Sex & Relationships

Stop Staring: Why Are We Obsessed With Breasts?

Our readers had a lot to say about a recent article on the objectification of women with large breasts.

Like most things that have to do women and sex, breasts tend to provoke weird, schizoid reactions in our society.

The media and advertisers pummel women and men with images of very large breasts attached to very small women; at the same time, women who actually stack up to that ideal are derided as sluts and morons. And that's just the beginning.

In "Women Have Boobs -- Get Over It," Samarah Ginsburg talks about how her figure -- small waist, very large breasts -- has inspired jealousy, hatred and derision. Her body has earned her nasty looks, doubts about her intelligence, ongoing sexual harassment, threats of sexual violence and outright assault.

While Ginsburg learned to appreciate her body, her experience often made her feel disconnected from her breasts -- as if they had become public property. 

Our readers had much to say about Ginsburg's experience, and more generally, our culture's tendency to both glorify and degrade attractive women.

Many women identified with the author.

Blw writes:

Having grown up with the same issue as the author, I can totally relate. To be seen a sex object and nothing more at 14 is frustrating and humiliating. To have the teachers in your life not stand up for you in school is even worse. By staying silent and letting the abuse continue, they are only condoning terrible behavior from teenage boys and girls.

Through childbirth and breastfeeding, I have learned to love my body. I am no longer ashamed of my breasts, but see them as nourishment for my children. Our society has breast images all screwed up, and young girls with large breasts see this firsthand.

Clvngodess describes a similar experience:

Having large breasts as a young teen forces you to grow up faster than you may want to. As a teen, I didn't feel beautiful -- I felt trashy. I wish for a different childhood for my daughter, but I do feel prepared to help her along the way.

I was a little girl with big boobs who was assaulted by classmates and adults for having boobs. I saw it as assault. It felt like assault. It was assault.

This behavior and conviction for having breasts also leads to rape, molestation and other things if we don't learn to revere our daughters.

What the hell is wrong with this society?

In response to that very broad, complicated and important question, Cybershaman writes:

Objectification. Viewing others as objects to be used for our own gratification and then discarded. It stems from a lack of empathy.

It's too bad we cannot look upon a beautiful woman as we look upon a flower or painting. That is, appreciation without wanting to "spoil" it, or "pluck" it.

Some readers disagreed with Cybershaman's take, calling them out for further objectifying women by literally comparing them to objects like flowers and paintings.

SalB counters: "It's too bad we can't look at a woman, beautiful or otherwise, as a human being and equal."

Lilykins replies to Cybershaman with, "Really, we aren't paintings or objects that are to be plucked or not plucked. What is wrong with people?"

These criticisms prompted Cybershaman to reframe his argument:

I suppose I shouldn't have used the word "we."

I try not to objectify anyone. My analogy about plucking was from observing how men treat women, not how I think about them myself. I can even talk to a woman without staring at her breasts, and it was difficult to deconstruct that particular behavioral response mechanism … 

But, you're right about my reference to "beautiful women" rather than just women in general. All women deserve respectful attention. 

CricketDave wonders if there is a solution:

Can't we get over our obsession with breasts?

Well, no, probably not. Certainly not unless we try to figure out the cause of the obsession and to identify some treatments for it. The author wrote nothing in that direction; instead, she simply described the problem. Very thoroughly.


Though I don't like to be pessimistic (really I don't), I for one do not see a solution in the big picture. Neither does this author, evidently, or she'd have described it. After all, we're primates; we have primate brains. There's just so much you can expect from us, and no more. We're not even bright enough to take care of our planet.

HeroesAll offers an obvious solution, albeit one that is difficult to put into practice:

I think there is one thing that we could do, and that's to reshape our society so that women's bodies are not commodified. Hey, I didn't say it would be easy. But our current society, driven by our badly skewed economic system, uses images of women as triggers to sell just about every product there is, and those images become progressively less nuanced and more cartoonish all the time.

Talkville agrees that the objectification of women is rooted in inequitable economic structures:

In the central economic component of Property and theories of ownership, trade, production and reproduction, exchange, etc., what can be more central than Land and Woman, the female in her concrete or elevated representational and symbolic forms?? Boobs sell!! Just like any other attribute of a woman, in theories of trade, exchange, value, etc., what can be more lucrative than the Body of a Woman? Consider the vast industries risen up around just this one Object, in its various Parts, as well as the Whole!!

So, indeed, as this writer aptly and progressively points out: it would indeed be a Great Leap Forward, one almost, but not quite, unimaginable to ... "get over it!!" Can we? A bit of Hegel might be worth checking out: this would be not a "transcendence" -- it would be an "Overcoming."

In the final analysis, it's about Property -- who has it and who doesn't and why.

henkle110936also argues that the problem is that all aspects of our lives, including our bodies, have become commodities:

Put the blame and guilt where it belongs ... on the carnal advertising world where concepts of beauty, desirability, the "in things," the sexual standards, the "role models" for men, women and children are set in the executive rooms in order to "SELL, SELL, SELL!" Because we expose ourselves to these false standards daily, we come to believe the lie. It has nothing to do with reality or your self-concept, unless you buy into these degenerate and false ideals of human worth and value.

Tana Ganeva is an assistant editor at AlterNet.