Just As God Made Me



This is always a tough topic for me, as it would be for anyone put on the defensive. I have large breasts, and I always have. And my friends simply don't believe me when I say I'd love to wear a B cup instead -- jackets don't close, button-ups gap in the front, and yes, all pretense at "pretty" goes out the window as you shop for bras with larger cup sizes. (I’m recalling an ancient Nora Ephron essay on this topic, maybe collected in Scribble Scribble or Crazy Salad, in which she tells all big-boobed women to just shut up about wanting small tits, because obviously we’re all lying.) Alas, I am how I am and there's nothing to be done about that.

But as much as culture seems to expect women with big bouncing breasts (and believe me, I can't remember the last time mine bounced anywhere--I even wear an underwire bra to bed), clothing is not made for them, yoga is not made for them, and standards of "decency" certainly aren't. As much as women with smaller breasts may be perceived as androgynous (a fact of which I'm not entirely certain), women with larger breasts are oversexualized. The recent Texas school dress code outlawing cleavage is an excellent example: I have friends who would need a bit of help from those no-longer-illegal-in-airports gel bras and some squeezing-the-shoulders-together action to get cleavage, whereas anything but a turtleneck or a tourniquet would leave mine in full view of anyone taller than I. Girls with larger breasts are more often targeted for dress code violations in this regard (as Lamb & Brown talk about in Packaging Girlhood), and more often identified as sexually promiscuous, based upon nothing other than the way god made them (as Leora Tanenbaum discussed in Slut! and Emily White wrote about in Fast Girls).

Indeed (and please don’t think I’m criticizing your attitude, since the friends’ comments you detailed were rude, ridiculous, and hopelessly patriarchal and I thus understand your anger toward them), the smugness with which women with smaller (average? I have no idea what is really “big” or “small,” in actuality) breasts prognosticate the cantilevered contraptions I’ll have to wear in ten years to keep myself from kicking my tits as I walk? Not a particularly supportive or woman-loving sentiment, in the end.

So, I guess in sum I’m not saying that society doesn’t favor large-breasted women in certain ways, but I’ve always thought of the Big Tit Requirement as analogous to Femininity: they drown us if we don’t got it, burn us if we do.

Okay, I'll bite... but I think I'll refrain from using my full name for this response, if only to keep me off of Google's radar.

Where do I stand on T&A?

I'm a boob man. Have been since I was old enough to have sexual feelings. Were it possible, I'd love to peer into the deep recesses of my sexuality with a microscope and poke around a little. Where did my boob fixation come from? Could it be part of my DNA? Is it rooted in early experience? Some of my earliest felt sexual stirrings can be traced to watching afternoon TV movies that featured fairly buxom actresses like Raquel Welch and Sophia Loren. (I've wondered if this also triggered my interest in dark brunettes?) Maybe it came from Raquel and Sophia? I don't know.

Once I became old enough to not just think about, but actually acquire some first hand knowledge of said fixation, to "get some", as my friends back then might have said, I quickly discovered there was very little one could actually do with them. It was at that point that I began to take notice of the "A" in T&A". So today, you could say that one interest (tits) is innate, and the other (ass) is learned. As such, I'm now more interested and appreciative of the learned behavior.

By the way, can I talk like this and still be considered a male feminist? Or does the mere mention of a female body part, or worse, an admission of one's attraction for that body part, an objectification of women? Can I get a ruling here? I am admittedly ignorant of much that is found within the pages of the feminism handbook, so I apologize if I've crossed a line.

Now, having exposed my superficial feelings, let me say that it is really a woman's mind and soul that make her feminine, attractive, and/or sexy (to say nothing of smart, spiritual, witty, etc.). And when that connection is made, *all* attributes of a woman's body become "womanly and attractive"... they become physical manifestations of the mind/soul... to Holly's list of "slender ankles, long necks, narrow waists, fat bottoms," I would add shapely calves, smooth thighs, long fingers, a pert nose, thick lips, thin lips, and on and on...

And when that mind/soul connection is not made, even the shapliest ass somehow loses its power to attract, despite what Sir Mix-A-Lot might say.

I find it sort of oddly fascinating that these sacks of fat, meant to feed babies, are somehow a point of sexual attraction. One of the mysteries...

I've never heard breast size used as a gauge for femininity - from either men or women. I have no doubt that it happens, but those people are, I think, trying to use one characteristic to measure a quality that's made up of SO MANY different things - both external and internal. Trying to boil something so complex down to one specific detail is fruitless - kind of like saying cookies taste good or bad based SOLELY on how many eggs are used.

Personally, I fall into a category I'll call "barely B", so I can relate.

I think it might be fun to have a C cup and some real cleavage, but I'm happy with where I'm at, and I certainly wouldn't want to change badly enough to even consider surgery.

The only guy who has ever made any negative comments about my breast size was that guy from the stalker story. He did this repeatedly, even after I told him directly that I didn't want to hear about it. He was an idiot in addition to being a psycho.

In my case, a much bigger deal was the fact that I was a very "late bloomer". This was traumatic for me. It was especially a problem because I was naturally very sexual from a young age and the culture I was brought up in encouraged me to be obsessed with boys and romance. My situation can essentially be described as "ferocious lust at ten, boobs at sixteen."

I'm sure this sounds like a laughably stupid problem, but it was a huge deal to me as a teen, and is almost certainly the root of the mildly exhibitionistic tendencies I have to this day...

Hi Matt--

I don't find anything at all incompatible with being a feminist in the way you discussed sex. In the last Carnival of Feminists, there was a very interesting post by a straight guy who writes about the "fun" part of sex in ways I think are pretty hot and anything but offensive--and then he goes on to discuss the less fun part--the politics involved--in thoughtful and responsible ways.

OK, here's the Ephron citation: "A Few Words About Breasts" which I have in Nora Ephron Collected (which is now out of print). In the penultimate paragraph, Ephron recalls friends "with nice big breasts [who] would go on endlessly aobut how their lives had been far more miserable than mine. Their bras straps were snapped in class. They couldn't sleep on their stomach." etc. In the final paragraph, she concludes,

"I have thought about their remarks, tried to put myself in their place, considered their point of view. I think they are full of shit."

It was published in 1972.

OK. That was the easy part. More to come, in response to what I haven't addressed.

OK. This is officially the longest comment I have ever left on my own or any blog. I thought about posting it as a separate entry, but it's too specific to the conversation here to make sense without all the has preceded it. I hope at least some of you will wade through it.

Unlike Nora Ephron, whom I quote above, I'm willing to believe women who say they'd prefer to have smaller breasts, mostly because I'm willing to believe most things people say about the way they feel about their bodies. Embodiment and our feelings about it are difficult topics to discuss--that's one reason I became interested in them in grad school, and tend to write and read about them. It's mortifying to admit to others what you think makes you unattractive, or makes it hard for you to live in your body. There's so much shame attached to ANYTHING out of the ordinary: women with "too much" body hair, men with "too little" facial hair. Foot fungus that just won't go away. HPV.

Verbify, you write that "As much as women with smaller breasts may be perceived as androgynous (a fact of which I'm not entirely certain)..." I started to offer more examples--I may yet write another entry about this. It's one of those things you might just trust me on. It's not necessarily a sentiment people express every single day, or in mixed company. It might be one of those things you don't hear unless you're trained to pay attention to it. And I would say that it's not just that women with small breasts may be perceived as ANDROGYNOUS; they are sometimes perceived as essentially MALE, as pre-op transexuals, as in "no ‘real' woman could possibly have tits that small." I've witnessed it.

I readily acknowledge that women with large breasts are over-sexualized in our culture. I've read about the kind of teasing and unpleasant, unwanted, uninvited attention girls and women with large breasts can receive. Once a student wrote an essay about having breast reduction surgery--at age 18. It was paid for by her insurance because she was already suffering spinal and skeletal problems because of the weight of her breasts. Even after the surgery she still wore a D cup and was very self-conscious about her breasts, something I could see even before she admitted it in her writing.

Despite the fact that there are kinds of breasts I am glad I don't have, I would not assume that a woman was unhappy with her breasts unless she said she was. But if a woman told me that she had suffered more from having very large breasts than I had by having smaller breasts, I would have no problem believing her. Because the fact of the matter is, I've never felt my breast size was a source of suffering. The only teasing I received on that topic from males happened in high school, and it was mild in comparison to some of the other ways those mean-spirited cretins tried to hurt and embarrass me.

I figured out at some point (in part because my family didn't have a problem with nudity, and I saw plenty of breasts) that my breasts, whatever their size, were pretty. That has no doubt made a difference in how satisfied I am with mine. Then there's the fact that I really like not having to wear a bra. Plus there's something to be said for knowing your breasts will pretty much stay in the same place on your body for your entire life. There are also really great padded bras out there in case you want to supplement what you've got without surgery--sometimes that's what it takes to make a sweater look right.

But despite the fact that overly large breasts can be a source of genuine physical pain and disfigurement; despite the fact that really large breasts can lead to unearned and damaging stereotyping (I'm invoking your references to Slut! and Fast Girls here), despite the fact that my breasts are one of the few things about my body I've always been pretty happy with (the others being my feet, which are quite beautiful and very healthy, and my hair, before it started going gray, and my eyebrows, which have never required plucking), I am the one whose breasts would generally invite pity from our society.

In fact, I used to have a copy of a Mother Jones article from the early 1990s about efforts by the plastic surgery industry to have small breasts declared a "deformity," so that implants would be covered by insurance.

So I'm torn between feeling I ought to apologize if I sounded "smug" in the way I voiced my satisfaction that "I'll never have to wear an orthopedic bra," and feeling that I'm entitled to be a little smug that I somehow failed to buy the load of bullshit our culture tries to sell women about how their sexiness and self-esteem will necessarily suffer if they don't have big breasts.

Or rather, I guess I should say, I'm willing to believe that I'm less sexy because I don't have large breasts. I'm just not willing to care. There are so many other ways in which I've loathed myself and my body, and done real violence to myself in my attempts to fit some ideal. I can only feel grateful that in this one regard, I somehow bucked the trend.

Because you're right: in general, women can be punished for the size of their breasts, no matter what that size is. I've never heard the phrase you used, "they drown us if we don't got it, burn us if we do," but it seems pretty apt and I'm going to remember it.

Matt, I am pleased that you were willing to voice your opinions here. I readily admit to having had a "type" myself, certain physical traits that were pretty much a turn-on: I liked really tall, wiry basketball-player types with lots of blond hair. (That describes the guy I had a crush on all through junior high and most of high school.) I should also add that I didn't consider a guy truly tall unless he was over 6'4"--yeah, I was a height bigot, despite the fact that I'm only average. However, only one of the men I've thoroughly fallen for in adulthood has fit that description, and at some point I realized I had stopped focusing on that particular body type. I remember one guy who broke my heart--he was telling me how he couldn't really be in love with me because "I wasn't his type" and I said what I thought was this great, romantic thing (and yes, you're all welcome to borrow it, if it ever seems appropriate): "You're not my type, either. You're the one thing better than my type: You're YOU!" It didn't help--he still rejected me, for really stupid reasons (because he was a really stupid person, which I sort of knew at the beginning, but there was "chemistry" so I went with it anyway--big mistake). But I really, truly meant what I told him about how who he was, was better than my "type." Someone's failure to be my "type" didn't mean I couldn't fall in love with and desire him anyway, provided his mind and personality moved and charmed me in certain ways.

Rebecca, I like your egg analogy--you're right, focusing too much on one body part means you miss the whole picture.

Chanson--I quite like a great many exhibitionists (not a particularly surprising revelation from a blogger, right?) so I think you're probably in pretty good company. As for "the ferocious lust at ten," I think I was about ten when I first started experiencing lust, but I didn't have any clue where to focus it. I remember I really liked looking at Robert Redford (close to my type, although a little short and not as lean as I generally liked) long about 1974.... But then I went through puberty for real, started junior high, and became suicidally depressed and obsessed with god, and that kind of killed my libido for a good, long while.

I was flat as a board until after I had my second child. Now I'm a B cup, which is plenty enough at my age.
As a matter of fact, big uns are a real liability in older women.

Childbearing and nursing certainly do affect breasts. There's that whole thing they do to nipples, explored so, uh, not all that insightfully on Sex and The City.... Because my mother was very open about nursing, and because I saw her nurse my three younger siblings, as a pre-teen I just thought that's what adult female nipples looked like, and I kept thinking that until I had pronounced evidence to the contrary.

Love this thread!

If I had time, it would be interesting to compare and contrast our male equivalent to breast size: penis size. Just a few quick observations...

Unlike breasts, our symbol of manhood is largely hidden between our legs and behind layers of clothes. Our equipment's ability to fluctuate in size depending on a variety of factors also serves to keep our symbol hidden, a mystery. Society at large isn't fixated on penis size, at least not in the superficial way we celebrate breast size everywhere: in movies, magazines, at school, work, etc. Finally, any fixation we have on penis size is probably largely attributable to men, not women.

I would argue that the similarity between the two is this: I think men are as self-conscious or aware or as anxious about their penis size as women are about their breast size. It is our ultimate physical manifestation of manhood. More size, whether length or girth, equals more manhood, more power, more sexualtiy, and on and on. Men might not judge each other about penis size as much as women judge each other about breast size, but I'd be we judge ourselves just as much.

Here's a classic blog entry by The Assimilated Negro called "An Open Letter From A Black Guy To His Average-Sized Penis". Enjoy.

I'm not sure if I should sign this post,



Matt, the Hammer (I wish)

I'm going back to your earlier comment, Matt, that there's not that much you can "do" with breasts. Of course I thought of the obvious: breasts do have a specific biological function: delivering milk to children. But I admit that I started thinking about what else one could "do" with breasts (as opposed to to breasts), and while I came up with a few things, all such activities involved a lot of other muscles and joints, because breasts lack a musclature that lets them move on their own: you can flex your chest but that's not quite the same as flexing your boobs, which sit on the chest (hence the tendency to sag). Whereas it's quite easy to flex one's vagina and the other muscles of the pelvic floor: that's what kegel exercises are.

Penises also have a couple of biological functions, and a euphemism for them is "tool." Although you need other muscles to make a penis work (I assume, anyway--someone who has one can correct me if I'm wrong) they are endowed with volition and agency in ways that other body parts rarely are--except, maybe, the heart, the mind and the stomach. Penis size, which need not be known by anyone but the possessor of the penis and whomever he might have sex with, is a way for men to judge what they are able to "do." Breast size, which is seen by everyone, is a way for...? Women to judge how good they'll be at caring for children? Women to judge how likely they are to attract a man? Men to judge what women are able to do? Men to judge what women are *willing* to do? (The assumption somehow being that if they've got big breasts they're willing to do more--hence the way that women with large breasts are over-sexualized.) Men to judge what they'll be able to do to the women?

In every aspect of sexual development BESIDES breasts, women are supposed to have less: less pubic hair, smaller clitorises, smaller labia, smaller vaginas. Everyone knows about bikini and brazilian waxes. And as an earlier entry of mine discussed, now there are surgical procedures for "correcting" the deformities of a big twat.

So here's the thing: I can acknowledge that there are ways in which penis size is analogous to breast size in terms of how it is used a quick indicator of the "womanhood" or "manhood" of the person who possesses the body part. But I would argue that there are too many ways in which the analogy breaks down, and that it exists primarily because breasts are so highly fetishized in our culture, and are seen as the only truly acceptable site for women to be sexualized and adult--in all other ways, women are supposed to be as undeveloped as possible.

Today I read an article about depictions of GLBTQ people on television, and ran across this:
"Meanwhile, People for the Ethical Treatment of Flat-Chested Women put out its latest report, on the number of FC women starring in broadcast series scheduled for the new season. That number stands at zero, which, PETFCW optimistically noted, is on par with last year."

I hope that my comment regarding my uncertainty on the androgyny issue didn't make you feel as though I was questioning your personal experiences. That certainly wasn't my intent. Rather, as a woman who's never experienced life with small breasts, I turned to women in the media. Being woefully out of touch, I thought first of Twiggy, then Kate Moss, and all of the emaciated red-carpet-walkers like the Olson Twins and that woman who was in the newest Batman movie, and Keira Knightley. My sense was that these women are still deemed--by the public at large, or at least the vocal portion--as quite sexual and attractive. (It did occur to me, though, as you noted, that I have in the past heard comparisons between women such as these and young boys, although in a "favorable," fetishizing way.) When developing the thought for more than just a parenthetical, however, I can see that the sexualization of these women hinges upon their meeting patriarchal requirements in every other conceivable way.

I acknowledge that small breasts invite pity or disdain, and that women with naturally small breasts who seek breast implants or augmentation make it more difficult for those, like you, who don't buy into society's demands. Just as with everything else: every woman who plucks her eyebrows or shaves her legs makes it harder for women who are hairy; as every women who wears makeup makes it harder for the women who don't; as every woman who changes her last name at marriage may make it harder for those who don't. Resentment towards those whose (often unexamined) choices make one's life harder, I understand. But, generally speaking, resentment toward the girl born "pretty," the woman with the naturally high metabolism, the women with the naturally large breasts, just because they incidentally meet patriarchal beauty standards--viewing them as conspirators in one's own unhappy position--is unfair and pretty illogical. (I say this as someone who still struggles with these false syllogisms myself.) In society at large, women who meet the ideals have an easier time. But in the feminist community, these same women's appearances are often mistaken for complicity in oppression, and I suppose I meant only to point that out with regard to the issue at hand. I pulled forth the orthopedic bra comment simply because so often it is used as a tool of retribution, of just desserts. Many times, the implication is that the orthopedic bra is the punishment for a few blithely big-boobed decades. As if we'd had the choice.

(And, really more for fun than anything, one of my favorite essays about big boobs.)

Like I said (or meant to say), I don't think the breast size vs. penis size issues are perfectly analogous. I agree with you in regard to their differences.

My comment on there not being much "to do" with breasts was somewhat flippant. The natural function of breasts as a conduit for life-giving nourishment is wonderful, as my children could attest. I meant that, as a pubescent lad coming into my own sexuality, I had fetishized the wondrous beauty or sexual utility of breasts out of proportion, so that once I was given the keys to the Forbidden City, a correction of my expectations was inevitable. With that correction, I was able to see and appreciate women as a whole, not for her parts.

Your observations about the perceived optimal size of various body parts is interesting. I'd generally agree with your list of "less", though I wonder if the relative size of the vagina and its various parts is a major issue for most men or women? (It is not to me, and I can think of few conversations with men where the subject has even come up... the "tightness" issue, to me, like penis size(?), has always been more talk or bluster than reality.)

I also wonder if breasts are the only female body part where society deems bigger is better. For example, there seems to be a growing segment of the population that prefer big to small butts, as the many pop songs and magazines devoted to said fetish seem to attest. Angelina Jolie seems to be an icon of beauty or sexuality in large part due to her large lips. Surgically enhanced lips are certainly a growing industry, especially here in SoCal. And long and/or thick hair -- more, not less -- has always been considered a hallmark of feminity.

Hi Verbify--

Regarding very thin, flat-chested women who are still considered sexual and attractive--perhaps you have not heard the persistent claim that many high fashion models are androgynous not merely in their looks but truly androgynous in terms of their genetics and biology? At some party a friend's husband (who was simultaneously an MD, drunk and a pig in general) insisted that you could look at these very tall, very thin women with high metabolisms and angular features that photograph well and tell that they have the genes of a man, but something went wrong, and they got high doses of estrogen, yada yada yada. He claimed he had read articles on the topic that were suppressed by "the media." I of course didn't quite believe him, but the story speaks to some sense that in more than just their eating habits and remarkably fine features, these women are not to be considered natural or "authentic."

Re your statement: generally speaking, resentment toward the girl born "pretty," the woman with the naturally high metabolism, the women with the naturally large breasts, just because they incidentally meet patriarchal beauty standards--viewing them as conspirators in one's own unhappy position--is unfair and pretty illogical.

I neither resent nor envy women who have big breasts. What I resent is, first of all, the implication or assumption that because I have small breasts, I envy or resent women with large breasts. I don't. I didn't resent my friends because they had big breasts; I resented them because they trivialized me, my body, my sexuality, casually, automatically, unreflexively, and seemed to take it as a matter of course that the rest of the world shared their views. I mentioned the size of their breasts because that seemed to be the one thing that "entitled" them to consider breasts smaller than theirs as "not real" or "really tiny" or as a reflection on the sexual orientation of any man who might find such a woman attractive.

Personally speaking, I always hated that stupid Panteen ad campaign featuring women who have been carefully made up and had their hair professionally styled and who then say, in a comment directed to other women, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful." Why on earth would I hate these women, and why would I buy a product that traffics explicitly on cultivating competition between women? The person I hated in all that was whoever came up with the campaign in the first place. To this day I have never used any Panteen product and I never will.

I readily admit that I have many faults, something of a nasty temper being one of them. An envious nature, no. It's not that I've never felt envy but it's not an emotion that comes readily to me. I generally find it easy to congratulate others sincerely on whatever it is that they consider their good fortune, and to share in their happiness.

So some of what you're talking about is simply pretty foreign to my nature and my experience. It might be part of how other women feel about other women, but it's not at all how I see the issues at hand.

Hi Matt–

OK, I have to make a correction: it is not proper to refer to the labia, the clitoris and so forth as "the vagina and its various parts," because the labia and the clitoris and the "vestibule" of the vagina are parts of the vulva. A vagina really only has two parts, one being the opening in the vulva--that vestibule--and the other being what the vagina is, an internal canal, the passage way to the cervix. I realize I'm getting persnickety here, but it is one of my pet peeves--hence the frequency and vehemence with which I write about why it's important to employ these terms correctly and carefully.

Speaking of which, I was pretty careful to say that "In every aspect of sexual development BESIDES breasts, women are supposed to have less." I realize the distinction cannot apply to physical attributes in general. Long head hair is something little girls and prepubescents can have; hair length in women is not dependent on sexual development. (Though some women experience loss of head hair and an increase of facial and body hair after menopause--something to look forward to!) Fullness of lips likewise has nothing to do with sex hormones or development; full lips are available to boys and girls alike--and they are more likely to occur in girls and boys and young women and men than in older ones. This, supposedly, is one reason human beings tend to find them attractive: collagen loss, when it occurs, is especially visible in lips; thus full lips are a sign of youth and vitality. Then there are fingernails and eyelashes; long, painted ones support ideals of feminine beauty, but eyelash length is determined by genes and fingernails grow no matter how old you are.

In a slightly flippant comment of my own, I must say that I very much like the sentence "I meant that, as a pubescent lad coming into my own sexuality, I had fetishized the wondrous beauty or sexual utility of breasts out of proportion, so that once I was given the keys to the Forbidden City, a correction of my expectations was inevitable." It deserves to show up in an essay of your own, if you ever feel compelled to write more on this topic.

I've actually never heard that particular myth about thin women. The closest thing I can recall hearing is that these women may not have what we consider to be regular menstrual cycles due to lack of body fat (something I understand may be somewhat common amongst young female athletes such as swimmers). The myth is certainly something to think about, and I'm sure to be more sensitive to the implication now that you've brought it to my attention.

With regard to the second portion of your response, I'm afraid I owe you an apology. When I reread my comment, I could see how poorly I phrased what I intended to say. I understand that you are satisfied and pleased with your physique, and I did not mean to imply that you were or should be envious or resentful of women with larger breasts. Your attitude is the one to which we all should strive: being content in our bodies regardless of their relationship with the mythical patriarchal ideal (or the constant encouragement to compete with other women) is certainly the healthiest attitude. I meant instead to address the concept more abstractly. As you noted, your healthy relationship with your body does differ from many women's, as further evidenced by the fact that the plastic surgeons remain wealthy enough to buy summer homes (and, I suppose, that we have a billion-dollar "beauty" industry). As an outgrowth of that idea, I meant to address those women (whether they are many or few) who are resentful or envious (and not because they should be, but because society has trained them to be) and allow that resentment to manifest itself through pathologizing other women. By this I mean women who may aspire to be thin, but failing (in their view) to achieve that write off all thin women as anorexic or unhealthy; women who aspire to be "feminine" but failing to achieve that write off all "feminine" women as shallow or vain; and, yes, those women who do aspire to larger breasts and unable to obtain them make comments instead about back sprains and sag. (I’ll admit that Pink’s “Stupid Girls” video comes to mind here.) The gravamen of my poorly expressed comment, then, wasn’t really to disagree with you, but to emphasize how this oft-ingrained push toward the Olympics of Attractiveness (this same sense of competition which I believe you implied underpinned your friends' careless and hurtful statements) amongst women harms not only those who cannot live up to the ideal, but harms those who do so incidentally, as well.

The causes of arousal are far more complicated than simply appearance of certain body features. I acknowledge people go through fixation stages (see Freud etc), however these pass within a few years.

The critical factor for long term desirability is happiness and the interest you show in others. What you need to focus on is the love you show yourself and others, only then will you be able to transcend the superficial opinions.

Self worth is created by how you feel about yourself not how others perceive you. Our Reticular Activation System finds evidence to support any hypotheses we give it. As in this case, it can support a negative body image.

For as long as an injustice is perceived it will exist. Disown the thoughts and you will see most people are to preoccupied with there thoughts to worry about you or me.

Only when we love others can we be free of these self centered thoughts.

Live life, let loose and love lots!

Hi Verbify–

I don't think you owed me an apology, but I appreciate that you were willing to offer one. I agree with your assessment of the Olympics of Attractiveness and the way these ideals harm both the women who do and don't live up to ideals. I also don't want to imply that I've NEVER striven to meet ideals of feminine beauty, that I simply accept my body as it is in all its manifestations. Would that it were true, but it's not. I wrote earlier that "There are so many other ways in which I've loathed myself and my body, and done real violence to myself in my attempts to fit some ideal." I wasn't being hyperbolic there, either in terms of saying I have loathed my body or in saying I'd done violence to myself. There are some things about my body that I find so shameful that I'm not willing to mention them. I've also done fairly mild things in attempts to be more "attractive," like bleach my hair blonde and wear lots of makeup.

It's just that somehow, I have always been happy with my breasts, and while I don't expect everyone else to like them too, I find it kind of remarkable that so much of the world finds it remarkable that I LIKE my breasts.

I haven't seen the Pink video, but I think I know the attitude you're talking about: it seems it's the one in the Panteen ad. And although I found so obvious an expression of that attitude vile and offensive, it wouldn't have worked at all as a marketing technique if it didn't tap into something women really feel.

Holly, I think you have done something remarkable with these posts. I read the key idea that you were discussing as being about embodiment and you manage to write about it in such a concrete, embodied way. I find this very difficult to do and I think that the way that most of the comments here talk about body parts rather than embodiment indicates that others find it difficult to do as well.

I’m going to try to discuss how I am trying to think about embodiment here by following your lead and writing about a personal experience of bodies as a way to go into the concept. I fell in love once with a small-breasted woman. Well, no, that’s not entirely accurate: the size of her breasts did not even register with me until we were intimate. I am just as capable as anyone of fetishizing body parts and I certainly noticed her body but what I noticed, quite powerfully from one of the first times we met up, was how well she owns her body. She walked like a dancer: confident, self-aware, but unselfconscious. The more I got to know her, the more I understood how this was a project for her and how much she had struggled to come to terms with her body and to live not so much in her body but as a body.

Her hard-won ability to do this illustrates, for me, one of the key issues about embodiment. I think that the usual way to think about embodiment preserves a kind of dualism, a metaphysical split between the physical and the ideal or spiritual realms. So, for example, we might tend to think about some ideal of femininity and see how it is expressed in certain body types, such as small versus large breasts. But it seems to me that this initial splitting up of the physical and the ideal is itself an artifice and therefore political. So the trick is to think about embodiment not in terms of how a particular body expresses or relates to a norm or ideal, nor in terms of how an ideal is developed in relation to the way that kinds of bodies are positioned socially or culturally. These procedures are a bit like semiotics and its assumption of a basic split between the material signifier and the ideal signified. These might be important analytical procedures but they don’t question the fundamental political issue.

The program I saw on television was part of a series on BBC Three on body image. This one was called This one was called My Small Breasts and I. It told the stories of three young women, all "A cups," who felt that their breasts are too small. All three are conventionally very attractive, and each shows a kind of courage and intelligence about her body. One sets out to enlarge her breasts by taking herbs and using a suction device at night to stretch her breasts out. Another considers breast implants. The third one has two children and a body that would qualify her to be a professional model but she has such a poor self-image that she finds it mortifying to go out in public. And the program demonstrates that these fears and desires are not irrational but are the result of certain cultural pressures.

The narrative of the program sets up the third woman as sort of the heroine of the story. She opts for "phototherapy," at technique developed by a therapist in New York (sorry, I can’t remember her name) who takes glamour shots of people with poor self-images to get them more comfortable with their bodies and to see themselves as the camera does, as beautiful. While each of the women is taking positive steps to change themselves, this one is the only one of the three who opts for changing her self-awareness and coming to like the body she has, rather than for body modification.

Well, that’s not entirely fair: the second woman decides against the implants in the end. But she has to take a strange road to get there. She attends the breast implant operation of a woman she meets through a (for me) singularly disturbing web site. Breast implants are not cheap and the problem this woman faces is how to pay for the surgery. She finds a website called My Free Implants, that allows "benefactors" – by the website’s definition, men – to make donations to women who register at the site. I don’t know why this stuff still shocks me. Watching the surgery doesn’t put her off so she consults with a local doctor who suggests a certain size implant and then suggests that she make some "diy" implants and wear them for a day to see how the breasts would feel. The woman wears the homemade implants in a bra and out in public – underscoring that she gets her feeling of her own femininity confirmed by, in essence, inviting sexual harassment.

The thing is that, as I said, almost anyone would describe each of these women as very attractive. In one sense, someone might say that they each embody an ideal of femininity. But they don’t embody that ideal, that’s the point. Their bodies, in their experience and in their view of them, fall enough short of that ideal that they are each willing to take fairly drastic measures to "correct" their bodies. What they embody, in the end, is a contradiction between the ideal and the physical, an especially painful contraction that goes a long way towards defining what it means to be a woman. Resolving this contradiction can’t be accomplished by adjusting the ideal because bodies are too diverse for that. And it can’t be resolved by adjusting the body: consider Victoria Bekham, a celebrity wife here in the UK, who is rumoured to gain weight and have her implants removed to have children and to lose the weight and have the implants replaced after the children have been weaned. And it’s too facile to just dismiss her for doing this: because as a celebrity, her body is her capital and if she were not to replace the implants and lose the weight, she’d just get criticized for "letting herself go."

The resolution becomes possible when the fundamental splitting of the physical (or material) and the ideal is overcome. This is clearly more than an individual project (I am interested in the political economy of work and how it enables this division) but it is a project that must also be embodied. Holly, you are quite fortunate to have achieved this relationship with your breasts – that you like them and that their size has no bearing on your sense of well-being – though this relationship, you get to live as a body and not merely in or through it.

I can't thank you enough, Spike, for this thoughtful and informative comment here. I appreciate the links--I guess if a site like "My Free Implants" exists, I'd just as soon know about it--but even more I appreciate the time you took to consider this matter. I especially like this passage:

. What they embody, in the end, is a contradiction between the ideal and the physical, an especially painful contraction that goes a long way towards defining what it means to be a woman. Resolving this contradiction can’t be accomplished by adjusting the ideal because bodies are too diverse for that. And it can’t be resolved by adjusting the body.

You are right, that there is no easy way out of this contradiction.

This post and the comments are all great, and most interesting to me, I find myself identifying with having both "small" breasts and "large" ones. I am a B cup, and so objectively small-breasted, however, not only am I short, I also am very thin and fine-boned, so my breasts appear larger on my body, creating a dynamic in which I have thought of myself as too small-breasted, until I realized that most people reacted to me as though I were big-breasted. An asshat ex of mine pointed this out unintentionally when he held up my purse (in the shape of a bustier/corset) and said, "If we cut the top and bottom out of this I bet you could fit in it, except that your boobs are way too big." This guy also insisted that my hips were too slim to be able to bear a child until I told him my mother had been my size when she had me, so he wasn't the brightest guy ever. But that and the experience of getting my nipples pierced (and the subsequent showing off) really crystallized for me that there wasn't anything wrong with my boobs and that their size didn't matter, since no one could agree on what size they were anyway!

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on August 24, 2006 9:59 AM.

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