Thursday, March 22, 2007

Did She or Didn't She? Part 2: Breasts

Last year the New Yorker published an article reviewing Playboy's "The Playmate Book: Six Decades of Centerfolds" which was accompanied by a full page photo comprised of centerfolds from each year of the magazine's existence. Aside from my amazement that The New Yorker of all magazines was essentially publishing a page of pornography (though obviously it was used to illustrate the article's arguments), I was shocked to see how the ideal female look had changed over the years. By far the most striking was the introduction of breast implants in the late 70's/early 80's, whereby nearly every model after that point had them. It was almost shocking to see a picture of a naked woman with small, droopy, slightly uneven breasts who was presented as sexually attractive. When was the last time you saw that?

The article and photo got me thinking about the prevalence of breast implants today among female celebrities, and how it's gotten to the point where our whole idea of what breasts are supposed to look like has totally shifted. I thought about all the men whose first views of naked women were/are through Playboy and other soft-core porn magazines and websites. Everyone growing up before the 1980's would've seen women who were essentially natural- no plastic surgery, un-augmented breasts, whereas nude models today are far more likely to have implants than not. And today, especially with the widespread availability of the internet and the relative acceptance of watching porn online (I'm reminded of the Avenue Q song "The Internet is for Porn"), why should we expect any sexually unexperienced male to have any clue about what natural breasts look like? And experienced or not, what's to stop him from comparing the bodies of his sexual partners with those he's used to seeing in videos and magazines?

First it was porn stars, but now breast implants are the norm for "hot" female celebrities. And because most actresses, models and musicians aren't going for the Pam Anderson, "there's no way you could believe that these babies are natural" look, these changes are rarely questioned. It's only the biggest celebs, like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, whose breast size was dramatically changing over the course of a few years, that draw questions. Here are just a few celebrities whose breasts appear to have magically grown (into perfectly round, perky, even breasts, no less) since they became stars.

Salma Hayek

Mariah Carey


Christina Aguilera

But the most dramatic change is on supermodels. If you've ever looked at Giselle and wondered how one could be blessed with D-cup breasts on a 5'10, 127 lb frame, check out these before and after pictures:

Here's Heidi Klum:

Finally, here's supermodel Adriana Lima:

My intention is not to say that I'm against anyone getting breast implants (or any form of plastic surgery for that matter), it's all a question of personal choice. But I am concerned about this huge societal shift in idealized female bodies, to the point where large, augmented breasts are the norm. When women are told, both by the media and the men in their lives, that this unnatural look is preferable to the real thing, how are we supposed to respond? I'm certainly content with my push-up bras, but it's frustrating to see that more and more women each year are choosing to go under the knife, often because they're unhappy with what they perceive is a body that doesn't fit society's definition of attractive.

On a related note, last month it was reported that Jane magazine was shooting a photo spread called "Jane's Guide to Boobs" where 53 women (real women, not models) would be photographed topless. I'm not sure when the issue featuring the spread will come out, but I think it'll be great for women and teenage girls to get a look at natural, normal breasts for a change. I love Jane's subversive attitude and I can't wait to see the spread and article when the issue comes out.


Laura said...

There's a website you might be interested in -- Normal Breasts Gallery.

Not safe for work viewing, but it's educational and fascinating.

Anonymous said...

It seems a trend among Hollywood glam-stars to have that certain round and firm sitting breasts that show off well. It's hard to say with some of these celebs, but gravity is gravity for all of it doesn't stand to reason that their breasts get ampler and sagless with each year. After all the controversy stirred in the media over implants, I wouldn't take the risk, but celebrities seem to think it a safe bet, at least as far as their careers go.

EthidiumBromide said...

Meg, you hit the nail on the head as far as my take on why I happen to be anti-porn (a stance which often results in fights with my fiance). Everyone assumes that if a woman is anti-porn, it's because she's a prude or against the objectification of women or my personal favorite, because she must be really fat and therefore is just jealous that her significant other is attracted to better looking girls. I assure you that I do not fall into any of the above categories. I happen to have a strong anti-porn stance because most of these women are not realistic, and yet like you mentioned, if these are the images that boys first see when they're home alone online in their early teenage years, then this is what they expect and are not satisfied with those of us who chose not to augment ourselves via surgery. One of my closest friends from childhood is absolutely beautiful, in fabulous shape, size 4, and now has an extreme confidence problem because a guy once told her that she "needed" to have implants put in to be attractive because after jerking off to all the huge chested porn stars, no guys would be attracted to a flat chest.

Christina and Emily said...

Very interesting, great New Yorker article -- and we wonder why women these days seem to have such low confidence and feel they need so much plastic surgery...I must admit i'm relieved to see those photos of Giselle and Heidi Klum, I actually had always just assumed they were blessed by the body gods --phew, it's actually not possible to be that skinny and have such nice boobs too.

Anonymous said...

There's another aspect to the celebrity thing that you're missing, which is that the implants make them appear more youthful, not just bigger-breasted. Heidi Klum, for example, looks perfectly beautiful in the before picture, but in the after picture her face would look much more aged if she didn't have the perky breasts.

I feel very bad for women like ethidiumbromide's friend, but it's pretty clear from the emerging brain research that people's preferences are mostly inborn, not conditioned. I watch porn, and I still like medium-sized breasts best. Anyhow, why shouldn't breasts be judged the same as the rest of the body? If someone had an oversized, crooked nose or one butt cheek hanging lower than the other, nobody would say "oh, that's normal."

Mother Nature roles dice when she makes us, and I've never understood why women aren't thankful that they can have relatively safe, simple cosmetic treatments that can make them look more like the idealized people we all wish we were. Men who are scrawny or who have small or bent penises have no such luck. (And note: there's plenty of flat-chested niche porn, but no small penis niche porn!)

The Glitterati said...

"I've never understood why women aren't thankful that they can have relatively safe, simple cosmetic treatments that can make them look more like the idealized people we all wish we were"


I can sort of see where Anon is coming from, but I really must disagree. The problem is not that women have "choice", it's that they feel that they NEED to make that choice in the first place. We all have physical imperfections, and in a perfect world, we'd all be confident and enlightened enough to embrace them, etc. etc. But we're not talking about women and girls here with very mishapen or particularly odd breasts here. For the most part, breasts are a-ok pre-surgery. It's the bombardment of endless images of perfect, perky breasts that would be statistically rare in nature.

Let's even disregard the connotations that femininity/sexuality is related to breast size and appearance for now. Even if it were a more "neutral" area of the body, there's a problem in that what was ideal is now becoming normalized. Yes, preference for youthful bodies and signs of fertility are inborn. But when so many images of perfect & youthful-seeming phsyical speicmens are presented to us, we start to believe that to be the prototype; the norm. So it's no longer "Wow, I would be in the top x% of attractiveness if I had that boob job/face lift/whatever", it's become "I need that surgery to feel normal and attractive and 'competitive' in the market" (for lack of a better term).

There's a similar (though I'd argue smaller) effect for men too. I'm no expert, but rates of hypergymnasia and male body-image issues have also risen in the past years. Of course, men also have the option of getting rhinoplasty, or lippo, or eye lifts, or butt implants if they want. (That they reportedly don't as much as women is whole 'nuther topic) Perhaps if more women were interested in watching porn and there WERE such a thing as penis enhancement... and if we saw these enhanced penises on every entertainment show, on sitcoms, movies, in checkout lines, and on busses and billboards... perhaps the rates of male plastic surgery would rise too...

Anonymous said...

"it's pretty clear from the emerging brain research that people's preferences are mostly inborn, not conditioned."

citations please!

it's very difficult to know what to make of a statement like that until you know what the tests were - was it cross-cultural, for example? did it vary by age and gender? has it changed over time?

"brain research" means very little, until you know the specifics, and I seriously doubt it is conclusive in any case, since real brain researchers are very cautious about generalization about things, especially things that societies spend a lot of time enforcing.

And anyway, how would the "inborn" preferences supposedly proven by "brain research" explain the pronounced CHANGE in depictions of women's breasts since the 1980s? did everyone's brains change, all at once?

or are you suggesting that since the dawn of time many humans have always preferred the same thing and it's only now that we can implant silicon we can finally express that frustrated desire?

seems like a reach to me..

and your citation of yourself as evidence undercuts your reference to brain research. A single person is not proof of anything, especially something so controversial as brain response.

Anonymous said...

The second picture of Giselle is digitally altered (or she is wearing an extreme push up bra with inserts). If you see her in candid swimsuit shots she looks much more like the first one. You never know with models how much the picture is altered for magazines.

sparkler said...

Well, Heidi Klum has also had 2 (or is it 3?) kids. Most women's breasts get bigger after pregnancy, if I recall correctly. So I think hers are probably real, but also probably lifted.

Meg said...

Wow, so many great comments! Sorry I wasn't able to respond earlier, I was in the car for 12 hours yesterday driving from Detroit to Western Mass., but I was so excited to come home and find such a lively discussion.

Laura: I hadn't heard of that site but I'm so glad you posted it! You're right, it's fascinating to look at so many normal bodies, and to see how much variety there is, it's really shocking when you compare it to the bodies of women in movies, tv and magazines, who all have perfect breasts of varying sizes (the smallest being a c-cup, usually). It's a very empowering site and I have a lot of respect for whoever created and runs it.

windwhisperer- That's something I've always noticed too... Hollywood breasts never seem to age or sag, even as stars reach their 40's and 50's. You're right- even if they have fantastic breasts, they're still going to sag as time goes on.

ethidiumbromide: I totally agree with you on your anti-porn stance, and I also find that people have a hard time understanding what I think are logical arguments for why porn might have a harmful effect on society. I'm certainly not for regulating porn, and I wouldn't tell someone they couldn't watch it, but I don't feel comfortable with porn in my relationships.

Your story about your friend is so depressing. It's one thing for guys to have difficulty being as attracted to flat chested women as large chested ones (I think our general societal acceptance of porn and our failure to promote images of "natural beauty" are to blame), but any guy who can't get over his girlfriend's small chest (to the point of asking her to get surgery) is simply an asshole. I hope your friend finds a guy who recognizes how gorgeous she is, small breasts and all.

Kimberly said...

Anyone who loves old movies must find it extremely depressing that Hollywood no longer crowns a woman as beautiful, or star material, unless she has these silly inflated breasts. It's very hard to imagine someone like Lauren Bacall up there on the screen with a gigantic chest, isn't it? That's because, in the past, small breasts were part of the package for women who were considered classy and understated, and that type of beauty seems to be ignored completely these days, not only by Hollywood but also in real life.

Despite the efforts of pornography, many men still think small breasts are beautiful. And any man who thinks his girlfriend "needs" implants should be cut loose so that he can chase after big-breasted women to his heart's content.

The Bargain Queen said...

As Sparkler mentioned, breasts can get bigger naturally. Pregnancy isn't the only cause though -- hormonal fluctuations and weight gain or loss can also do it.

I personally went from an A cup to a D cup in a few months due to some medical stuff, and still have a C cup now. And there's no way in hell I'd pay someone to take a scalpel to my boobs. No way! So they're 100% real.

I'm not quite as perky as the chicks in the pictures though... unless I'm wearing a good bra with a little bit of padding. But funnily, in every outfit pictured, there's room for a little enhancement, like chicken fillets or some built-in support.

If they all looked that perky without the extra help, there'd be no market for body doubles any more! ;)

winnie said...

Hi, i can definately say that aesthetics are not inborn. Yes there is a preference for symmetry since it shows that there are no defects or disease. However, culture decides the rest. If you have ever wondered why asians are smaller on top in general, it is probably because it was genetically selected for. This means that men, yes, men chose those female individuals with smaller breasts to be their mates. This is always what i've assumed. And recently i read in a book about the history of cosmetic surgery (it boomed during WW1 because of injuries) that in China the preference was for a demure less ostentatious allure which meant smaller boobs.

And in regards to Anon's comment that if it is easy for women to change the way they look, they should be glad, i say that why should we feel obligated to chagne our appearance for the expectations of others.

And on the note of male cosmetic surgery, the reason why it isn't as prevalent is because a man's status is equated to wealth not to looks. This has been mentioned many times in books about sexuality and etc.

Meg said...

I've been large breasted all my adult life (and even some of my tween and teen life) - even when I was ultra-skinny. I had a reduction when I reached about a G or F cup and am now a D or DD (and much, much smaller than before because my band size has also come down). I still wish I was a bit smaller. What some people don't seem to realize is that it is always possible to add a little oomph with the use of a good bra and padding, but you can't just take out implants to get into that cute top whose empire-style seam now hits right in the middle of your boobs instead of under. Big breasts take work. And those wonderful push-up bras? They work great on small breasts to give that beautiful round cleavage. With natural large breasts, though, your breasts tend to spill over (of course, implants behave differently, but then again, that's when they tend to look fake).

- Another Meg

halle said...

you want to know what i hate?

breast implants have become so mainstream that now any woman with large breasts is accused of being surgically enhanced, plastic, or a stupid bimbo.

and not that many prominent women are large breasted either, there are far more famous flat chested celebs & models than there are large breasted, so i find the whole power & fame link to breast enhancement unfounded.

i hate how i am accused of getting implants or stuffing my bra because i have big boobs, or being looked at in a mean way by women who think i chose to pump my breasts with air or something in order to spite them or be a sexual object or something.

while breast implants are definately more prevalent and your post points that out, i find some of your before and afters silly & insulting. salma hayek has not gotten her breasts enhanced, and i doubt beyonce has either.i remember that time in the tabliods a while back after lindsay lohan got boobs there were all these stories and articles and before and after pictures and quotes from doctors swearing her breasts were not natural, and all this while she was still a developing teenager?! i find that sad, and i'm sure it really hurt her and was probably a huge motivator behind her subsequent weightloss (during which her boobs shrunk to a small size that is the norm amongst most starlets, thus proving there had been no implants, and she was a poster girl for eating disorders)

i love your blog, but please be more considerate in the future!