The Breast Book
Maura Spiegel & Lithe Sebesta
I was walking along the beach one day during my January holiday earlier
this year. I like to walk from one end of the beach to the other each
day. The forty minutes it takes is good thinking and relaxing time.
This day just as I was nearing the end of the beach itself where I
turn to head out over the rocks to the point, I noticed a group of about
four teenage guys standing around in standard uniform of board shorts
with either hands in pockets or arms crossed. I was a bit envious of
thier tanned youthful bodies. As I got closer I realised that one of
them was not a young man but a nonchalant young woman with not large but yet noticeable, and quite definitely bare, breasts.
It made me wonder again what our world would be like if it were acceptable
for women to go without a top everywhere it was acceptable for men to.
A world where breasts were no more remarkable than say a nose. I wondered
if, in fact, women would be more equal in such a world. If they would
not be less objectified. I’m pretty sure I will never know. I will,
however, continue to wonder.
I can remember trying to draw the shape of a womans breasts under a
jumper when I was about 10. Even earlier, I remember seeing my Grade
Prep teacher running for a train one day when I was five. (When I told
my mother about this she joked "Cows and women should never run."
So my fascination with breasts goes back a long way. This fascination
has been a struggle. For a long time I felt guilty about it. I knew
that women didn’t like us staring at their boobs — and I could
be as focussed on them as the next man. (I still sometimes drive around
the block just to get a second glimpse of a woman whose breasts attract
my attention). But as I’ve approached my first half century. I’ve started
to learn that all of us, men and women alike, like to be seen as attractive
and that women are beautiful and your breasts are part of that beauty.
During this year I’ve set about trying to understand what makes me
so attracted to breasts and how I can express that attraction to women
in a way that respects their ownership of their own bodies yet acknowledges
Part of that journey for me has been to read. I looked up books about
breasts on Amazon. There seem to be two types of books about breasts.
In the first category are books about breast health, breast cancer and
In the second category is a new breed of books all written by women.
These books are examples of women looking this men’s obsession in the
face and trying to understand it. Maybe only women can do this objectively
because they don’t have the obsession. A trio of writers opened the
subject in the late 90s.
The first and still the classic example of this genre is Marion
History of the Breast.
What’s in a breast? That depends on who’s asking, says Marilyn
Yalom, author of this scholarly, illustrated treatise on the breast
in Western society. “Babies see food. Men see sex. Doctors see disease.
Businesspeople see dollar signs.” Breasts have been denounced as wanton,
or idealized as givers of power or life in images of Egyptian goddess
Isis nursing pharoahs; sturdy, maternal Mother Russia; or the more eroticized,
bare-breasted symbol of republican ideals in France. Psychologists,
religious leaders, advertisers, and pornographers have rhapsodized over,
vilified, and used breasts to sell everything from war to Cadillacs.
And, finally, women have seen in them pleasure, power, sustenance, fear,
or failure to measure up. (From Amazon.com)
Around the same time, Meema Spadola went a long way
to demystifying breasts with her documentary and book Breasts –
our most public private parts.
"I believe that every woman has a breast story," says Meema
Spadola, who has spun that assertion into a much-praised documentary
on the subject and, subsequently, a book called Breasts. Between its
colorful covers is an epic saga of pleasure, power, affection, woe,
consternation, fear, anticipation, and ready-or-not metamorphosis
shared by females age 2 to 90. Because breasts are a hard-to-conceal
badge of womanhood, 9-year-old Ali finds that her new curves "shoved
her out of the world of childhood and into puberty." How those
around a girl treat this change makes a huge difference to self-esteem.
"Tie those things down, you might poke somebody’s eye out,"
a mother kids her 13-year-old daughter. Others recall being teased
much less kindly within their families for developing too fast or
not fast enough, and dodging catcalls and far worse from strangers
who suddenly felt free to comment on their bodies.
Leaping beyond the angst of puberty and adolescence, Spadola thoughtfully
probes into how women feel about their breasts–whether natural, enhanced,
or downsized by surgery–in relation to work, love, baby nurturing,
aging, cancer, sex, and friendship. "Breasts are aggressive,"
says one woman. "Men feel compelled to look at them, so sometimes
I feel like it’s rude to other women to show too much breast."
Whether indulgent or insightful, Breasts delivers on its promise to
reveal what women really feel and how their self-images help shape
the course of their lives. –Francesca Coltrera (from Amazon.com)
For a growing girl, the advent of body consciousness often comes
with the first appearance of breasts. … The body is no longer the
me of childhood – that bundle of amorphous pleasures and pains, the
me that loves to run and jump and eat ice cream. The body becomes
my equipment, my display, and something I own, something for which
I am responsible. My body is a quantity to be judged by others who
draw conclusions about me based on what they see.
The great American breast fetish is alive and well, but more people
are aware of it, and that means that things are changing. I would
like to see us face up to this obsession. By that I don’t mean that
breasts should be desexualised or that breast men should all go in
for attitude adjustments. I would, however, like to see the majority
of women feeling OK about their breasts. I would like to see breast-feeding
become a natural and easy choice. I would like to stop seeing women
being judged by the size and shape of their breasts.
See my piece on Breasts here.
And now there is Spiegel and Sebesta’s The Breast Book. In
their own words (from the introduction):
This book is an answer to breasts being fettered to sex in the cultural
imagination, for the reality of breasts impact is far less limited.
In fact, the world according to breasts is almost overwhelmingly varied,
inconceivably rich and far from wedded solely to the male fantasy…
…We have in fact had a very good time: if we began as friends,
we’re now bosom buddies. (Not to mention finding out that our breasts
are neither as strange nor unique as we thought they were.) To be
able to be playful and celebratory about breasts is a new, even uplifting,
luxury. As beneficiaries of three decades of feminism, we now have
what is in many ways the pleasure of looking at our breasts without
breastplates — without the defensiveness of misogyny and misunderstanding…
…This new freedom to admire breasts—sexually or otherwise—allows
us to enjoy their versatility and their allure: the beautiful harmony
of form and function that makes the breast a force of nature.
I’ve quoted extensively from the introduction ot this book because
I fear most readers will skip the intro and go straight to the beautiful
and thought provoking collection of images the authors have assembled.
The images almost speak for themselves but the 10 minutes it takes to
read the introduction is well worth it.
I am on a journey to find a world where we all, both men and women,
have a "freedom to admire breasts". Maybe not quite as freely
as to be equally able to say "You have lovely breasts" as
to say "You have beautiful eyes", but almost.
Speiel and Sebesta make a quite lovely contribution to that journey.