by ratings games. I think it distorts the movie, detracting from both the movie experience as an audience, and the movie as a story being told.

I don't want to go all conspiracy theory here, but one reason I see for people to continue their control over breasts is that it gives them control over women. It tells them what they can or can't wear, and how they can or can't behave in public. Plus, if boobs are rare in real life, people will be driven to see them in movies, right? Well, maybe not anymore. The internet has been a great leveler in some ways. If you want to look at pictures or movies of breasts, and can't find them on the internet, then golly, you must be dead or blind.

One of the things that brought this up was a lady in Coop the other day. It was a nice day by Calgary in March standards. It was clear she wasn't wearing a bra under her T shirt. By my standards it was delightful. But one couple not much other than me, I think, called her a whore. Loud enough that much of the fruit and veg section could hear. I know nothing of that lady's morals or working life and wouldn't make any assumptions. It's not that she was dressed unreasonably, since other people of both genders were wearing the same thing, a T shirt and jeans. Why is it ok to see bra straps, or the outline of them under a shirt, or the enhanced curves provided by the bra and a lower neckline, but not the curves directly under a shirt? Yes you tell where her nipples were, but good heavens, we all know to within a cm or so where they are anyways. Or are we supposed to pretend they don't exist? Would they have done the same thing if she had been wearing a bikini top, or a sports bra top, both of which would have exposed more flesh in general, and perhaps more of her actual breasts?

When you talk about breasts, sooner or later you come to size. Usually sooner, and often first. In our world the only rule about everything seems to be "the bigger the better". Sadly, this applies to breasts as well. It's weird that a multi-billion dollar industry should exist to cut open inoffensive breasts, stuff in saline or silicone, and sew them back up again. I'm disappointed that a woman would feel the need for this to enhance her ego, or that she feels the need to attract attention. I'm disappointed in guys that continue to believe that bigger is better, and push women into the procedure. (One nightclub in Calgary was famous for having attractive wait staff, and the deal was if you worked there a certain number of years, they would buy the boob job for you. I'm not sure what would have happened if a guy qualified and applied for it.)

As I've told some of my single female friends, if a guy is all about the size of her breasts, or has the "bigger is better" mentality, dump him unless you are wanting to take on a difficult life-long human reno project. Women come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Most want to be taller, and most want to be slimmer. All of them, every woman of my acquaintance with one possible exception, believes her butt is too big, so there's no conflict there. Most women have issues with some of their anatomy, thinking their nose is too big, for example, but it's something different for everybody. Even guys have issues with their anatomy, wanting their muscles and penis to be bigger. They'll go work out, and there is a reason so much spam is about enhancing penis size. No conflict there.

But many women are conflicted about their breasts, wanting them bigger or smaller, sometimes depending on the occasion. Bigger for that dress on the social occasion or big date. Smaller for workouts. Finding the right sports bra is an obsession with some, and not just the well endowed. I can understand why, I've had nipple chafe and it's no fun at all. They wonder if their top is showing off too little, or too much. Just exactly how opaque is right, and how is that affected by lighting? Women worry if they grow too soon, or too late. They worry about shape and firmness. They worry about erect nipples at inappropriate times. They worry about finding lumps, and dread the mammogram. Or the squishogram as some call it. Women like it if their breasts are noticed the right way, but don't like it if they are noticed too much. I wish I knew how many seconds or fraction of a second was the right number!

All this fuss and bother over some fatty body tissue. I wish society would get over it. They exist. There is a real purpose for female ones. Besides enjoyment, you know what I mean. It's only within my lifetime that we can talk openly about breast cancer. More and more women are taking up more athletic pursuits. Not so long ago medical science believed that her uterus would fall out if a woman tried to run a marathon. How ridiculous! But with the more athletic pursuits, women have to talk openly about dealing with their breasts. Trying to run with an inadequate sports bra is going to be painful.

With more women trying to be more fit, and TV (again with the mass media distortions) noticing that ratings for female sports are higher than expected, we see more of the female body. There's a reason female beach volleyball players are required to wear those tiny bikinis, and it's not to support the breasts or keep sand out of tender areas. In triathlon both men and women are required to wear tops, even if the guys typically unzip to the point where there is no real point to the garment. I know for a fact there are some women who wish they could too. They ban even very brief nudity, even though the sport offers real reasons one might want to change your pants in transition. There has been lots of discussion about what is appropriate wear for the ice dancers. The speed suits for the speed skaters and bobsleigh participants cover everything, but don't hide anything. Swimming and diving outfits have their own issues, to say nothing of the brutality that is water polo.

I wish the sports regulatory authorities would get over themselves. If you're going to regulate clothing, then make it appropriate for the sport, and make the rules the same for men and women. The same might be said for other areas of life. If it's an appropriate time or place for a guy to be topless (the beach, a pool, working out, or wherever) then it should be ok for a woman to be topless.

And the MPAA, why is it ok to show kids bloody graphic violence, or things that are actual crimes? Why does saying "fuck" three times in a movie get it a restricted rating? As if children don't know that word well before they are teenagers. Why does showing breasts, or any other flesh in a movie limit the audience of a movie? To be honest, I'd rather kids saw gratuitous skin in a movie, than violence or crimes presented as a "solution" to a problem.

In many parts of the world it's perfectly normal for women to be topless. This doesn't seem to lead toward them being sex crimed. People seem more relaxed about breasts, and body issues in general. We have lots of problems in the world to deal with. Breasts ought not to be a problem for grown ups. Just showing her breasts, or wearing a top that doesn't completely hide them, doesn't make a woman a whore or anything else, or imply anything about her. We need to get over that as well.


  1. I can't help but wonder what provoked this particular rant...

    The high school where I used to teach had a dress code, which pretty much focused on girls covering themselves (rules about how low cut the shirt could be, had to have sleeves, had to cover the naval, etc) because boys found girls who showed too much skin a distraction. I always thought it was sort of silly. I mean, don't high school boys find girls distracting because they are, well, female?

    I once snarked that we could just put girls in burkas, but I don't think that would have worked either.

    Nice rant Keith. You should be a chick!

  2. I agree with Alice. You're an honorary chick now. I don't understand the issue with public breastfeeding either. People need to calm the hell down and concentrate on themselves and how they act as opposed to trying to change everyone else.

  3. The whole breastfeeding in public issue really pisses me off. Mainly, b/c it's been made into an issue at all. This should be the way it is.

    When I was breastfeeding Evie, I did cover myself just coz I like to be modest that way, but I've been very fortunate to be able to feed her everywhere...mall, restaurant, outdoors, anywhere really. So it's really upsetting to see any mother being prevented from feeding her baby then and there - it's not fair to mama, and esp not fair to baby.

    Anyways, your rant hit so many nails at once, this is like your super-rant! Love it!

  4. Several things. In no particular order. Bermuda has no topless beaches. They are considered immoral. They ran Club Med out of Bermuda many years ago, and then dynamited the building. We were staying a short walk from there and I ran past it several times. There was the lady in coop. The periodic blog post about boobs, and related issues.

    I remember being a high school boy. In some ways it doesn't seem all that long ago, but it is. And yes, girls are distracting because they're girls. It wouldn't matter what they are wearing. The more specific the rules get about clothing, the more focused people get about it. (Is that skirt the right length, or is it a half inch too short?) Which I think is a case of the cure being worse than the disease.


  5. Thanks again! I guess it's easier to point the finger elsewhere at a faux problem than to look at a real problem and figure out what has to be done to fix it.

  6. A super-rant! I had never dreamed of such a thing. Maybe I've just raised the bar. Glad you didn't have a problem.

  7. You have, but I'm not going to try to match it LOL!

  8. A Super-Rant, indeed! As a long-time nursing mom and female athlete, I commend you for writing such a great post.

  9. The breastfeeding conflict is alive and well. I don't get it. It is the most natural thing to feed your baby and yet so much of our society gets offended by it. I know a woman that was banned from Starbucks for breastfeeding her baby. I also have a friend who was told in the emergency department of a hospital that she could go breastfeed her baby in the bathroom. How utterly disgusting! Can you imagine taking your lunch to the bathroom and eating it while sitting on a public toilet? Our society has to get over it. Breastfeeding is what female breasts are for!

  10. Thanks! I've long had the opinion that many things in our society fester because we leave the issues in the dark, under a rock. Out of sight, out of mind. Not my problem. The time is overdue to turn over the rock and examine the issues rationally. Breasts. Drugs. Prostitution. Public behaviour. Crime. Privacy expectations. Governance. Lots of stuff. We have to start talking about these things because the way it's been done isn't working anymore, if it ever really worked in the first place.

  11. You'd think the emergency department would know better. And while you'd think that a hospital bathroom would be clean, you don't know who used it last. Even worse, a hospital is the single best place in the whole world to catch a nasty infection or disease. I'm completely expecting someone to leave a comment to the effect that I support more public breast feeding because I've admitted I like looking at breasts. I almost don't know where to start on that one, and can only suggest that someone getting a sexual thrill out of watching a woman breast feed clearly needs to get a life. Or getting offended by a flash of breast during the process, I mean really, do they really have nothing more important to get worked up about?

  12. I've always thought that the obsession some men have with breasts is that they are the "safest" thing to say one likes because 1) Men don't have them (well... shouldn't). 2) Children don't have them. 3) Other animals don't have them (though oddly, every race in science fiction does!); it's shorthand for "Yep, I like women and I desperately don't want anyone thinking I'm gay." I occasionally get a laugh at the "sexy fail" of enormous breasts, that is very quietly and politely ignored by those who read my blog - and then see that they are the most viewed photos [with the exception of the one of my aunt smoking a pipe while fishing (go figure)]. My reaction upon seeing a woman breastfeeding is "so what?" and yet, there's a local meteorologist who's just come back from maternity leave whose breasts are huge and I've found myself occasionally realizing I've not been listening to what she says. So... I guess I'm not immune.

  13. It pains me to disagree with so eminent a blogger as Steve, but I must. 1) Men do have them, just not as big (usually), less fat and more muscle, and no ability to lactate. 2) Children have them too, just undeveloped. 3) All mammal animals have breasts, it's part of the definition.

    You're right about every race in science fiction; I certainly can't think of any exceptions, and I've read lots. I think it goes along with an ability to instantly understand English.

    I should have told this story in the blog. While we were vacationing in Italy, my wife and I developed a fascination for Italian television. One place we stayed (Venice) had no English channels at all. We loved trying to figure out what was going on. Watching Stargate SG-1 in badly dubbed Italian was amusing. But what really fascinated us was Italian women on the various shows. Almost without exception they had huge breasts. Huge, and shapely, and barely tucked into low cut dresses. At least once a show the male people involved were obviously distracted. But I think their breasts are built differently. I think they were extensions of their lungs. These girls could talk. And talk and talk and talk without stopping to breathe. Italian is a lovely language.

  14. Boobs

  15. My mom wanted to comment, but was doing so from her iPad, and Blogger ate it.

    Why women should breast-feed their babies
    1. Best start for infants immune system.
    2. Helps new mothers get back into shape.
    3. Keeps baby's food at proper temperature, no refrigeration or reheating needed.
    4. The cats can't get at it.
    5. It comes in such cute containers.

  16. Funny- I missed this post the first time, likely because I was breastfeeding! Audrey would only have been a couple weeks old.

    I have similar feelings on this as you. I couldn't wait for the day that someone told me they were offended by me breastfeeding in public, just so I could tell them off. Unfortunately, that never really happened.

  17. Great post, Keith. Sorry I missed it the first time around. One question though, why is it so "natural" for men to be smitten with boobs. Most straight women I know don't spend a lot of time examining men's crotches - or, if they do - they don't talk about it.


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