Friday, May 11, 2007

Rehumanising the Breast

The breast has a valuable, if convoluted role to play in society

Abreast literally means to be ‘alongside’ someone else. A breast on the other hand is altogether different. It’s in-your-face, but not necessarily WYSIWYG. Breasts are the ultimate deception, and in a sense, entirely fraudulent and dehumanizing. What I mean is, since breasts seldom purport to be what they are, they end up making just about everyone (human beings I mean) feel uncomfortable. Other women feel threatened or insecure when a new silicon model struts by, and of course they couldn’t. Men shouldn’t look, or touch, or even find this industrialized campaign (to mass produce the breast) sexy, but, of course, they do. And from there it is anarchy.

I see people are already getting uncomfortable, and some not in a good way. Hence the idea to ‘Rehumanise’ the breast. What does this mean?

Well, on the one hand, and at the one extreme, it simply means: breasts should be allowed to be what they are. They should be allowed to be natural. More on that latter. On the other hand, there are entire congregations full of people that howl and cringe when a Mazda commercial is flighted (with mannequins in the back seats), showing the effect of the arousing vehicle on the mannequin’s blouse (use your imagination). Now, of course the commercials have had that part eviscerated out of them, and so now all you see is a nice car driving through a city with a bunch of plasticky mannequins in the back. Is that how we want women (and their breasts) to be: plasticky, but dead, and in their place?

The trouble is that wobbly piece of flesh is under continuous attack and scrutiny. Can’t we just accept it,and enjoy it for what it is? The breast has been gutted by plastic surgeons the world over; the media like to splash them about wherever they can, those who have them try to squeeze them as far as possible into the public domain. I have no gripe with the exceptionally few women who the Good Lord passed over when he created shapely women. In those cases, yes, plastic surgery can actually make a valid difference. But there are women who are already beautiful, who are already married to adoring husbands, who have it all, but want their breasts to remain competitive on the world market. Once that happens, the race is on, and from there, no one can sit still. Not man, woman, child or bosom.

In the movie Me, Myself and Irene, the vigilante-obsession with breasts (by men) is demonstrated vividly by the Clint Eastwoodesque Hank (played by a schizophrenic Jim Carrey), who places himself in the position previously occupied by a suckling baby. This obviously, is going too far. Breasts, in the end, were designed for babies.

One of my colleagues recently shared with me that when she became pregnant, her gynecologist informed her, somewhat sternly, “Your breasts are now off-limits to your husband. They have important work to do.” She confided in me that she felt somewhat stung by these demands. “Is that what I am now,” she’d asked, “just a cow, a walking milk factory?”
The crazy thing is that society has become too used to the over sexing of the breast, that we’ve forgotten what it’s actually for. In one sense, it’s for everyone; not of course that all breasts are to be shared by one and all – although would that be so bad necessarily – but each person who comes into the world is nourished by them. Like the belly button, they’re with us through the ride of our lives, even if we don’t really get to know them, or understand how they fit into the human process that well.

But what’s also true is that human beings would look silly without breasts, or even belly buttons. Perhaps we’d resemble no-name brand clones. The belly button for example, at least reminds as that a pipe from our mother’s filled us up with life, made us grow and then when we’d swollen to the size of a bouncing baby, we emerged into the world, the umbilicus severed, and the breast hovering for emergency aid. It’s like those belly buttons you see on plastic toys. You can see where they came out of their moulds. And so can we. It’s an important design attribute, and breasts form part of these attributes.

Why then are there, with so many women flaunting their breasts (as though huge flocks of orphaned babies were roaming the streets, instead of an assortment of rapists and married or otherwise attached males)? I believe breasts are now tightly associated with beauty. No, that’s not the right word. Breasts are associated with female attractiveness, and even more specifically, female sexiness. Breasts are now integral to women feeling sexually empowered. But even so, there is still a large proportion of women who don’t want to make boobs of themselves. In fact even when the rest of themselves are naked and available, hey still want to keep their breasts hidden. What’s up with that? That level of shyness is bizarre, isn’t it?

In South Korea for example there is a terrific amount of padded bras on sale in clothing stores. I am talking about truckloads of the stuff. How many people like it when they order a burger, because of a picture in a menu or up on a board, and when they finally get it, well, it looks nothing like they expected? It’s not a nice feeling. It’s called cognitive dissonance, and once it’s happened often enough, people try to avoid putting themselves in the same situation. Because people don’t like to be tricked. And yet no other part of the human anatomy is so much the focus of trickery than the breast. Just think of all the fashion ploys used to emphasize the breast, including the showing of the breast in a way that it seems ‘accidental’. The more absurd version of this is where a woman is sporting a cleavage, but holds her hand over it when she speaks to people around her. What is that? I don’t want you to look, but actually I do, but actually I don’t, but actually it depends on who is looking? Is it a case of breasts that can be seen by everyone, but you’re actually only putting them out there for a certain set of eyes? Get real!

I think it’s useful to remember that at some stage in our lives, we’ve all come face to face with breasts, and it’s an experience much like going for a walk, or if you’re unlucky, taking out the garbage. Breasts add value to our lives, and so we should give them some airspace, and our respect. But at the same time, breasts also need to stay in real life. They’re being contorted and suspended and twisted until they are not what they are, and there’s the rub.

For men who are more confused than ever, the February 2007 edition of Men’s Health offers vital counsel. What women want is a glance. Yes, have a look. But just for half a second. It shows you’re appreciative, and despite the temptations that must already be festering at this point, to go beyond this point (glance-wise) is going to come across as creepy. Does that make sense?

Now we know where we are, and what to do. So in life, and in this particular circumstance, breast get out there, and don’t worry about how good an impression it is you’re making. Just keep yourselves abreast, and while you’re at it, be yourselves without being too full of yourselves. Just be the breast you can be.

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