Breasts & Culture
To embrace and participate in a loving breast care revolution, we'll need to step back for a moment and examine the culture we live in. What are the resounding messages that are impressed upon us regarding breasts? Consider what you were told growing up, and what you see now. An honest look at cultural, societal, familial and personal attitudes helps us see where expressions of love may be blocked or compromised. As the Sufi's say, you can't progress on the path of love until you first see what's in the way.
Attitudes about breasts in American culture is not very loving. As a result, study after study shows 70% or more of women and girls are unhappy with their breasts. American society seems to have an unhealthy lust-hate relationship with breasts. It is worth asking why American society is fine when breasts appear in various shades of undress in the public gaze, until breasts serve their biological function – feeding babies.
The sexualization of the breast in America was accelerated by the World War II pinup girl poster, postwar soft porn such as Playboy magazine, and the popularity of such Hollywood icons as Marilyn Monroe.
As breasts became more sexualized, the less they became the domain of infants as a source of food. By the 1950's many Americans attached a vague sense of disgust to the practice. The idea of women breast-feeding infants, especially in public, but even in private, became percieved as abnormal.
Today, many children don't see a single naturally nude breast (apart from their own) while growing up. It is also common that a child grows up in North America and never sees a baby breastfeeding.
While exposed breasts in public may be a “no-no,” simultaneously we see breasts displayed in a sexually provocative fashion on TV, internet, and magazines. Breasts are emphasized in advertisements as sexual objects.
The Breast Obsession
American's in particular are obsessed with breasts. From the socialization
of what constitutes attractiveness in American society, it is quite clear that breasts
(of a certain particular imagination) continue to be in high demand. There is an entire industry that ultimately benefits from the desire of women to alter their bodies in order to achieve a look that society deems appealing.
Models and actors use push-up bras and breast enlargement to artificially enhance the way their breasts look. Photographs are airbrushed. Our young girls continually see this propaganda. Without a balanced view of natural naked breasts, it is no wonder girls start from a very young age to seriously worry about the size and shape of their breasts. Women under the spell of this socialization, with no other cultural context, continue to worry about the size and shape of their breasts for the rest of their lives. I've had 70 year-old women ask me if my breast oil will enlarge their breasts!
According to American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, of the 1.7 million cosmetic surgical procedures performed in 2015, breast augmentation remains #1.
This advertisement suggests that you'd probably feel more like a woman if only your boobs were bigger.
Breasts are Big Industry
Industry capitalizes on all this negative attention toward breasts, helping both to create it and propagate it for profit: the beauty industry, bra industry, breast enhancement industry, breast cancer detection industry, breast cancer treatment industry, mammography industry, pink ribbon industry and not lastly the advertising industry, which even uses breasts to sell itself! (The truck says, "advertise here").
Sexualizing the breast to sell anything most often sells women an inadequate self image based on the perspectives of others. You'll see this most vividly demonstrated in this American documnetary by Jean Killborrne, "Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Image of Women."
Cultural Perspectives of the Breast
In most cultures in the world, breasts are not considered sexual.
The following examples, both positive and negative, illustrate a wide range of behaviors and attitudes among cultures regarding breasts.
European women commonly go topless on beaches
European countries also have nudist beaches where people sunbath naked
The sauna culture in Finland makes people used to seeing nude bodies
Primitive tribes in hot climates wear very little clothing & breasts are very public
In the Documentary “Busting Out,” of 130 cultures studied, only 9 sexualize the breast.
Naturalists all over the world emphasize how sexuality does not equal nudity; nudity is not sexually stimulating if the atmosphere and attitudes are non-sexual.
Margaret Mead noted that women in New Guinea purposely pulled at their breasts to make them long and pendulous, as that was seen as more attractive.
In America, in the 1920’s it was fashionable to have a flat chest; then protruding breasts in the 50’s (think of the bullet bra); bralessness in the 60’s; now the obsession with implants, whereby in some subcultures like LA, breast implants are the norm.
In the US, large breasts are often associated with the teenage assumption that a woman is hypersexual. This often brings a conflicting mix of embarrassment, wanted and unwanted attention, peer rejection, teasing, etc...
The practice of Breast Ironing has been predominantly practiced in the African country of Cameroon for hundreds of years. Other sub-Saharan African countries including Chad, Togo, Benin, and Guinea-Conakry, also practice Breast Ironing in some regions. The aim of the practice is to flatten/lessen the visibility of a young girl’s breasts, thereby making her less desirable to potential male predators. Breast Ironing is purported as a means to curtailing sexual activity at a young age.
Breast Identity & Symbolism
In the context of a sexually-associated breast-obsessed culture, how does so much attention upon breasts affect women’s identity?
In 1986, through the American Sociological Association, a breast-identity paper was presented which found 8 different breast identities immersed in values from media and other people. It was noted that a woman’s breasts can become split off from her personal being, so that emotionally her breasts belong more to other people than herself.
Marilyn Yalom’s A History of the Breast explores twenty-five thousand years of ideas, images, and perceptions of the female breast--in religion, psychology, politics, society, and the arts. She 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.
Today’s breast is the focal point of masculine desire, and women go along with it. We do everything in our power to show them off, whether they are real or fake, and we do it for attention. But this is not empowerment. This does not bring value to women as anything other than the host of masculine sexual gratification and desire.
The Psychology Behind Breast Problems
Some say that problems with LEFT breast are associated with difficulty nourishing and nurturing one's self and that these people tend to feel unloved.
Some say that problems with the RIGHT breast manifest for those who have trouble relaxing. They need to learn to trust that relationships are safe and need no control, that love flows.
Regardless if these are true, it can't be argued: there needs to be a much more wholesome, normalized, loving outlook toward breasts.
Breasts are the physical counterpart to our nurturing spiritual heart center. Love is the ultimate "healing psychology." The epidemic of breast cancer would, without a doubt, be reduced by a more loving approach toward breast feeding, breast health screening methods, fashion and bras and media. It would equally be helped by more loving environmental regulation, product manufacturing and agriculture to reduce the number of cancer-causing substances we are exposed to.
Creating a supportive milieu around ourselves with like-minded friends will help give us strength to make needed change in our own perceptions, attitudes and behaviors.