Back in college I remember a particular conversation. We were sitting around drinking beer and the subject of breasts came up. One of the girls wondered aloud why men find them so fascinating since all they really are is fatty lumps. We never did figure it out, but for some reason that question stuck in my mind a lot more than anything I learned in class that week. (Ever since then, whenever someone mentions staticly indeterminate structures I think of breasts.)

So when I saw that Showtime was airing a documentary on breasts appropriately called ‘Busting Out’, of course I had to watch. It’s an interesting study of one of the favorite body parts of most American men. The director lost her mother to breast cancer when she was young, so she explores how that affected her.

The main point of the entire documentary is how American women are affected by the eroticization of the breast. It reminded me of some of the things the Davinci Code said about ‘the goddess’. Essentially that primitive cultures worshipped the goddess and breasts were celebrated as a sign of fertility. Then the evil Christians came along and felt that breasts were shameful and had to be covered up. There were various cycles of more and less obsession with breasts in western culture, and cycles were curves were admired versus thin women being the ideal.

The closest we got in our drunken conversation back in college was that breasts are so eroticized because women keep them (at least semi) covered. I’ve always suspected that it went back to some weird mother issue and was related to the fact that an infant relies on them for sustenance.

There’s this whole big theory presented that the breast fascination is cultural. A study is quoted in which the sexual practices of eleventy thousand cultures were studied, and the majority of them didn’t really care about breasts. Interestingly enough, the more ‘primitive’ cultures were the ones more inclined to see breasts as just another useful body part. I’m not sure what that means, but it seems all us guys from high tech countries like to see some breasts.

This theory asserts that sexual sensitivity of the breast is learned. One high forehead PhD type (who also had breasts) was quoted as saying something to the effect of “If you were taught that elbows were sexy, then touching your elbow could cause orgasms.’ I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree with that one. It seems to be a pretty well documented fact that breasts, or specifically nipples have a lot more nerve endings than elbows.

I have to wonder, if breasts are such a great symbol of fertility, why is it so surprising that they are eroticized. They are the fountain of life after all. Why shouldn’t a man be attracted to them. They were his source of food when he was a child, and full breasts are a visual indicator that a woman can feed his child.

At one point the director makes the comment that she really doesn’t care what turns a person, or a culture, on, so long as it doesn’t risk the health of any one. And then she goes into how eroticizing the breast is bad for health. Mostly in the form of encouraging implants, and discouraging breast feeding. She has a point about the dichotomy of breast feeding. On the one hand most guys like to look at a bare breast, but on the other no one (not even many women) wants to see a woman breast feeding.

There’s a long segment on the damage done to a girl’s psyche during that phase when breasts first start growing. Blossom to early and the girls make fun and the guys drool. Blossom to late, and the girls make fun and the guys don’t drool. They even follow a young girl and her mother on a shopping trip to buy her first bra. I never realized the potential for trauma there. Any imaginary reader ladies want to comment?

The segment on breast cancer includes a really juicy quote. The leaders of a national support group for breast cancer survivors comment on the fashionable pink ribbon you see these days. They said that the pink ribbon was the brainchild of some advertising executive and that retailers are using the pink ribbon to cash in. An interesting discussion by a group called Breast Cancer Action can be found here.

Well, I probably haven’t done the show justice, but I found it to be pretty interesting. It made me think a little bit, but whether or not it got the message across to me is debatable. I still like to look at breasts. Now I need to find my copy of Maxim…...


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