Sunday, 9 November 2008
Of all of society's irrational and arbitrary attitudes towards the human body, breasts and nipples are the ones that feature the most contradictions.
The ongoing fight for a woman's right to breastfeed her baby in public illustrates the contradictory view of breasts as both sex objects and sources of nutrition and nurturing for babies.
The main argument seems to be that breasts are sexual. The truth is that people are sexual. While men may find the female breast sexy, it is certainly not women's exclusive source of sexuality. Conversely, women may find men's chests sexual but men are not forced to hide them. This inconsistency is likely derived from the archaic notion that women must hide to save men from themselves.
Even the definition of breasts is problematic. You can't differentiate between men and women by breast size. Some men have larger breasts than some women. Trying to define where the breast starts and ends is almost impossible. Where is the edge of the breast?
So we are generally left with legal definitions that only refer to the nipple and areola. That means that breasts are not bare if pasties cover the nipple and areola area. Clearly, society is now telling us that the only part of concern is the nipple and areola area on a woman's body.
So if women's nipples are so much more sexual than men's that they must be covered, then there must be a clear difference between a man's nipple and a woman's nipple. So take a look at this close-up nipple photo. Is it a man's nipple or a woman's? If it is a woman's nipple, you are supposed to be offended but not if it's a man's. Are you offended? And if women's nipples are more sexual, you should be able to tell whether it is a woman's nipple by your physiological reaction. Are you turned on? (answer at the bottom of the page)
But the very best example of the arbitrariness of it all comes courtesy of a TV show called Dr. 90210. This is a reality show that follows the lives of plastic surgeons as they "improve" people's lives through surgery. Most of the surgery is comprised of the predictable facial changes and breast enhancements. However, one episode focused on a woman who was in the process of a sex change. Calahan's treatment has clearly been effective. Dressed, it was impossible to see that he had started life as a woman. He sported a beard and muscular forearms.
But during the initial exam, one could clearly see the outline of female breasts but the nipples were obscured. As the operation began, the shows producers protected us from those upsetting female nipples by scrambling that portion of the image. No attempt was made to shield us from the blood and gore of the operation. The image of the incision and the cutting and hacking away of the internal breast material was crystal clear.
Less than 3 minutes later, the same nipples that were the cause of such consternation are now revealed because they are now deemed to be men's nipples! The same skin and nipple material is now acceptable for public consumption because some biological material had been removed. Most of the material was never even visible in the first place as it consisted of breast tissue beneath the skin. But with the removal of the mammary glands, the nipples had lost their offensive nature.
Interestingly, the same episode also featured labiaplasty. This is where a woman gets her labia reduced to "increase her self-confidence." Not surprisingly, the woman's labia was masked during the surgery. However, the show was more than willing to show the parts of the labia that were removed after the surgery. The message: the labia is only offensive when it is attached to a living woman. What does that say about our society's view of the human body?
Think you know whether that is a man or woman's nipple?
To see the original, full photo click here.
Breastfeeding photo by: Mike.Hanlon
Pasties photo from the Creative Commons.
Labels: nipples breasts plastic surgery