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Acceptable Breasts and Unacceptable Breasts

This is Keira Knightley in a Chanel perfume ad campaign, featured prominently in a number of places, places anyone with eyes could easily see:

These are apparently acceptable breasts.

Replace the bowler hat with a baby and these are apparently unacceptable breasts.

The photo moves from "artistic, sells product well, exactly the image we want" to "obscene."

You explain that to me because I do not get it.

The above ad was at the beginning of the current issue of Town & Country magazine. There has been no outrage. No outcry. No demands that it be removed and never again shown.

What a contrast to this image...

...which provoked an intense outcry, including demands that the cover be changed, similar images be banned, and a large protest from subscribers dropping their subscriptions in outrage.

And so began the War of the Breast.

Since then, MySpace, Facebook, Applebee's, and more (as you've all heard) have all protested "offensive" breasts: nursing breasts.

We're fine---seriously, have no problem---with breasts hanging out provocatively, breasts that solicit. But we are shocked and offended at the idea---because you certainly don't see much breast when it is at work feeding---that a breast is nursing.

I stand by my assertion that it is not about breasts; it is about breastfeeding.

Yes, this isn't new news. But I'm still appalled. And I felt it flare up again this weekend when I saw that Chanel ad, full-page, front and center of a popular magazine, and when I checked news services?

Not. One. Outcry.

Not. One. Protest.

Not one person demanding it be removed and never again run. Not one person leading an initiative for subscribers to cancel their subscriptions in protest.

Now that's an outrage.

Not because I personally protest the ad, but because of what it reflects about our culture:

Soliciting breasts: okay.

Provocative breasts: okay.

Feeding baby breasts: obscene.

Let's change that last answer, shall we, to the proper one; not just "okay" but "fine" and "beautiful" and "just the image we wanted it to be." Thanks.

Note: Hump Day tomorrow. As suggested last week, the topic is "The Journey," which is about any kind of trip you took ---whether around the world or just to the corner store---that imparted something meaningful to you. Maybe it was a vacation, maybe it was the path to and from the hospital when you became a parent, maybe it was something you realized while strolling through the park. The bottom line left your home and came back enriched. Send me the link to your post---old or new---and I'll include you in the link list. Email it to j pippert at g mail dot com.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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Gwen said…
But you see, it's this dichotomy that is at the root of the problem. It's the Madonna/whore complex. For a sexual object--the breast--to also be a symbol of sustenance and life: that's a lot to ask people to digest. In general, I think we like to live in black and white, in good and bad. Gray is very few people's favorite color. And to be honest, think back to when you were bfing. Wasn't it a little weird to turn off the milking part of your breast and turn on the sexual part? I know I'm not alone in having struggled with feeling sexual while nursing, especially in the beginning when the bazooms were rockets of milk.

I'm not saying any of these people are right, the people who want to call bfing obscene. I just think some of the reaction, though not thought out very clearly, speaks to our systemic problem with Woman as Whole Person.
b*babbler said…
A perfect post on this topic. So very very true (sadly).
Anonymous said…
Great post. I agree with Gwen up there - women can be sexy or they can be someone's mommy. But def. not both at the same time. If babies had to nurse milk out of a guy's beer belly, on the other hand....
Catherine said…
The Journey. Oh man. That's like my favorite Hmmm topic ever!!! (consider the name of my blog, after all). But I don't think I'll have time to write one!! Can we do it again sometime??

Gwen - excellent points!!!

My breastfeeding comment remains the same - infants have to eat. Its not negotiable. Why are we having a discussion about if babies can eat in public? We all do it, and babies need to more than the rest of us...
People who have problems with artistic depictions of nudity simply lack education. I find a nursing mother, in art or real life, to be a beautiful image of nurturing and love at its most sublime. And what is the model selling perfume through the allure of her (hidden, but highlighted) breasts doing, other than conveying the biopsychological message "I have what it takes to become a mommy, mate with me"?

I also note that the model tends toward the ectomorphic and fusion end of aesthetics (see, while the mother in the baby magazine is depicted as a classic white endomorph.
Kyla said…
Exactly. That is exactly it.

I might have to do the Hmmm tomorrow, after all, it shares the name of my blog. LOL.
Julie Pippert said…
Gwen, thanks for taking on my question! You know, sexual object and life+sustenance aren't actually a dichotomy and I think that's where peopel get off track. JMHO.

It wasn't hard for me to transition from sexual object to nursing. However, my breasts and body felt very used---got that touched out feeling---while nursing, so they didn't feel sexual then. It was actually harder to transition away from nursing and back.

But...IMO, that was localized to me, in my experience and transitioning.

I didn't apply it, or didn't lack ability to transition quickly in my own mind, for others. KWIM?

I don't know...maybe it's...I don't look at breasts sexually? I don't really think of anyone else's breasts?

TBH...I think it's REALLY REALLY a selfish entitlement issue.

I really think it goes back to that personal problem of skeeves and people believing because something makes them uncomfortable, someone else needs to Stop It.

Well wait, now it's chicken and egg.

Maybe the thing you mention creates the skeeves. Hmm. I don't know. Chicken? or egg?

Either way, I do think we need to work harder, culturally, at messages that accept Whole Person, whether it is men or women.

I initially wondered whether it was indicative of some equality thing when men became more sexualized as women are.

But my husband wisely pointed out, "How is that good? it's not good for women, even though it's fun, and so even though it's fun, it's not good for men." He brought up the dehumanization point, which was appropriate.

All of the sexualized ads are using the people in them as a means to an end, which is a dangerous way to consider other people.

His final point, however, was the strongest. He said the sexualizing men trend simply reflected that the disconnect of person from sexuality and functionality of body was even more deeply entrenched.
Anonymous said…
This is interesting. I don't know quite what to say in response. I am sure there is some reason the one is considered OK and the other isn't, but I cannot figure out what it is. Which means I cannot play devil's advocate, here. Darn it. I like playing devil's advocate. But that means you must have a really good point.
Simply put, the problem is to see a baby being fed by something that is considered sexual. That's what people can't wrap their heads around, and what they don't want to see. But that's THEIR problem. What is OUR problem now is that they seem to be acting as a group in VOCALIZING it. There's power in numbers, it can lend a degree of respectability and assumed rationality to even the most idiotic of ideas. I don't know how it even got that far. How come noone cut it down before it became mainstream and acceptable to say things like this? That mass psychosis involved in that is what I don't get. Making the leap.

I am at a loss for words. I just don't know. But I know that you putting those two pix up against each other really brings out the idiocy of the whole argument. Good job!

- Heidi
Lawyer Mama said…
You know, I didn't understand how I would separate the sexual from the feeding before Hollis was born. Afterwards, I realized there was no thought to it, it was just ... different. But I guess there's no way I could have understood that before doing it. I firmly believe that you've hit the nail on the head. That's a societal problem.
Lawyer Mama said…
You know, I didn't understand how I would separate the sexual from the feeding before Hollis was born. Afterwards, I realized there was no thought to it, it was just ... different. But I guess there's no way I could have understood that before doing it. I firmly believe that you've hit the nail on the head. That's a societal problem.
Christine said…
julie this was a great post.

i am outraged right there with you, love.

ewe are here said…
Not to mention the strategically placed clothing item across her naked bottom half...


Outrageous that this does not outrage, yet breastfeeding continues to do so. Outrageous.
Anonymous said…
In addition to the already great points stated, I must add that not only are those acceptable breasts on Keira Knightley, but they are also false-- they Photoshopped her very flat chest because it wouldn't have looked sexual enough as-was.

How's that for irony?
S said…
Yes. No other words but yes.
Snoskred said…
Have you ever seen a paparazzi picture of Keira on a beach? Those are not her real breasts. Here's a pic of her real breasts -

Real Breasts 1
Real Breasts 2
Real Breasts 3

I think the evidence is clear, she doesn't have enough there to create that kind of curve you see in the photo at all. Not only that, the curve is in the wrong place! Unless she has breasts on the side of her chest rather than the front. It's a terrible photoshop job. Look at the way her "ribs" are sticking out of her back - they shopped *in* a waist there. She's pretty straight up and down in real life, as this photo shows.

In fact I think 95% of men have more breastage than she does.

So photoshopped in breasts are ok, but real breasts with a baby attached are not?

It's very odd.

Just for the record, I have no issue with women putting their breasts out there - feeding, or for photography, or for any reason they darn well feel like. They own their breasts. They can do what they like with them. I'll do what I like with mine.

Men can walk around without a shirt on anytime and nobody says a word. I find THAT offensive - that men can do it and women cannot. It isn't us women who equate breasts with sex - that's men who do that.

Would I have a problem if men started walking the streets completely naked, with their parts hanging out, blowing in the breeze? Probably not, as long as they were flaccid. I think that says something about the minds of men vs the minds of women. We've allowed men's viewpoints to make breasts = sex. For me, men's parts don't necessarily = sex. They show their nipples all the time, and it doesn't make me want to shag them. But show a nipple to a man? It's a different story.

Is it just me who thinks like that?

Maybe what all these breast feeding hating people need is to be locked in a nudist camp for a few years. ;)

Ally said…
Well said Julie.
That's exactly it -- it's not the sight of a breast people find disturbing, but the sight of a breast being used for something other than sexual purposes.

Sad isn't it, that society has limited breasts in such a way, making their baring acceptable only when the intent is to titillate or evoke a sexual thrill.

It's not a matter of people being prudish. More like squeamish.

And truly, that baffles me, because what could be more natural and acceptable than a mother feeding her baby?

painted maypole said…
subscribers to BABY TALK flipped out over that image? you would think they would be the one safe audience for a nursing breast. crazy.
Emily said…
Well said.
I agree with your hubby. Using people as a means to an end is a dangerous way to look at people.
Well said!
Gwen said…
Keira and I have very similar real breastages .... our abs look exactly the same, too. Yay for us!

Is dichotomy the wrong word, Julie? Or are you saying that sexuality and the sustaining of life are just different points on the same spectrum? Brush the cobwebs from my brain!

I didn't have a hard time using my breasts for nursing; but once they were swollen, leaky and occasionally spraying milk everywhere, it took awhile to think of them as something besides udders for awhile. Does that make me a freak? (I mean, does that make me MORE of a freak?)

Oh, and Snoskred, please don't encourage men to think walking around naked is okay. :)
Christina said…
Totally agree. Breasts are only "good" in our society if they're being used for a sexual or titillating purpose, often with the hopes of selling something, too.

I wonder what would happen if a woman chose to breastfeed in a Hooters? Would people get upset? How would her exposure be any different than the waitresses? Is it just that small risk of exposed nipple if the baby pops off?
Julie Pippert said…
Gwen, to my mind dichotomy means: division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups: a dichotomy between thought and action.

I don't see childbearing/childcaring (e.g., nursing) to be mutually exclusive or opposed to sexuality. So yes, on the same spectrum, yes, that's how I think of it.

No, not a freak, well, then again, it makes you like me so hey maybe yes, yes a BIG FREAKY FREAK, LOL.

Christina...good Hooters point.

You know, outline of nipple = okay, especially at Hooters.

Painted Maypole, I KNOW. Last year when it happened I was shocked. And some of the downright vituperative letters to the magazine appalled me.

Cathy...ding ding ding ding!!!! Exactly! First we cover them, for sexuality, then we bare them for the same purpose. I don't mind that part either way so much as the solicitation aspect of it, KWIM?

Snoskred, you know, I appreciate the proof because seriously, every magazine photo I see I figure it's about 80% fake.

Heidi/Family THAT'S a SERIOUS point worth pondering.
Snoskred said…
It's interesting - ever since I watched America's Next Top Model, I can spot photoshopping a mile off. I learnt so much from that show - and the number one thing was being a model is not an easy thing.. ;)

What Would Tyler Durden Do and Pink Is The New Blog are the only sites I keep an eye on which are celebrity related, mainly thanks to their humor and not really because of the celebs at all. WWTDD is very snarky and I like a dose of snark from time to time. Of course I love it when a celebrity flashes their meat purse at me, doesn't everyone? ;)

Gwen - I like a naked man from time to time. I find it refreshing. ;) And I must admit I have a bit of a laugh at their dangly bits. If there was really a God, does anyone think he would have designed that funny looking thing? I think not.. :)

Anonymous said…
I have to say that I think the Chanel photo is well done. It does not offend me at all, and I can appreciate the artistic talent behind the shot. Could the mood and message be said without the hint of nakedness? I suppose so.

I guess my point is that I don't like being forced to take sides. I am appalled that someone would suggest the BabyTalk cover is obscene. But, I would think that those who did are just as angry over the Chanel photo (and the like). They would just as easily want to see it taken down, removed and thrown away. I am sure the outcries were there, just not news about it because it is not controversial, you know? Just your average prudes bawking over flesh again...

Still, I am 100% wtih you and I agree that it is the act they find obscene and not the photos. That is sad. Very sad.
RenĂ©e said…
I wonder about my own reasons for bf'ing extendedly. Just for my baby? Or to make a point? Because I do indeed make a point. Letting my 2½ year old relax and undwind with my nipple in his mouth has left more people wide-eyed and mouths agape than I can even count.

It makes me giggle a bit.

Let them squirm.

Using my own toddler for progress?

Why not?

Besides, I'm not ready for the girls to head south when they dry up.

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