The Sexualisation Of Breasts – What Has Caused It?

The Sexualisation Of Breasts - What Has Caused It?

When a photo of a model breastfeeding her baby appears on the front cover of a fashion magazine, it not only grabs global attention, but it also sparks widespread controversy.

If the same model had posed without her baby in a low-cut dress exposing her cleavage, there would be no headline, no viral sharing of that image, and no debates.

Breastfeeding in public is a big deal because women’s breasts — and even breastfeeding — has become sexualised.

As a result, countless breastfeeding mothers around the world are forced to deal with the anxiety and challenges of nurturing and nourishing their babies outside of the safety and privacy of their own homes on a daily basis.

Why and how did this happen?

What Has Caused The Sexualisation Of Breasts?

Here are some insights into what’s behind the sexualisation of breasts and ideas on how we can normalize breastfeeding:

Sex Sells

Breasts are big business, because sex sells. We see women’s breasts everywhere. On television, at the movies, in magazines, on billboards etc. Yes, breasts have become a sexualised commodity and profit hungry companies will use them for all they are worth.

The Sexualisation Of Breasts - What Has Caused It?

Cartoon by David Horsey

The Problem With Porn

The addictive and harmful nature of porn is likely another reason why women’s breasts have become sexualised in our society. Porn addicts tend to see others as sexual objects. Unfortunately, cases of addiction are exploding due to readily accessible technology. What kind of a world are we bringing our children up in? How do we shelter them from all this? See BellyBelly’s article on the talk you MUST have with your children about porn, here.

Why Women Have Breasts

What is the true purpose of breasts? Why do women have them? To lure the opposite sex? To sell magazines? To entice men to get their car washed at a certain carwash?

Some might want to touch them or fondle them, but this is not why women have breasts. The true biological importance of women’s breasts is to feed human babies. When it comes to breastfeeding a child, there’s absolutely nothing sexual about that.

A mother breastfeeds her child, not to flaunt her breasts, not because she’s an exhibitionist, and not to try to turn the male species on. How many breastfeeding mothers have you seen walking around topless, flashing the general public or shaking their lactating breasts in the faces of onlookers? None.

A mother breastfeeds simply to nourish and nurture her baby. Nothing more, nothing less.

Breastfeeding Indiscreetly Doesn’t Exist

Some are of the opinion that breastfeeding has to be done ‘discreetly’ in public because they seem to confuse breastfeeding with sex.

What exactly does ‘discreet’ mean? Should a mother cover her whole chest, arms and baby with a blanket? Would you like to eat this way? Have you ever even tried to cover a baby while he or she is feeding? It’s impossible fighting against their flailing little arms. They want to see what’s around them, just as you would! Should a breastfeeding mother leave the public place to go to her car or to a public toilet to breastfeed? Would you like to eat in these places when in public?

It’s commonplace in our society for women to wear skimpy clothing and low-cut tops, and to see exposed and semi-exposed breasts on beaches, in movies, and in advertising etc. It therefore seems strange that breastfeeding in public may ever be perceived as being scandalous or ‘indiscreet’.

What messages are we sending to girls and young women when we talk about having to breastfeed discreetly? We’re telling them that feeding their baby is something that has to be shut away or at least covered up. That the natural God-given act of breastfeeding is something that others shouldn’t see. Why the heck not? It’s just feeding a baby!

In some parts of the world, it’s not uncommon to see a fully-veiled mother baring her breast to breastfeed her baby in public with no one taking any notice, except perhaps a foreigner.

Breastfeeding mothers have varied levels of comfort in what they expose when breastfeeding in public. Some are okay with taking their breast out uncovered. Others prefer to use a cover of some description. It’s up to the mother and the mother only, as to what she prefers to do. If you don’t like it, then don’t look. It’s really that simple. A certain individual’s offense over seeing a breastfeeding baby should never get priority over feeding a baby the way nature intended.

There is no such thing as indiscreet breastfeeding. End of story.

Appropriate Role-Modelling Is Important

Children need good role models to grow up around. Girls and young women need to be able to see women breastfeeding, at cafes, restaurants, on public transport, at football matches, on aeroplanes — everywhere. They are the mothers of the future. We want them to feel comfortable and confident in their own skin. We want them to feel proud of their own bodies and what their own bodies can do.

Breastfeeding And Norms

Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed babies. Yet, biologically normal doesn’t always mean culturally normal. Our society still has a way to go for breastfeeding to be seen as the cultural norm and we all have a role to play in this.

Make Your Opinion Count – But Make Sure It’s An Informed One

People are entitled to their own opinions. However, there is a big different between an informed one and one based on ignorance. Think about it.

Read what BellyBelly’s Creator, Kelly Winder, has to say about breastfeeding in public: Women Should Cover Up When They’re Breastfeeding!

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Renee Kam IBCLC CONTRIBUTOR

Renee Kam is mother to Jessica and Lara, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.


16 comments

  1. This article is hogwash! It’s an effort to suggest the female breast has been sexualized due to modern advertising, marketing and pornography. It goes on to suggest due to this sexualization if hampers women from breast feeding in peace. The fact is, back in the day more people breast fed then than today. However even with the huge numbers of breast feeding mothers back then they covered up or went to a secluded place to do it. Back in the 70’s, 60’s and 50’s the sexualization of breasts were virtually non-existent! Pornography wS much less as well. However, women were much more reserved as they fed their babies. So, to suggest the opposition to jerking out a bare breast in public is as of late is just not true. Additionally, to suggest that the sexualization of the female breast is due to outside influences is also not fully true. Women themselves has sexualized breasts! They get breast augmentations by the millions. They buy and wear garments that enhance and showcase the breast. Clearly women themselves are responsible for the hyper-sexualization of the female breast.
    Here’s the bottom line…women exposing their breasts in public for any reason is disturbing to many. The difference is that today the breast feeding advocacy wants to act like breasts are not connected to sexuality and that everyone should accept women whipping out their boobies in the process of breast feeding.

    1. Naaah man. What u said was hogwash. Breasts were not meant to be sexual, and if women sexualize breasts it’s most likely because of the influence of men, there was a time where it was even acceptable for a woman to pull out her breast in church to breastfeed. All of the points this woman made are true there are many factors as to why female breasts are disturbing and not male breasts. Breasts were not always seen that way, and they shouldnt, they are not the same thing as genitalia .You are just indenial.

    2. Sorry but you are just wrong. I have witnessed (and experienced) appallingly rude behaviour towards breastfeeding mothers, from people who could not possibly see anything at all. I was abused verbally and told to get off a bus, despite sitting in the front seat upstairs, with my back to the entire bus, and the challenged happened as I lifted him onto my shoulder to wind him and they put two and two together.
      ‘f**ing disgusting’ said the man, and he went downstairs and commanded that the driver threw me off the bus, With a six week old child. Time and again I hear of mums being abused despite NOTHING being visible. Basically it’s just none of your damn business – look away, walk away and stop being such a bully

    3. Before you ask why women buy those garments, ask them, why are they? They can choose not to and not fall into Peer Pressure. These f*ck tards, just but regular bras and shit. Women are to blame themselves. Just be the outstandling beam of light and do the oppisote of what others do. Conversation over.

    4. Back In The Day??? 50’s, 60’s, 70’s?? How old are you?
      “Back in the day”, we were solidly a formula/bottle culture. Only a fraction of women were choosing to breastfeed. I was one of them. I was told by my doctor and society at large that IF you were going to breastfeed, you had to be’ discreet’ and heaven forbid, you didn’t do it for more than three months! If you did….. you were considered a zealot. Doctors and the market were pushing formula and solid food. Wined and dined by the big formula companies, doctors and hospitals were beholden to the perks received for marketing formula to their patients – too many still are.
      Back in the day -(pre-WWII) all women breastfed their children. Openly, unappologetically and without embarrasment. During and after WWII, breastfeeding became regarded as a low class and uncultured practice. This was due in part by advertising. The same type of advertising that lured women (and men) to start smoking.
      https://www.nctba.org/general/world-war-ii-is-responsible-for-the-decline-of-breastfeeding-in-the-u-s
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_and_culture_of_breastfeeding

      Still, MOST babies in the world are breastfed. Thank God. And…..more and more “westernized” countries are turning back to what they now know is best for their children.

  2. I particularly like “biologically normal not culturally normal” wonder how the culrural norms came about, agree, advertising has something to do with it but also wonder if ecliastical expression that demonises ordinary women may also be responsible?

  3. The act of breastfeeding is not sexual and should be freely conducted in the public sphere.

    The sexualisation of breasts is an act of evolution. While I cannot speak for all men, I feel fairly confident to say that the response we have upon spying a breast is deep, deep, deep in the mind; it’s not a learned behaviour but a naturally selected instinct. It’s not a software issue; it’s hardware. I’ve heard and utterly acknowledge the rationale that “They’re just sacks of fat; I don’t get it!” I don’t get it either. None of us do. It’s a deep response.

    But we are responsible for our actions. We can avoid staring. We can avoid commenting. We can change the subject of our attention and behave respectfully and appropriately to the circumstances.

    Let’s continue to break the spurious stigma regarding public breastfeeding but do so in the knowledge that for most males, it will be a matter of conquering instinct rather than changing an idea.

  4. I fully agree with this article. We are not sex objects but unfortunately as a society are forced to believe many sexist stereotypes about women and a lot of teens and young women believe the stereotypes due to low self esteem. Women are sexualised all the time and are led to be unless you are sexually attractive you have no purpose in life. Women who have careers are pressured into having children, those with children but stay at home are called lazy, women who dress revealing because they are led to believe they have to dress that way to attract a partner are branded sluts and whore, women who cover up are branded prudes. We still have a 1950’s mentality and its disgraceful

  5. It makes me uncomfortable when women show their cleavages- I am a woman without a cleavage. They are ugly. I don’t understand how men find cleavages sexy.. They look like a crack of another part of the body you sit on. I have small breasts and am happy with the way I am. Our society is so superficial, my boyfriend loves cleavage. So, I think it is other people who make one feel inadequate, that is, even though I am happy being small, I feel like he wants me to have larger breats so he can play with them.. it is the nipple though that is the sexual part really. This whole sexualization and objectification of breasts has gone way too far. It is pathetic when you look at it objectively, with women showing cleavages. They should be hidden, do guys show their crackoin their behinds by wearing low-cut pants? It is the same thing, really.

  6. I don’t know why the female breast is sexualized. I am gay and don’t find them sexy, but I know that some nice muscular pectorals are sexy on men. Nice biceps, a well toned back, etc. I know many heterosexual women would agree. The shaming of sexual admiration for women’s breasts is dumb, especially since such shaming usually plays off like there is no equivalent done to the male body, which is massively untrue.

  7. Unfortunately men have ALWAYS been sexually attracted to boobs. They are not sexualized. They are just part of sexuality. I hate it but its true! Saying breasts are only for babies is like those. people who say that sex is only for procreation, not pleasure aswel. It sucks but men like boobs because womens bodies are different. They are also covered up most of the time so its exciting when men see them. I dont like it but thats the way it is. Also if boobs dont play a part in sexuality, why do their nipples become erect and sensitive to pleasure during sexual activuty? Most people who are against breast feeding in public feel that it is simply because GROSS. Not sexual. You dont take a shit in public do you just because its “natural” and you need to. I dont mind if a woman breast feeds, just so long as she covers up well respectively. Often times women use being “sexualized” as an excuse to have no decency in public. People say “dont look” but sorry if a woman is sitting opposite me, I should be able to look straight ahead. Some women dont even bother change their kids shitty diapers in a restaurant and stink up the place. Its disgusting. Also maybe feed your child beforehand and be better prepared.

    My own personal reasons for why I’d never breast feed is because it limits womens time and is part of their subordination. Just because its natural, doesnt mean it dont hold women down and tie them to childcare. A newborn needs to be fed 8-12 times A DAY! Thats a ridiculous amount of time to have a child attached to your chest. It can also be painful and so can breast feeding.

    I also dont like how my boobs are suppose to be for everyone… for the sexual pleasure of men AND for the time-consuming nurture of a child Im suppose to keep hanging from me like a monkey. My boobs are for everyone else and literally serve no other purpose to me other than to make me uncomfortable and embareassed.

    But its not okay for women to say that their body is THEIR OWN and not for anyone else, whether consencually or not. Women dont have to like sex. Dont have to breast feed. Dont have to have kids but if a woman does want to, thats fine. Just dont subject us to it unless you are respectfully covered.

    I also wouldnt breast feed because its tthe snimalisation of women. Women dont need to act like an anmal anymore breast feeding anf giving birth rather than getting a C section.
    MoWomen also become like babies themselves when they breast feed. Other people have to cut their food. Its degrading and humiliating.

  8. Breasts are not something that are sexualized through the media or anything like that it exists as both a way of feeding childeren and a bait to the opposite gender. People nowadays forget that sex is to create children and the pleasure is just an incentive why do you think breasts are used in foreplay? It’s because men look for women who can create and take care of childeren well and breast are a part of that. It feeds the child and the bigger the breasts the better you can’t just out of the blue sexualize breasts that would be ridiculous. Women present their breasts and often use implants so they appear bigger making them a more suitable mate to bear childeren with.

    It’s not social constructs or media manipulation it’s just simply the human body

  9. So much ignorance in this world, so much brainwashing.

    Simple question needs to be answered. What are female breasts? People generally don’t seem to know.

    Firstly, what they are not. They are not sexual objects. Babies don’t suck on sexual objects. The male attraction to breasts is not sexual. It is aesthetic appreciation. If some men are sexually aroused it is because they are brainwashed to believe that female breasts are sexual and because women wrongly hide them and are taught that they are. The hiding of them can create a belief and a response to them as sexual when they are not that at all. It is easy for this to be realized if women would go topless when it is natural for them to do so (as in warm weather).

    What are female breasts? Answer: they are primarily ornaments. Therefore they are for display and are normally beautiful to see naked. Just like long hair on a woman is beautiful to see naked. Just like a person should not hide their eyes if they see a beautiful face naked. A woman’s breasts are made for emotional comfort, both visually and in an intimate relationship where physical touch is permitted. They are not even primarily to feed babies although they do serve that function. There is no creature in the animal kingdom that has boobs like a woman. Even the apes don’t have “busty” breasts, except when there is milk and they are breastfeeding. This speaks of superior humanity.

    It seems to me that many women are confused about their body parts. If I go to a beach on a hot day, I will inevitably see naked female bums. Because it is fashionable for women to hang out their bums, or wear their bikini wedged all the way up their bums on occasion. The way they act I might think that they see their bums as their boobs and their boobs as their genitals. I have no issue with any part of the human body, but when it comes to display, it would be perfectly normal to display boobs and not bums as such, because bums are not an ornament, (though I recognise the comely shape of some women in every part). Yet at the beach women cover their breasts and I see naked bums instead.

    It is not evil to enjoy visual beauty. Only beasts don’t enjoy visual beauty. If men like shapely breasts, it is because they have good aesthetic taste. And naked female breasts are emotionally soothing to see (at least for men). Women are not “sexual objects” and a woman naked at the front with pubic hair covering, doesn’t even look sexual.

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