By: Jeanne-Marie Joubert
Let’s talk about something I hold very near to my heart, both literally and figuratively: boobs. Last year, over 300,000 women underwent breast augmentation surgery, a number that has increased by 45% since 2000 and continues to rise every year. The rising prominence of breast implants raises an important question: why do an increasing number of women choose to alter their bodies through breast augmentation surgery, a procedure that can limit breast sensitivity and function?
Although breast implants come with massive health risks, (remember the death of Kanye’s mom?), many women still decide to take the plunge. Those who opt out of surgery may still end up spending huge amounts of money on the wide array of products – from soaps, to sprays, to pills – that claim to “naturally” enlarge breasts. A quick search for “breast enlargement” on Amazon.com brings you over 900 results alone. One product claims it can help women to “Get More Attention with a Bigger Bust.”
Killing Us Softly, a film by media critic Jean Kilbourne, examines the media’s portrayal of women in advertising and the role this portrayal has in influencing women to alter and devalue their bodies. Kilbourne discusses the fact that many women who have breast augmentation surgery effectively lose all sensitivity in their nipples. From this process their breasts become objects of someone else’s pleasure. As their breasts are objectified, women themselves, as Kilbourne explains, go from being autonomous “subjects” to “objects” who exist for the enjoyment of others.
We are constantly bombarded with ads that dehumanize women by conflating whole women – body and mind – with breasts and body alone. A beyond perfect example is this Axe hair gel commercial, which portrays a “male” office worker as an anthropomorphized head of hair, while portraying the “female” coworker as a pair of large and perky breasts. The advertisement concludes with the phrase, “Hair. It’s what girls see first,” directly implying that breasts are the first thing that men see on “girls” (girls being a troublesome choice of words in itself). This is only one of many examples of the media’s efforts to reduce any woman to a set of tits.
The only breasts we see in the media are the so-called “perfect” versions of them, which we’re taught are perky C-cups that sit high on a woman’s chest. But those breasts rarely exist in the real world without the help of expensive bras or surgeries. They appear to be an ideal version created by people who don’t have breasts. It seems that bras are manufactured to reduce a woman’s bust to a round and unmovable set of fruit. The advertising campaigns popular in the media are so effective that most women think their own breasts, that don’t naturally measure up to these impossibly high standards, are defective. Today our culture finds it shameful to show the actual form and anatomy of breasts. We prevent any hint of our nipples from being revealed by wearing padded bras, and certainly never allow any signs of downward gravity. The widely circulated myth that bras prevent sagging has been debunked; there is no actual medical reason for wearing one, although some women may prefer the support that they provide.
Why has it become a painful stab when someone points out that a woman has small breasts, something that no woman can control naturally? Having small breasts is almost thought of as a bad attribute for a female sexual partner. But as a small-breasted lady, my larger-chested female friends are always telling me how jealous they are, that their boobs are out of control, giving them back pain, and increasing unwanted attention and harassment. The truth is that no matter what size a woman’s breasts are, women are constantly being affected by society telling them how she should feel about them. And if we’re told that a woman is just a pair of breasts, without her breasts, is she nothing? Is she less of a woman? In order to be noticed, do you have to have a large set of mammary glands? But if you do have them, is that all that you’ll be noticed for?
It is these questions, and the cultural norms influencing them, that convince women to radically alter their bodies through procedures like breast augmentation surgery. It may be true that women have breast enlargement surgery to make themselves feel more attractive and comfortable, but where is the insecurity that led them to that decision coming from? I argue that it is a result of our exposure to the conflicting messages of media and advertising campaigns that create impossible standards for all people and don’t care about the welfare of their consumers.