August 2, 2011 / Sexism, Unity, Women's History

Women and Breast Identity


The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

Amazon preparing for a battle (Queen Antiop or Armed Venus), by Pierre-Eugène-Emile Hébert 1860 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

Similar to China’s bound feet, American society has chosen the female breast as the core of feminine beauty. The rounder, fuller, and more pert the breast, the greater the appreciation, the lovelier the woman. The female body has taken on the requirements of society’s ideals, and women run to surgeons to be sliced open and have extraneous and unnatural “padding” implanted. The Breast Site, which does not condone breast augmentation, makes the following claim:

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) statistics, nearly 250,000 breast augmentation procedures were performed last year, an increase of 147 percent since 1997.

The numbers have tripled among women and teenagers since 1997, and I wonder why women, and their daughters, think it’s OK to be cut into for the sake of vanity. Of course, there are women who have these surgeries as a result of cancer, but I am not talking about them. I am talking about women who allow the dictates of men and society to define what it is that makes them beautiful, unique, and wonderful to begin with.

The average cost of cosmetic surgery for breast augmentation is anywhere from $4 – 10,000. But think what one can do with this money other than forsake it for vanity, for the perfect body image that really does not exist. Taking courses at a local college could raise low self-esteem with a degree, a job, a career, and a hefty pay check. Investing in a hobby, a love of something that feeds the insides makes anyone feel good about herself and who she is. The possession of big breasts only makes one group of people happy: men who have been conditioned to define the value of a woman based on her cleavage.

Was it always this way? No.

Marilyn Yalom’s A History of the Breast chronicles the historical context and socially prescribed definitions of the female breast that we presently subscribe to. Once revered not for its sexual appeal but for its lactating powers, the breast signified a woman’s natural ability to save humanity. Breasts nurtured babies; they only thrived because they were fed by the breast. The Greek Amazons, who lived among women and only met with neighboring men to mate, cut off one breast to accommodate the extension of the bow while in battle and  used the only available one to feed their female infants. These were times when the female breast was centered on female power in battle, in sustenance and survival.

But today’s breast is the focal point of masculine desire, and women go along with it. We dress the breast up, padding it so that it sticks out and pops up. We wear low V-neck shirts so that the depth and sight of the two mounds that meet and rub against one another are seen by foreign eyes. We use ornaments like diamond necklaces to drop into the middle of the cleavage drawing even more attention to the big-sized twins. We do everything in our power to show them off, whether they are real or fake, and we do it for attention, for self-gratification. We feel good when others appreciate the grandeur of our breasts, as if they are pieces of fine art assembled for a public exhibit at the Museum of “Unnatural” Identity.

But this is not power. When we adhere to preconceived notions of what it means to be a woman — when we allow society to define us as soft and nurturing and sexual and “breast-ial” — when we go into surgery to change ourselves, have objects placed inside of us in the name of beauty —  we are not powerful. We are not strong or even important. We are not valued as anything other than the hosts of masculine desire. We exist for them — for their sexual gratification. Our breasts, big, glorious, exposed, and full, exist to please them — and this should not please us.

The Amazon warriors cut off their breast so that they could be stronger and faster warriors in battle. Feminists in the 70s ripped off their bras and symbolically burned them to show their independence and liberation from patriarchal labels and laws that singled them out as “feminine” and thus, the weaker sex, the softer sex, the sexualized and domesticated sex. Like these fierce and empowered women before us, we need to stand up for ourselves and our daughters. We need to bankrupt the businesses, medical industries, and doctors that get rich by telling us we are not perfect: our noses are too big; our breasts are too small or they sag; our muffin tops are unacceptable; and our wrinkles are showing.

Say whatever you want about the Amazons and the feminists in our past: they hated men, they were angry, they were butch, they had penis envy. But one thing is true about every single one of them — they lived by their own rules and they sacrificed to give us the rights that we have today — this includes the right to our own bodies and to define ourselves and our body parts as we would have fit.

We can be warriors once again.

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