No part of a woman’s body is more iconic and multi-tasking than her breasts. They’re utilitarian silos for babies and objects of desire for lovers. They’re public, “out there,” and on display no matter what their size. They’re a source of pride, shame, obsession, and seduction.
That said, you’d think that by the time we hit our 50s we’d have made peace with our breasts. Not so. Breast augmentation is on the rise among all age groups and so are its risks. The latest scandal involving faulty breast implants manufactured by the French company Poly Implants Protheses simply underscores this reality.
Certain cultural ironies come to mind here. The U.S. and Britain are by far the largest consumers of breast implants in the world. France, however, is one western country that’s not particularly obsessed with super-sized breasts. Though the symbol of the French Republic is the bare-breasted Marianne depicted most famously in Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People,” it seems that most French breasts are small enough to fit into the rim of a champagne glass. Take note, for example, of all the topless French women on beaches. Less is more in France. And if you have more, keep it to yourself. Historically, other non-western cultures don’t fetishize breasts the way we do, though they certainly seem keen on other parts of the body. (Foot binding, anyone?)
Culture, of course, shapes everything, including our breasts. Pamela Anderson’s “endowment” set a standard for what’s become something of a norm these days. Bay Watch could just as well have been called Boob Watch. There’s no denying that the commercialization of soft porn has had a huge impact on the sexualization of American culture and women’s sense of body image, young and old alike, whether implants are coveted for medical or cosmetic reasons.
It wasn’t always like this.
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