We are a current culture obsessed by, infected with, and clamoring for — the female breast.  Have we always been breast-centric beings?  Or is the modern breast in situ only our latest distraction from the real perils of the earthly world? 

Let’s turn to art to help inform the context that creates our culture.  Early ocher cave paintings and even hieroglyphs made clothing — more than the bare breast — the most distinctive identifier of the human form:


Early oil paintings feature the breast as a normal part of the human anatomy. 

The breast was in coquettish evidence, motherly affection, and also slightly protected and withdrawn from the center of attention.

Then the breast becomes more dramatic and erotic.  Horses and men are transfixed with a fixed gaze.  Her arms are held above her head offering the breast in its most open and vulnerable position

Is there danger in an extended breast? 

Is there too much overt sexuality in the female breast that it must be condemned and denigrated as an unworthy temptation?

More modern depictions of the breast removes reality from the form. 

Breast and kneecap become androgynous and interchangeable.  The sexuality is dissipated.  The danger is mitigated. 

The body is the new center of the notion of a woman and her hair becomes more powerful than her nipples.

The present digital breast — in pixels intended to titillate — becomes hard, enticing, oversized, available and heaving with passion and anonymity.

The grotesque reality of the female breast in the now is one that confuses and condemns those who seek to flirt with nature by changing the intended shaping of their bodies with unnatural angles instead of gentle curves.

The memeing of female breasts in society as a station to be attained, and a goal to be accomplished, appears to have crossed the gender line as evidenced in the “surgically enhanced” tattoo of a cowgirl on a man’s arm.  Her implants are implanted into his forearm. 

The danger of women carving into their natural bodies to reflect a pixilated, oil, or ocher ideal, is the threat of death lingering in the nearby beyond:

Miami – A high school cheerleader from Florida has died of
complications from a breast augmentation, according to media reports
Tuesday.

No cause of death has been determined for 18-year-old Stephanie
Kuleba who was set to enter the pre-med program at the University of
Florida this fall, but her family attorney says that doctors believe
Kuleba died of a rare and potentially deadly genetic reaction to
general anesthesia known as malignant hyperthermia, which sends the
body into shock. …

It is estimated that nearly 247,000 women got implants for augmentation
last year in the United States, compared with 32,000 in 1992.

Is falsely achieving the “universal beautiful perfect breast” more important than the life lived beneath the silicone implant?

Does Art conflate our choices between beauty and necessity — or does Art merely reflect the innate wants and desires of the observer?

18 Comments

  1. Breast implants are vile, and companies like the one that gets people (mostly men) to sponsor a woman to get implants are even more so. A woman with natural but small breasts trumps a woman with silicone monstrosities every time in my book.

  2. I’m with you on that, Gordon! Breast implants — that are not replacements for some kind of cancer or other disease — are an insult to the mind and the common aesthetic.
    Elective boob jobs are, in essence, a sign of a malformed body image in need of psychiatric therapy and not surgery, and the women that spend money on new boobs should — instead of submitting to the risky operation — have the following tattooed on their foreheads:
    “Please notice me! I suffer from low self-esteem!”

  3. Debra is an excellent example, Gordon. On the show she showed off her flat chest. She was proud of it. It made her more of a woman to me. She’s incredibly sexy and talented!

  4. Right-O, Anne! It’s always a fascinating to look back and see if the great artists of the time were reflecting the values of the people or if they were influencing the values of the viewers. The nude form, is the classic measurement of the human spirit and its iridescent longing.

  5. Interesting thought, Anne, especially when, in their real lives, women in history were more covered up and sexually repressed than men.
    Does it take the artist to free and celebrate and make safe the female form in antiquity?
    Now, with the rise of breast implants, a woman can be her own Picasso, I suppose.

  6. David!
    What a beautiful collection of paintings!
    art that appeals only to our baser instincts without any higher purpose is not art at all, is it?

  7. Dananjay —
    I agree that Art, at its best, can lift and celebrate the human spirit. However, there have been moments when photograph, a Fine Art, can show war and killing in such brutal and awful ways that there is beauty in the end enlightenment.

  8. David–
    I’ve stopped trying to figure all of this out.
    Just when Kate Moss is out, Queen Latifah is in.
    The media is very powerful and that’s why we have to empower our daughters and make them even stronger!!
    I wish more people would love the bodies God gave them and I wish more people would quit telling people how they should look!
    Genetics plays a huge part with regard to weight and body shape.
    So ladies, live a healthy lifestyle and love yourself! That’s what I tell my own daughter!

  9. Right, Donna! We are not our bodies. People don’t believe that, but it’s true.
    I am fascinated by the short-sightedness of the current implant revolution. Will the implants be removed at death? Or will they be buried in, and with, the body? In 100 years — will there be two, perfect, silicone balloons sitting atop a skeleton in the grave? Why would anyone want that to be their last, everlasting, memory left behind?

  10. I’m glad I’m not in an industry that is constantly evaluating my appearance.
    I feel for those folks who have to live with that whether it be conforming to the perfect body type or even wearing the “right” clothes and accessories.
    When you’re in the helping professions, it’s all about helping people and not about how anyone looks… thank goodness.
    And speaking of silicone, the thought of someone remarking behind my back about whether my boobs are real or not, would be uncomfortable as heck. A Seinfeld episode, but not that funny when it’s happening to you!

  11. I can accept “fake” when it is used to help reconstruct what was previously there, Katha, but to add falsity to a body to merely build self-esteem is the height of the ludicrousness of our modern society: People are too bored with their self-obsessed lives.

  12. Excellent points, Donna. This purposeful artificiality that becomes a permanent mask instead of a temporary one fascinates me. We all wear different masks throughout the day but having something forever implanted is a dedication to mutilation that goes beyond any human vow or sacred covenant.
    I’ve heard that “fake boob” look great under clothes, but when they’re under the naked body there is no longer the illusion of beauty but rather of one purchasing a dream that is never really real.