Baring the Female Breasts: Beyond Objectification

There is so much more to a woman’s relationship to her breasts than meets the naked eye. In this post, I am thrilled to have two of my favorite bloggers, KS of Kosher Adobo and Jennifer Berney of Goodnight Already, joining me as we pay homage to this most famous of feminine body parts.

Two Tahitian Women by Paul Gauguin http://tinyurl.com/ocvkvkc (Wikimedia Commons)

CHERRY

I am a junior in boarding school. Behind me is a “Save Sex” poster and a perfume ad: “Femme Fatale: When the female of the species is more dangerous than the male.” It’s the night before the first day of school. I am tugging on the neck of my shirt, admiring my bra strap. Every bra I owned just a year before was white or beige, looking more like bandages for my then AA breasts. But this 36B brassiere, red and lined with lace, which I bought with my mom, was bold, and I want to show it off. In a girls’ dorm after lights out was the safest place to share my joy. Check out my new bra, I say, lifting my shirt for N., who took me to Victoria’s Secret for the first time.  N. owns silky negligees and has more experience than I, but she delights with me, anyway. Having grown up with sisters, these female friendships are as natural as breathing. Beautiful, she says.

I loved the curves of my changing body.  It was expanding, taking up room, and it was exciting. I wanted to make out with the world – but I didn’t want anyone to put his hand up my flannel shirt. (Or maybe I did but I hadn’t fallen in love, yet, much less kissed a boy.)

Though I couldn’t express it, then, that first red brassiere became one of my earliest lessons in femininity and self-acceptance. When I think about who I was at sixteen, I imagine a woman, who would be ready for love and men someday, but, until then, she could keep whatever it was – her breasts, her secrets – her own. She would find beauty in her own reflection and in other women’s eyes.

KS is a textbook TCK who was born in the Philippines, raised in Saudi Arabia, and has lived in New England, USA, for the last twenty years. She writes about her intercultural marriage, diversity, and reproductive health on her blog Kosher Adobo.

 

THE USEFUL BREAST  

Once, at a crowded farmers market, an acquaintance of mine broke from our conversation to pull one of her breasts out of the top of her sundress and nurse her infant daughter. Though I tried not to react, I could not hide my alarm. I approved of public breastfeeding, but did she have to make it a spectacle?

As I prepared to welcome a baby, my own approach to public breastfeeding was to conceal as much as possible. I ordered nursing tank tops, nursing shirts, and a hand-made nursing cover—a small curtain that ties around a mother’s neck, designed to hide both her breasts and her baby. Why wouldn’t everyone use these? I wondered.

My son arrived, and our early days together included meandering walks where he would nap against me and wake up, hungry, the moment I settled down at a café. As it turned out, the nursing cover wasn’t so helpful; I actually needed to see my nipple to align it with my newborn’s mouth. And once he had latched I did not want to cover him with fabric. I wanted to see his eyes and his soft whorl of hair. The café was a friendly place, but still, I overheard strangers refer to me as “that woman over there who is breastfeeding.” It didn’t matter that my breast was hidden by my shirt—I was still a spectacle.

I wish that we could learn to recognize the utility of a breast in the same way we recognize the utility of a hand.  Bared in the bedroom, or half hidden beneath lace, of course breasts hold erotic allure. But just as I must sometimes remove my gloves to find my keys or write a check, I must sometimes lift my shirt and unhook my bra to perform the serious task of feeding my child.

Jennifer Berney lives in Olympia, Washington with her partner and two sons. She blogs at Goodnight Already

 

LOVING MY BREASTS

If my breasts could talk, they would tell me that they like it when I show a little cleavage. Give us a bit of sunlight, let that heat tickle our skin! I’m tenderer with my breasts than I used to be—unwilling to use them to be objectified; more eager to self-savor the sight of them, ripened and full as they peek over t-shirts or hang naked before the mirror. And underwire… my breasts love underwire!

At my last medical appointment, the doctor asked if I knew whether the breast cancer gene runs in the family—we do have a history. No, I replied. Well, maybe you should find out, she said.

My first thought was Angelina Jolie and her mastectomy, reconstruction—two procedures that, even with insurance, I cannot afford. But would I want to if I knew the odds were stacked against me? To lose my breasts, whether by choice or because I must, would be devastating. I’ll take my chances, I tell the doctor. Then again, maybe if I had children, like Angelina, I too would choose differently.

My breasts aren’t that sensitive when it comes to physical sensation—at least not like what you read in romance novels where a suck, a flick, a lick can elicit moans of ecstasy. When I was younger I would pretend all that, worried about what it might say about me if I didn’t make some noise.

These days, my breasts will settle for nothing less than real pleasure even if it means sometimes feeling nothing. Because my breasts, like the rest of me, are no longer afraid to demand tenderness… a little roughness…whatever they need. My breasts know that their worth doesn’t depend on looking good or putting on a show.

My breasts, with their ability to feed a life, are their own kind of superpower.

Diahann Reyes is a freelance writer and performer. She lives in Los Angeles and blogs at Stories from the Belly: A Blog About the Female Body and Its Appetites.

 


287 Comments on “Baring the Female Breasts: Beyond Objectification”

  1. La Sabrosona says:

    Hi Diahann, bravo you did it again, freshly pressed! I could relate to the breast feeding narrative. I nursed my second son until age 2 and I resented the evil eye I’d get, especially since the bad looks would come from other women. It’s puzzling, really, the amount of shame people have about the body in general.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you- it’s wonderful to share the honor with Jenn and KS and their beautiful stories. Yes- shame around the body- so much fear around this sacred, power vessel that carries us through life.

  2. Thank you. Women need to take back this discussion. Our breasts define us and there really isn’t a male equivalent – not one so publicly admired, so personal, and then weirdly shamed simultaneously. They are our femininity, identity and life giving force. And so complex. So thank you.

  3. itsvishakha says:

    Beautiful piece to read!! Finally someone can portray breast as simply body pary which needs same love like rest!! Not to be hidden in dark cause of Society

  4. niteshbaba says:

    Well carved ! I could imagine everything beautifully what I read , I liked the openness of explaining the things at right moment , as a novice blogger I see myself that one day I write something worth.

  5. Jin Okubo says:

    Reblogged this on Jin Okubo and commented:
    Very well written piece. THere are many things that I could say as a man that would not equate the emotion, the joy, the delight of being able to take control of your body the way women have recently been. The reason being was because the most that someone ever shamed my body was to stop doing something or I would go blind. I never stopped and I am not blind. My body is my own and I am proud to say that we need more women to write work like this.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you Jin and also for reblogging Jin and sharing about your own experience. I think also that it would be wonderful to have more men talking/writing about their relationship to their bodies beyond the conventional/media limited portrayals. Much more complex and personal too, I’m sure.

      • Jin Okubo says:

        Yes it would. I find that it helped me be more in tune with what I like and in the end live a less selfconscious life thinking and caring about what others think about my body. And in the end that worked its way into my novel and how I tell a story.

  6. Hmm, you are right. Angelina over-reacted and herd mentality being what it is, I’m sacred she may have triggered off a cut-them-off fashion. Like you said, I’d rather let nature take the risk factor to its outcome before cutting off.
    I mean there are genes for lung cancer too – so would we cut off lungs to ;prevent lung cancer?

    • I went through horrific breast cancer with my mom; double mastectomy and a year of debilitating chemo. It was absolute agony on my mom and my family. Given the choice, I would do anything to save my family from having to experience this with me. If that meant “cutting them off” and reconstruction – then so be it! I would never put my family through this again if I had a choice not to.

      • diahannreyes says:

        Hi Mindy, Thank you for sharing your story here. It’s an important one- and a perspective that needs to be spoken. I believe Angelina said the same thing- that after watching what her mom went through and what she went through watching her mom, that, along with the fact that she has children, influenced her decision. It was empowering to see her making an empowered choice about the care of her body.

      • Oh, personal experience does change the perspective a huge lot. I do empathise with you.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Definitely a personal, complex choice to make. My relative who survived cancer has said she will take the test to see if the gene is genetic. And thankfully the doctor said that if that were to be the case we can increase monitoring rather than choose the more final measure but hopefully the results will make both options unnecessary.

      • I certainly hope so, for your relative and all cancer survivors. Sometimes there are so many factors (genetics, food, preservatives, lifestyle) causing cancer, that taking a drastic surgical decision seems too premature. But like you said, its a personal choice.

  7. pxoppy says:

    I absolutely love this post because it is so relatable. Like the first part, I also had a new red bra at the age of 14 which I thought was incredible and it was then when I learnt what it felt like to feel feminine. I have a love/hate relationship with my breasts: I am too big to wear petite tops and have trouble finding comfortable sports bras however I love having large breasts, not to flaunt but I think it adds to my personality and I feel attractive. I really enjoyed all the different opinions on this post as well as in the comments, it is a debate that should be talked about more often x

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Poppy. It really is profound to see how complex each woman’s relationship is to her body- and how it is at times not absolute. I can definitely relate to the frustration of finding that fashion’s sizes don’t always accommodate our own- I always have to remind me that it’s the industry that is lacking as opposed to my body. Thank you for sharing your own feelings about your breasts. KS’s piece also made me think back to my excitement at getting my first sexy bra.

  8. I found these articles interesting and refreshing! Though I don’t necessarily agree with ALL said, I enjoyed the conversation with differing viewpoints from my own – thanks for posting!!

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Mindy! It was definitely eye opening to see how many nuances there can be to a woman’s relationship to her breasts and how for each woman hers may be very different from another’s.

  9. ahmetarisoyoglu says:

    So good 🙂

  10. pelawichannel says:

    Reblogged this on BLOGTENDI.

  11. Eileen黃愛玲 says:

    Thank you for sharing this. 🙂

  12. vnp1210 says:

    Congrats on the FP! You go girl!

  13. yann bastiaans says:

    Loved these three stories! Despite being a man (sorry ladies 😉) I found them amusing, moving and even recognizable. Can’t wait to read the rest of your blog! Take care, Yann.

  14. ohdearbez says:

    Lovely! Breasts are still such a weird topic still. Just last week my friends and I identified what we call “boob confidence” – it’s all about how confident and comfortable you are about not wearing a bra – which I lacked considerably (I even slept in a sports bra).

    B x

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you. I definitely can relate to the anxiety that not wearing a bra can bring up in modern day society. (The times I’ve been in gatherings where wearing a bra hasn’t mattered- it definitely has been very liberating.:))

  15. Totally can relate to this, its really fantastic Diahann. I think a woman has a personal, powerful and almost spiritual relationship with her body as a whole, not just her breasts. Breasts do have power for women both sexually and for their confidence, to me they make me feel empowered as a woman but I think the relationship women have with their bodies as a whole is also powerful. I wrote a piece recently about my issues surrounding my body including my height after comments were made about it and it really made me question my relationship with my body. Do you think that there is such a relationship?

    • diahannreyes says:

      Hi Alice, thank you. It was really wonderful to see the three pieces not just individually but what they created collectively. I definitely know 100% that a woman can have a personal, powerful, and spiritual relationship with her body- it’s just that society and certain religions have compelled us to disconnect over the centuries – when really, spirit in the body is heaven on earth. I look forward to checking out your blog. Sounds like you had some profound thoughts on the post you mentioned.

  16. theworldaroundamy says:

    Reblogged this on The World Around Amy.

  17. What a wonderful post, Diahann. It is so refreshing to read a post that every woman could relate to. Happy Women’s Day!

    I’m all about inspiring others to be inspired and confident in their own skin. It is so empowering, so thank you so much for writing this post. I’m still fighting to be comfortable with my breasts. However, a sexy bra under the blouse sure helps trying to get a hold of my own femininity. But, I can certainly say nothing feels better but when you get home and are able to take your bra off–such freedom! ha ha! Take care and keep on writing! xo

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you. It has been wonderful reading the comments about how the three essays have sparked a resonance. Belated Happy Women’s Day to you, too. Thank you for sharing a little about your own feelings about your breasts. I had to laugh about that feeling of taking one’s bra off- I can totally relate! It sounds like your blog is definitely geared toward inspiring others to love inhabiting themselves. Keep writing, too!

  18. Me Uncovered says:

    This is a great piece. I can certainly relate, having been a breast feeding mum twice.

  19. krenadean says:

    Wow incredible writing thank you for sharing. I have a very personal relationship with mine. Sometimes they don’t like all that sucking and bitin like they say in the novels… Haha. I keep trying to convince my friend to love her breasts. She hates them because they are different. I can’t! Women love your bodies 😉

    • diahannreyes says:

      So agree- here’s to loving our bodies even when it can feel challenging. Wonderful that you’ve cultivated a personal relationship to your breasts… and thanks for sharing about the sometimes wanting the opposite of what is touted in novels… we’re probably not alone. And thank you- it was wonderful creating this post with Jenn and KS!

  20. What is it with these deceiving headlines? As a guy, I expected so much. And more photos. Beyond Gaugin! Manet’s Olympia would be acceptable. I mean, like, I’m a guy, so while this was somewhat awkward, I was not too far from my comfort zone. I think about women’s breasts because that’s what guys do. It’s genetic. But I’m also, like, totally pro-breast, you know, in a positive way. I have sisters, a wife, a daughter, sister-in-laws, a Mom, a mother-in-law and friends who are girls. And they all, like, totally have breasts and while I’ve never heard them discuss their own breasts – double awkward – I now know that women can think about and discuss their breasts in a new, totally liberating way! 🙂

    • diahannreyes says:

      LOL… you obviously know your art, Scott (Just hopped over to your blog). I actually pondered using Manet’s Olympia but I thought Gaugin’s painting did a better job of conveying liberation and shamelessness and sisterhood. It would be great, wouldn’t it, if women in general could talk about their bodies in a positive, empowered way .. and I totally appreciate you and other men who are, as you say, “pro-breast… “in a positive way” and supporting the women in your life. 🙂

  21. #gager says:

    Reblogged this on #gags.

  22. jhorel freeborn says:

    Reblogged this on Jhorel's Blog.

  23. Phillip says:

    Sometime in the sixties the ladies gathered in Washington DC. The Lincoln Memorial I believe? They slipped their bras off and tossed them in a dumpster provided for the occasion. My World and the World of many others changed and it in a very good way too. Out of the closet so to speak. We all loved the ladies and those who said otherwise we’re probably lying. I think the line drawn was not a line meant to divide, but a line drawn to INCLUDE. It really did help to unite the generation.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Phillip, thanks for sharing that important bit of history here. I love how you describe it- “a line drawn to include.” It sees today there is still confusion as to how, when women seek to be included some (men and women) see it is some sort of angry rebellion when it’s more the way you describe it.

  24. catform says:

    Reblogged this on Choris Romance•.

  25. jasminblog says:

    I’m a south African model. Before you go ugh snob.. I’m not a selfish cow. Unlike others I want to put out the problems we as woman and models go through. And what we can of it! I want my blog to be about team work. Girls and guys supporting each other and just being a great support system!

  26. KaftanTop says:

    Kudos with all the exposure on breasts. I think breastfeeding in public is getting more acceptable nowadays especially with the emergence of apparels which suit the breastfeeding mother intending to breastfeed in pubic. Seriously, it’s what is best for the baby and what the baby needs.

    Well, on a side note, breasts do attract our male counterparts. Cheers.

  27. skyewriter92 says:

    Beautiful piece! Great read 🙂 Good job!

  28. very beautifully expressed…recently my friend was told by a guy who touched her breast, that they have become hard and mature..this comment from someone (especially someone she considered special) hurt her a lot…she was depressed and angry..i told her to just ignore the guy..bcoz she and her breast’s both were beautiful…hard or soft, small or large doesnt matter..what matters is they r a part of her and make her who she is…

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you. I so agree- what matters is they are a part of her. It’s unfortunate that a lot of people still objectify the breasts rather than see that they are part of someone’s living body.

  29. Danika Maia says:

    This is a lovely post but unfortunately I can’t relate because I never got that joy of filling out a bra in junior high or even high school. I was such a late bloomer and it brought me a tremendous amount of stress in those years!

    Danika Maia
    http://www.danikamaia.com

    • diahannreyes says:

      Hi Danika, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It seems that, regardless of size, culture and society has made it challenging for women to be able to relate to their breasts throughout their lives without angst!

  30. happilycurious says:

    Reblogged this on Happily Curious.

  31. sandipmedhe says:

    Good read

  32. Island Mom says:

    Beautiful poetry, thank you.

  33. rinavantill says:

    Reblogged this on Redesign your life.


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