09/12/2012 01:53 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2012

Breasts and Society

What is it about women's breasts that can stir so much interest in today's society? They are, after all, a normal part of all women regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. Breasts play an important role in defining the special functions of the female body and have enormous cultural significance as well. They are both maternal and sexual in appearance, but it is the sexual connotation that seems to be more pronounced.

Now, truthfully, the female body has always garnered attention, no matter what century we're living in. It's just the way we are built that draws the eye to certain areas. Breasts are visible and prominent even when we're fully clothed. Give us a beach day and the prominent view is even better.

The female anatomy has gotten a great deal of press, wanted or unwanted, over the last few months. We are certainly all aware of the controversy following the use of the word "vagina," which was a star that was quickly followed in the political firmament by the word "uterus." We didn't know whether to be honored or annoyed by all the rapt attention being paid to our reproductive organs.

We chose to be outraged by the pseudo-moral shock of Rep. Mike Callton over the use of the word vagina and the downright smug stupidity of " target="_hplink">Todd Akin and his unbelievable comment about legitimate rape. We were outraged and rightly so.

During recent months, the subject of breasts has frequently been a topic for the media. From Mayor Bloomberg's breast-feeding push to the unending subject of implants on talk shows and the undeniable display of cleavage by some female celebrities, breasts seem to play an important role in how society views women.

The reality is that we are not just our breasts. Sure, we love them, but we're people and our breasts are simply one component of who women are.

These natural assets of women have been unfairly labeled as sinful in past centuries. Men of the cloth have been preaching against the female form throughout recorded history. Jerome, a 4th century Latin Father and saint of the Roman Catholic Church said, "Woman is the gate of the devil, the path of wickedness, the sting of the serpent; in a word -- a perilous object." Funny, I never thought of myself or my breasts as perilous objects, let alone the gate of the devil.

Yet the art world from the time of the Greeks to the Renaissance was always filled with paintings and sculpture glorifying the female breasts and hips. A few works of art from the Medieval and Renaissance periods even depict Mary, her chest uncovered, breastfeeding the baby Jesus Christ.

The Nude Maja by Spanish artist Francisco Goya was considered both daring and beautiful in 1800 but after that period the idea of the nude female breast steadily became shameful and wanton again. Society began to change its mind about the sight of a naked breast. The "fullness of the female breast," was, according to one nineteenth century theologian, "a wanton lure to righteous and upstanding men."

Religion aside, it is the breast throughout history that seems to characterize the female form in ways that are unwarranted. This is especially true in the modern working world. Women trying to make it in business know very well that appearance stereotypes are more complicated in a business environment. Even today, some women dress their chest down to avoid unneeded attention. It is my brain, not my breasts, I want noticed in a working relationship.

And, speaking of the breast and brains theory, it can sometimes seem to cloud a woman's work-related ability. One doctor called it the "Monroe syndrome." From all accounts that I have read, Ms. Monroe was intelligent. People who knew Ms. Monroe were impressed by her acute intelligence and knowledge of world affairs. But it was the idea of her breasts that were showcased and never her mind. You know, the blonde with the big breasts has to be dumb, right? Wrong! I'm blonde, my "girls" are generous, and I am very far from dumb.

Society plays a silly little game about breasts. On the one hand, they are seen as a food source and breast-feeding in the open is encouraged. On the other hand, there's still the Puritanical streak that has to hide the breast or blur the image of it whenever it might be shown on public media. Why? So we can protect innocent young minds under the age of 18? Because it is still viewed as too erotic for most people, even mature adults? Truthfully, the majority of children know what a breast looks like. They only giggle over the sight of one because society has made the breast seem to be 'naughty'. And yes, it is erotic, but so is the sight, for many women, of a bare-chested man. We don't cover his chest up.

Throughout history, society has changed its collective mind about the sight of the female breast. Good, bad; beautiful, sinful. Breasts embarrass us. It seems that modern society has sexualized them to the point that is just plain ridiculous.

The interest in the female form is good and I hope it opens the way to some adult dialogue about healthy attitudes towards what is natural and normal. Let's stop thinking about breasts in terms of sin, immorality and bimbo-ism.

© 2012 copyright Kristen Houghton

"And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First" ranked in the top 100 books by Tower

Kristen Houghton is the author of the hilarious new book, No Woman Diets Alone - There's Always a Man Behind Her Eating a Doughnut in the top 10 hot new releases at Amazon available now on Kindle, Nook, and all e-book venues.

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