The changing of the calendar marked more than a change into October. It is officially breast cancer awareness month. Pink ribbons and non-profit campaigns will be just about as prevalent as Halloween candy and decorations. However, in a month dedicated to preserving the female body from this unique and ravaging disease, we seem to remain ignorant to the measures taken to promote breast cancer awareness through sexualization. Call them what you will, breasts, boobs, tatas, the girls, or… whatever you can think of, it seems that the biological and primary reason we have breasts has been long forgotten in the media and within our own basic understandings.
When analyzing media depictions of the breast, it does not take some lofty study or insane list of examples to say that the breast is seen through the hetersosexual male lens. Whether it is a chicken breast commerical trying to make a pun or an undergarment ad, the female chest is employed for sexual allure to sell any given commodity. At the same time, women are shamed for breastfeeding in public, and then some women have felt the need to start the #freethenipple movement. Society wants to shame the same body part that it uses for the sake of advertizing.
In an interview for Boston University, Dr. Rhonda Trust, PhD. addressed the issue of objectifying breasts in the media and what it means for breastfeeding. “If you see a television show and there’s some kind of breast-feeding scene, it’s usually a joke or embarrassing; very rarely, you’ll see a scene that’s educational, describing the benefits of breastfeeding. You look at any magazine cover—people are okay with seeing a 17-year-old with cleavage advertising a car, but when they see a baby nursing, people just can’t handle that.”
This impression of the biological female anatomy put upon our generation is shown through conversations about the issue of babies and breastfeeding. I personally have seen it in a conversation about it being a place for the sexual partner, so having any child around it would be uncomfortable and weird. That baffles me, but it is commentaries like this one that are compelling local hospitals and other organizations to host events to “normalize” breastfeeding.
The Normalize Breastfeeding tour was created by photographer Vanessa Simmons to remove the taboo surrounding the act of. How ironic it seems that a naturally occurring process which promotes the health of the mother and baby needs to be ‘made normal’.
The #freethenipple project is another offshoot of the fight against the sexualization of the breast. It is a movement designed to promote equality between the regulation of male and female breasts, yet women are being taken to court over the issue. A peaceful protest via an organized topless beach event in August 2015 with approximately 50 women in attendance turned into a legal battle in New Hampshire in December, 2015 between the organizers and the local authorities. The argument was made that the charges were only based in sexist thinking. As the New Hampshire Union Leader reported, a mother, testifying against the beach event, was asked if she felt the same disgust toward a male breast, to which she replied, “No, because it’s a man.”
It is important to note that all individuals are born with breasts because the breast muscle and the nipples form before the sex-determining chromosome kicks in during a fetus’s development. This basic developmental fact should make the aforementioned argument from the concerned parent null and void. Still, our culture operates as if there is some difference.
The only distinction between the nipples of each individual is the ideology we place upon it. It has nothing to do with the physical anatomy and everything to do with over-sexualization and sexist thinking. These same notions fuel the need for censorship of a woman’s chest, because for too long we, as a culture, have made the primary function of the breast enticing a certain sexual allure and being only a sexual object.
Lest we forget their true intentions, breasts literally save lives. The initial breast milk is called colostrum, and has been nicknamed liquid gold by many. As Office of Women’s Health under the United States Department of Health and Human Services elaborates, the nutrient-dense colostrum contains antibodies that promote the immunity of a newborn. Not only does the colostrum benefit the baby, but breastmilk reduces the risk of asthma, childhood leukemia, sudden infant death syndrome, and countless other illnesses that could attack an infant.
Not only beneficial for baby, breastfeeding reduces the risk of certain cancers for the mother, including particular breast cancers. It is like breastfeeding and the mission of the month go hand in hand. Breastfeeding is also a highly effective natural contraceptive, as pumping milk signifies to the body that there is already a tiny human to take care of.
All these amazing things a breast can do, and yet we reduce it to a cheap tool. We shame women for embracing their own anatomy, and make them labor for the right to do what the female anatomy was designed to do. Laws are created to specifically censor to one sex and not the other, and to fight against women who desire equality for their own bodies. We spend October fixating on saving female breasts, but maybe we should spend the month working to embrace them as well. This October, let’s make it breast awareness month, and honor mammaries for the magnificent things that they are and stop shaming breasts for what society forces upon them.