The breast things in life...
As a conventionally engendered male type person, but one that has always had an oddly insatiable curiosity about the wealth of attractions that the life experience surrounds us with (unlike the strong, silent type man for whom a simple “ummm” typically constitutes a whole conversation in itself), there are a great number of things I suddenly find myself prompted to muse about on paper. Things like “Why don’t guys lift the toilet seat when they take a whiz?” (answer: it's a game; guys pride their targeting ability). Or, “What is it about guns and war that draws immature males to the military recruiter’s office?” (answer: incompletely developed frontal lobe and deficit experience in the world). Unlike most men, I’m usually not bashful about tackling subjects that most would shy away from like a 400 pound (female) gorilla. I go on the assumption that while I am not by nature prone to hesitate in analysing something on paper at uncomfortably close range, these are not isolated or by any means unusual bursts of curiosity.
One of these ‘not unusual’ subjects is the female breast, so I should caution you here that if you were among those statistically rare individuals who were breast-fed through the age of 12, this essay might make you feel a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon your take on things), most of us were weaned off mother’s breast milk at about age 2.8 years. In recent years there have been a number of studies that demonstrate a profound physiological benefit to be obtained from breast feeding infants; regrettably, there have been a number of other studies illustrating breast-feeding’s down side, the tendency for a mother’s unhealthy personal habits (i.e. smoking, substance abuse, alcoholism, et al) to confer profoundly bad collateral effects on an infant. [Regardless of the clinical opinions on this, however, babies and tits go together like oxygen and hydrogen, but so seemingly do adult males and tits, so female boobies are truly a wonderfully unique aspect of human life.]
Regardless of your own personal experience with breast feeding (as an infant), I do not intend to dwell on this most basic and primal function of the human female breast here. My interest in the breast has more to do with this archetypal aspect of the female gender as a psychosexual icon of male attraction. I mean, what do you expect from a guy in his 60s who has spent a life time in training for dirty old manhood? C’mon! Besides, my conviction is that it’s well past time to bring the female breast out of the modesty closet and openly glorify its place in the scheme of all human affairs.
Looking back at the influences of my own early life, I find nothing particularly outstanding that emerges, as regards my curiosity about the breast. In fact, it wasn’t really until somewhat later in life, while studying aviation history, that I suddenly found myself taking a whole new (and decidedly unconventional) look at those two female protuberances that we guys find so utterly gravitational. The catalyst, thinking this all over, must have been the revelation that none other than brilliant if highly eclectic Howard Hughes had a fixation on breasts. Certainly, at first reflection, stranger things have emerged from the annals of human experience (one of my personal all-time favorites is FBI tough-guy J. Edgar’s private tutu fetish) than Howard’s obsession with breasts, but in his case it involved his paramour/protégé, actress Jane Russell, whose particularly ample superior, anterior endowment Howard figured would benefit substantially from a specially engineered type of brassiere that he designed himself.
The bra Howard designed was underwired (as so many are now) and the best documentary evidence obtainable suggests that Jane felt it was ‘extremely uncomfortable’ to say the very least. Howard’s intent was to achieve a sort of ‘push-up’ effect and no word survives as to its actual functional suitability for supporting the breast, but it certainly set a remarkable standard for the conical, pointed nosecones that American intercontinental ballistic missiles adopted in the 60s. I hardly need to point out (no pun intended) that the concept was revived with some degree of success by Hollywood’s Madonna, a number of years later (and more recently by Lady Gaga), but at the time the basic structural component of Howard’s bra design consisted of a semi-circular underwire that created a distinct point of departure for the breast from which it protruded from the body. Viewed in modern times, the pointy ‘nose cone’ look so popular in the late 40s and 50s and seems almost pathetically laughable as a feature of any anatomically functional brassiere, of course. I must admit there were a few moments when I watched Jane Russell films wondering if the hero she was playing up to might get himself impaled on those spiky protuberances!
The second catalyst involving breasts that comes to my mind consisted of the now-famous Jerry Seinfeld 90s era sitcom episode featuring co-star Cosmo Kramer’s design for a male brassiere to help control overly fleshy chest folds of older, out-of-shape men (a garment named the ‘Bro’). Poking fun at two sacred American icons simultaneously (the female breast and out-of-shape men) was, of course, one of Seinfeld’s brilliant talents and in this particular episode, the idea of a bra for men named the ‘Bro’ emerged to take its place as one of the most hysterical highlights of that long-running classic TV comedy series.
At any rate, all of this served to pique my interest about a subject that, again, most men wouldn’t touch with the distal end of a space shuttle robotic arm and I soon found myself giving a lot of thought to the female breast and the technology that has (only in America!) grown up around it in the past 50 years.
Breasts have, naturally enough, been around a lot longer than bored old guys searching for something unusual to write about, which is just as well. I suppose my first conscious thoughts about the female breast occurred just about the time puberty poked its hormone-horned head through the door of hither-to happy adolescence. Prior to that time, I was only conscious of the fact that the girls all seemed quite a bit taller than us guys and they started sprouting strange dimples on the upper front areas of their dresses. Curiously enough, when puberty hit those strange little dimples suddenly seemed a lot more interesting than they had earlier.
As a teenager I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a set of those puppies, fascinating and forbidden fruit that they seemed to be, but I couldn’t really figure out why; it just seemed ‘natural’, but of course ‘instinct’ as a psychobiological aspect of human behavior remained an as yet unstudied subject for me in school. Fortunately, events took their natural course and I had my share of pleasurable encounters with them as we all enthusiastically rode the bucking bronco of adolescence. The only thing I was aware of, really, at that early point in the learning curve, was that cupping, squeezing, or sucking on them was a sublime delight that conscious rationality couldn’t begin to explain. Abandoned by my intellect in consideration of this subject, I was compelled to sit back and operate on autopilot, letting instincts guide me. Not having the least understanding of what breasts were in the larger scheme of things (except physiologically), I had to be happy with the knowledge that having access to them seemed to afford extremely intense pleasure, both to their owners and to their enthusiastic admirers! On occasion, and I’m sure like many other young guys who occasionally pursued them a bit too, um, shall we say…enthusiastically… I had to have it explained to me by their owners that there was a fine line between pleasure and pain. That is to say, fondling, stroking, rubbing, cupping and sucking were just dandy, but biting (or even enthusiastic nibbling) was beyond the pall.
And so it continued, until somewhat in life I began to look upon the female breast as something more than simply a source of tactile pleasure. Upon first learning of good old Howard’s breast support garment design research on behalf of Jane Russell, I suddenly sensed an engineering challenge in all of this that had hitherto escaped me. I found myself spending more time than I had before studying all the breasts that I was surrounded by, recognizing belatedly that they came in all sizes and configurations, from very small, round ones, through saggy pointed ones and all the way to profoundly pendulous specimens that gravity seemed to have an especially strong attraction to. Thanks to my grandmother’s collection of old National Geographic Magazines, I noted some specimens in Africa that were absolutely mind-boggling! The more I gazed, the more obvious it became that breasts constituted a whole complex cosmos of their own, perhaps so complex that even their owners had little real understanding of them (other than the fact that they were born with them). Mind you, open discussions of this are increasingly difficult in a politically correct age in which we men are regularly reminded that they (women) are ‘up here—not down there’. Blame it on biological instincts if you must, but the fact is that the first thing a man looks at upon seeing a woman is her hooters! Despite PC etiquette, it is as true now as it was 10,000 years ago! Sorry gals, but please bear with me here, as I’m trying to get a grip on this subject a bit more lucidly.
Naturally anyone who has had their attention drawn to breasts must at some point recognise that the articles of female clothing that are used to enshroud or drape them constitute a particularly interesting focus in themselves. That is, how exactly do bras, brassieres and/or such actually work? Do they lift, separate, support, showcase, restrain or simply contain? What exactly does a ‘bra’ do, anyway? All of these questions presuppose or presume some understanding of the human body and the nature of the various types of tissue, epidermal and subcutaneous layers found on the human body, but for the sake of convenience we’ll assume you are have passed basic undergraduate anatomy and physiology courses in school.
Before I took a more serious look at the female breast, my awareness was pretty much limited to the observation that women had these two things that simply protruded straight from their chests. That was about the extent of my alacrity (after all, without a set of my own to study at close range, most of my field observations were conducted from afar). It was only after taking medical A&P courses in school that I noted that they didn’t naturally stick out frontally as much as laterally, due to the interaction between the chest’s skeletal and the pectoral muscular structural components. Left to their own devices (as in Africa and among primitive tribes of human beings), breasts tend to be subject chiefly to gravity (sagging) and also to muscular tension (lateral separation, due to pectoral muscle attachments to the skeleton). I was surprised to learn that cleavage, that most interesting focus of sexual attention by males, is not really a natural dynamic feature of the female breast in its non-techno-enhanced wild habitat; the alluringly curved interface between the left and right breast that we men so admire is an induced and artificially created function of the supporting brassiere, but more about that later.
Further study revealed the principal function of a brassiere (or bra) is not to lift or support (as I had imagined) as much as it is to draw the two breasts together. It didn’t take a structural engineer friend to inform me that due to this, the principal functional support a bra provides to the female breasts comes not from those dinky little strappy strings that rise up over the shoulders and connect behind the back, but from the lateral band of elastic material on a bra that spans a woman’s chest transversely (in line with or slightly below the breasts themselves). This was quite a revelation, when I finally realised how the bra actually works, since I had always thought of those vertical straps being the most important functional part of the whole assembly. Not so! That would explain why bras without those straps can still support breasts, the strapless look always having been a great mystery to me based upon my misperceptions and incorrectly applied physics principles.
Having finally mastered the basic physics of breasts and bras, I began to look a bit more critically at breasts and the aesthetics of their supporting structures and found, to my great surprise, that there were clearly well designed bras and poorly designed ones. The poorly designed ones were probably a reflection of styling for styling’s sake, rather than styling that was firmly supported (you’ll have to pardon the puns that keep recurring in these paragraphs, but heck…) by functional intent. At any rate, the more I learned about these fascinating aspects of a woman’s body, the more complicated the whole subject of female breasts seemed to become. Given the tremendous variability of breast sizes and the equally broad range of fitment parameters, it was clear that the field of designing garments for women neither is nor has ever been a simple undertaking. And yet, if I am not mistaken, almost all of the famous women’s fashion designers are men…or at least biologically male. Although the gender preference of male fashion designers has always seemed somewhat suspect to me, I will admit to being an absolute naïf in this speculation and leave it at that. My point, if there is any to be made, is that all too often it seems as if the dynamic statement being made by the dress (or garment) works contrary to, rather than for the female form. Any astute observation of the planes, angles, and contours of a woman’s body must ideally result in something that should compliment that form, in my opinion, so when I note something like a bra (or other article of clothing) that doesn’t fulfill that requisite, something’s clearly wrong with the formula (or the designer’s aesthetics).
As a male person, I am naturally not privy to what passes for the female awareness of breasts, although I’m sure it would be illuminating if such a candid ‘exchange’ were possible. I am reasonably certain that women feel comfortable enough discussing breast issues with fellow females who are close friends, but there’s little doubt that that comfort level doesn’t exist when it comes to discussing such things openly with a man. Even among women there must be a certainly level of hesitance to discuss breasts, since these are, after all, intimate parts of one’s body that ‘common modesty’ proscribes discussing with just anyone.
Assuming for the moment that ‘modesty’ is the basic issue in the display of breasts, it’s worth pausing a moment here to explore that issue a bit further, both in terms of the causative influences extant (religion) and the various sociological and cultural considerations applicable.
Most religions, including that of Christians, Muslims and Jews, regard sexuality as somehow shameful. In the Christian religion, the taboo concerning nakedness (or open display of the human body) comes directly from the Christian bible. We have the old stories of Adam and Eve to thank for the Christian regard for nakedness as being shameful, since the two individuals referenced were turned out of paradise and stripped naked to shame them. Thus clothing is directly related to concepts of modesty, which are directly related to the ‘guilt’ of ‘original sin, and all sorts of other, similar Christian theological bugaboos. Sex in its strictest interpretation under Christian dogma is regarded as existing strictly for reproduction and then only within a sanctioned ‘marriage’ (theoretically blessed by ‘god’); the fact that sex is a curious and interesting activity that produces pleasurable stimuli as its own end (more puns) is completely (and probably deliberately) overlooked.
But if open display of the human body is somehow forbidden by religious dogma, that doesn’t prevent people from toying coyly with the idea and pushing the limits of the concepts a bit, short of actually violating any concrete public laws about ‘indecent exposure’. Evidence of this is seen in the display of wonderfully evocative cleavage we males are predictably drawn to. It also takes form in padded bras and perhaps most interestingly in the form of breast implant surgery to either enhance or augment one’s ‘natural assets’ (or lack of them). It may be absolutely forbidden to prance around in the altogether, perhaps, but vaguely lascivious hinting-about doesn’t hurt, does it? That depends upon whether you’re talking to His Lustfulness Hugh Hefner or His Eminence Archbishop Padraigh O’Flahrerty.
At any rate, we Americans seem to be thoroughly enslaved by our conservative Christian religious heritage in these regards when compared to many of our European neighbors. In France, for example, overt sexuality is a given, with a long, long cultural precedent behind it. In France (as in many European nations) the female breast is viewed as a perfectly normal, unremarkable, but highly pleasing part of the female anatomy. Open display of the breast, despite a common heritage of religious morality found in both Roman Catholic and Protestant dogma, is considerable normal. Hence ‘foreign cine’ films shown in the US that are full of unobscured breasts and even full frontal nudity, since in Europe the human form is regarded as beautiful, both aesthetically and functionally. By contrast in the United States, with our severely conservative and highly censorious Puritan heritage, even the slightest hints of similar display of breasts and/or naked bodies are rather clumsily camouflaged with blurred focus cine techniques.
One of my favorite such sexually priggish devices commonly used in American films featuring a man and women in bed together occurs when the camera cuts to an immediately post-coital moment. Unfailingly, the woman, who we presume has just had sex, is shown modestly clutching the sheets to cover her breasts; is she afraid her lover will see them? Yet they just enjoyed what we must assume is a full and complete exploration of each other’s bodies, right? Still, she feels compelled to cover her breasts when the camera sweeps over them in a post-coital posture? Pure Hollywood Judeo-Christian modesty at work here. Real life isn’t like that; in real life, there’s no one viewing the scene vicariously, no ‘film audience’ and hence no one to modesty screen the view of one’s body from, and absolutely no reason to do so. Through use of this blatantly ridiculous artifice, American movie directors seem to insinuate that we are all a bunch of hypocritical, guilt-ridden voyeurs, surely? [Note: Of course we ARE, but that's beside the point.]
Strangely, this grossly inflated sense of religiously inspired modesty contrasts rather strikingly with the no-nonsense secular technology that has grown up around women’s health care issues, particularly as they relate to scientific concerns with breast cancer detection and prevention.
Not a day goes by that we don’t see images of female breasts on the evening news as some new detection/imaging system incrementally advances breast cancer prophylaxis further along. There most likely isn’t a television-watching child in this nation who can’t perfectly describe the circulatory vasculature, subcutaneous fatty composition and structural make-up of female breasts, thanks to this relentless reiteration of focus on the breast by media ‘public interest’ reporting and images of the breast taken by digital subtraction angiography, nuclear medicine scans, or MRI. Printed literature, pamphlets, public-awareness programming….all continue to direct our focus indirectly on the breast as if it were a discrete ‘thing’ entirely divorced from womanhood and yet we still feel that viewing a breast openly and directly attached to a woman, without guilt (and perhaps even with a bit of aesthetic appreciation), is somehow sinful, nasty, censurable or otherwise politically untenable.
On another level, many health authorities today emphasize the important benefits infants receive from breast milk; an increasing body of studies demonstrates advantages in the immune systems area of human function, as well as in basic nutrition, in that infants who receive breast milk gain certain advantages over infants who receive formularised nutritional fluids. As a result, more mothers are today breast feeding their infants, as often in public as in private, yet there are many onlookers who still feel that this is somehow immodest or scandalously indecent. I have myself witnessed scenes wherein some religiously moral person has gone over to a mother naturally nursing her infant in public and asked her to refrain from doing so "because there are children present"! My gawd!
This very stark polarity in American thinking stands out as a very excellent example of the basic hypocrisy and conflicted perception that characterises American culture today, thanks largely to the artifice and disingenuousness of myopic moral thought prompted by religious dogma. We can also thank the rather slab-sided and highly partisan vacuousness of what passes for ‘rational morality’ at higher levels of society in America, as well. But regardless of this status quo, the frustrating hazard remains of compartmentalizing our attitudinal regard for something like the female breast as we merrily continue to deal with the breast on a secular level (such as in breast cancer awareness and/or breast-feeding concerns) on the one hand and by virtue of faith or belief based aesthetic abnegations on the other.
For that matter, if it's so important to keep breasts out of the public awareness, what about all those neo-classical statues (sculpted during the 20s and 30s) that adorn state, local and Federal buildings all over the nation? You know, the ones that prominantly feature statues of full-scale naked men and women (classical Greek gods and goddesses) in anatomically correct poses? Do we need to tear them all down or chisel fig-leaves on them? God forbid that children should see those fulsome marble breasts!
Ok; so much for this rather limited discussion of selected social and cultural nuances that bear on this particular aspect of human sexuality. Getting back to a woman’s perspective on what it’s like to have breasts, I’d love to be able to ask a woman that question in anticipation of getting some frank and candid insight on the matter, since I’m certain there are things I am overlooking or ignoring in these disconnected ruminations of mine. Since that prospect is about as likely as a woman asking a man what it’s like to own a penis, I’ll probably have to remain forever ignorant in this particular context, but irrespective of such analytical handicaps, I remain an absolutely huge fan of the twin globes of soft flesh that together comprise the lovely female breast. Surely, in view of how important the breast is to both infants and fully grown men, it is near criminal to continue to demand that the dictates of religious modesty remain absolutely sovereign over their display across all parameters of our culture. Whether one regards them instinctually as twin globes of life-sustaining nutriment (their archetypal physical function), aesthetically (from a male viewpoint) as marvelously unique and pleasurable objects of sexual desire, or as a source of potentially worrisome health concerns (e.g. breast cancer), the breast has to be one of the most singularly remarkable aspects of the female anatomy. Given their timeless importance to the perpetuation of all human life from the dawn of our history as reflective beings, I shall personally never feel compelled to treat them as something one must not look at with admiration. Regardless of the modern women’s movement dictum that stipulates it is improper to gaze fixedly at a woman’s breasts or otherwise acknowledge them as standard female gender equipment, from my standpoint that remains the very first thing I notice about a woman (hips second and face third).
Ironically, whether possessed of tiny or ponderous breasts, a woman without breasts is often pejoratively viewed as being somehow incomplete, and thereby derives one of the great tragedies of diffusely metastasised breast cancer. Resecting cancerous cells in cases of severely advanced breast CA often mandates surgical mastectomy and the psychological impact of losing a breast (or both) can be overwhelming, given the symbolism of associative femininity that the breast projects. As a man, I cannot possibly understand fully what it must be like to be forced to deal with such a terrible loss. The only thing I can even conceive of that remotely comes close would be castration (and that would certainly be catastrophic by my reckoning, I can assure you).
Having had several female friends who suffered single or multiple mastectomies due to Stage IV breast cancer, I have caught the occasional, unguarded expression of melancholy lament created by this tragedy in those friends and the insinuation of some vastly deeper loss that words do not articulate well. It is difficult to explain the much deeper emotional pain and terrible hurtfulness created by this cruel loss of a prime female gender trait. Clearly, having breasts is not without some rather considerable consequences and great responsibility if certain untoward events unfold. That having been stated, it's very difficult to imagine a world without women's breasts to admire, take pleasure in, sustain life with, and/or enjoy as objects of utterly profound importance to humanity at large.
Perhaps it is a severely myopic reflection of the paucity of male regard for the integrity of all the complexities that comprise being a woman, but for me a run in the park without being able to surrepticiously enjoy the sight of bouncing breasts on a passing gazelle-like woman runner is a day incomplete, by my reckoning! Admittedly, all objective analysis aside, that’s putting the breast supportive spin on things that I am able to come up with in the final consideration and you'll have to excuse me if it seems like a mouthful to swallow, but biology has an instinctive will of its own that can't or won't be denied.
Breaking news (3-1-11): Coincidentally, actress Jane Russell, whose Howard Hughes designed bra figured substantially in the above material, has just passed away at age 89 in Santa Monica, CA. She was quite an interesting person (despite being a God-fearing Christian Republican rightwinger, LoL). A news release on this event may be viewed here: