Boobs. Fun-bags. Knockers. Mosquito bites. Titties.
Thanks to crude ideals regarding sex and general female objectification, women have been subjected to almost every variant of the word ‘breasts.’ Female appearances and breast sizes have always been a consistent topic of discussion, and throughout history, women’s bodies are identified means for men’s pleasure. While women view their breasts as functional organs for child-rearing, male ideologies classify them as intended for sex. Though breasts are multidimensional organs meant for both reproduction and sexual pleasure, dominant value in our culture is men’s breast preferences. It also promotes that unless breasts are available for male pleasure, their presence is inappropriate and indecent.
Such beliefs prevent natural bodily functions like breastfeeding and lactation to be viewed positively, and as a result, women have less opportunities to become comfortable with their bodies. Many have shared their struggles with having their breasts constantly stared at, groped, pinched, judged, shamed for being either too big or too small or too asymmetrical. The size of women’s breasts have played an unfair role in how society perceives women and their identity. These preconceived notions regarding women and their cup sizes stem from varying factors, most of them enforced by misogynistic standards and the norm of objectifying women.
Sexy, sexist and shameful
On a general level, women’s breast sizes have been a prime influencer for society to determine her attractiveness as well as other characteristics that are essential for social contexts, such as establishing relationships and sex. The basis that women with bigger breasts are more attractive or considered more feminine comes from sexual selection and the evolution of biological signals. Nonetheless, this concept mutated with the growing influence of patriarchal norms, essentially reducing a woman’s value to her sexual capability, which seemingly depends on her breast size. This theory is based on the assumption that the size of the breasts most attractive to men corresponds to the highest mating value or reproductive success. It also assumes that the preference for the breast size signaling the highest mate value would enhance male reproductive success based on his choice of woman. Additionally, breast sizes tend to evolve toward the value most preferred by men, especially considering that specific breast sizes make a woman more attractive to men and competitive in social circles.
Though there is speculation that women with bigger breasts tend to have better reproductive health, at present there is no known correlation between breast sizes and testosterone as an indicator for reproductive health. There is still a behavioral preference in men to lean towards women with bigger breasts. It is plausible that these preferences stem from the belief that bigger breasted women are more open to casual sex and short-term relationships compared to those with smaller chests. Society also perceives these women as more sexually mature. Moreover, big-breasted women are socially viewed as less faithful and less intelligent than women with smaller or average sized breasts.
Contrastingly, there is an underlying assumption that women with smaller breasts are not as feminine as those with larger cup sizes and considered to be either masculine or childlike. While large breasts were not considered particularly more attractive than average-sized breasts, most men agree that small breasts were the least attractive. In a study surveying opinions regarding the “aesthetic ideal of the breast,” there were doubts regarding men’s preference for oversized breasts as many claimed to prefer natural-looking breasts. Yet, their understanding of “natural-looking breasts” also adhere to a certain set of idealistic standards – ones that exclude the natural occurrence of stretch marks, sag, scars, bumps and blemishes. While researchers continue to study the correlation between women’s breasts and social contexts, a common denominator within these studies is that patriarchal norms are the key instigator behind the societal assumptions regarding women’s breasts.
Augmentation, plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures, oh my!
It’s no secret that the most popular cosmetic procedures in the world is revolve around breasts. Augmentation, implants and lifting are some of the most sought-after procedures offered yet they carry a prominent stigma, especially against women that receive them. The cultural assumptions regarding plastic surgery is heavily based upon media portrayals of women with overdone lips, enlarged breasts and tight-fitting clothing. This is also primarily why critics shame and condemn women for seeking breast modifications via surgery or cosmetic procedures, and perceive them as vain and narcissistic.
Despite the criticism surrounding breast enhancement, it is worth understanding that these procedures are not always simply for vanity. While plastic surgery and breast modifications offer the benefit of a more aesthetic visual, they also work to make bodies feel and move more comfortably. There is a need to understand these procedures beyond media stereotypes as well as the positive impacts they have on reducing physical pain and increasing self-esteem. Some women have lost their breasts to cancer, some seek to fit into their clothes better, some are transitioning, and some wish to improve the contours of their body. Breast-oriented plastic surgery is not necessarily done for the sake of appeasing the male gaze; according to plastic surgeon Shayan Izaddoost, it is simply an enhancement which is meant to elevate self-worth and improve one’s self-confidence. Whether a woman’s breasts are surgically modified or not, it is still her own decision and her right to claim her bodily autonomy, regardless of the taboos around it.
Big boobs mean big business
Breasts have played a pivotal role in mass media and marketing in the 21st century. Notable businesses, such as Carls Jr., have a history of utilizing female objectification and the male gaze as part of their marketing strategy, despite their products not being provocative in nature. Many of their ads feature famous women displaying their cleavage or wearing revealing clothing while consuming their products. Sociologist Esther Loubradou indicates that such forms of sexual advertising seeks to fulfil the advertisers goal of attracting and persuading the customer. This tactic manages to achieve this by titillating the emotional areas of the brain, transgressing taboos and appealing to basic needs.
These companies continue to exercise such tactics as consumers tend to notice sexually relevant information and breasts as a sexualized commodity. By associating bigger breasts with desirability and physical attractiveness, businesses have continued to enforced the belief that sex sells. Women and breasts are the prime product of heteronormative fantasies, to a point where all associated items are also perceived as desirable. Aside from the explicit objectification of women, this form of advertising also poses a negative impact on society’s perception of women as well as their physical and psychological well-being.
Despite becoming more gender-positive and inclusive, marketing and media are mostly male-dominated industries, which may contribute to why most women do not consider advertising relevant to them. In 2018, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) imposed a ban on gender stereotypes as to restrict the sexism we see in such ads. Additionally, new studies discovered that the ‘sex sells’ marketing tactic is no longer arousing to consumers, but rather is disturbing and perverse. While many countries adhered to the new legislation, more influential countries such as the United States still lags behind as their National Advertising Division does not regulate it. This may be viewed as a contributing factor as to why mainstream media refuses to let go of the ideal that products need to be advertised alongside a pair of large breasts. Though blatant objectification of women is minimal in most advertisements, there is still everyday sexism in advertising.
Stop shaming, start supporting
For many women, the struggle of managing breasts as well as the attached norms, emerge from the point they start physically developing breasts. While breast size is not a determinant of a women’s value or appearance, many still consider it a critical factor in their visual aesthetics. Moreover, they are not only subjected to the leers and judgement of men, but of other women as well. Breast shaming has become a common phenomenon within social circles, particularly against women with larger chests. From strangers to medical professionals to even loved ones, shaming women for having too much or too little breasts is a common theme within urban spaces. What many do not understand, is the long-lasting psychological impact it has on women. This form of shaming is a variant of body-shaming, where people’s body shape and size are mocked, criticized or humiliated. It is also a form of bullying due to the insidious effect it has on female self-worth and internalized misogyny.
In the end, the valuation of women based on their cup sizes does not only incur negative perceptions regarding women’s bodies, but also devalues their existence. It presents the idea that if women’s breasts do not match the airbrushed standards across mainstream media, they are abnormal or ugly. It also fails to recognize the many health concerns, including cancer and fibroadenomas, women face regarding their breasts. Ultimately, in order to dismantle the stereotypes surrounding breasts and their sizes, it is essential to stop stigmatizing women’s bodies and develop a culture of respect instead.