Let’s have a respectful conversation, for a moment, about breasts.
When a photographer goes to extraordinary lengths to photograph Kate Middleton without a top at a private villa in southern France, there is something to be said about the culture that responds with such giddiness to the thought of a woman with nothing on from the belly button up.
We’d like to say: Get over it. Women have breasts. But the issue is, well, bigger than you might think. People shouldn’t care so much, but they do. Caught up in notions that breasts are signs of fertility, we have a hunch people’s obsession has a lot to do with the unreachable. They want to see what they can’t see.
Across the world, women go topless, and no one cares. It happens in some countries in Africa, for instance.
In fact, when Middleton and her husband Prince William traveled to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific recently, they were greeted by women who weren’t wearing much on top. The irony couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.
We’re not suggesting trying to force the normalization of barechestedness. But can we at least be mature about exposed breasts? They have been sexualized, yes, but they are also utilitarian. They can get cancer. Not to mention that it’s legal to go topless in Maine and other states.
Consider the historical perspective: Women have endured finger-pointing for a variety of other clothing choices throughout time. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, for example, was ridiculed as one of the first women to forgo floor-length skirts and corsets in order to wear bloomers — made popular by her friend Amelia Bloomer in 1851.
Studies have shown what many women already know: They are more likely than men to be objectified. On June 29, the European Journal of Social Psychology published a study by psychologist Dr. Sarah Gervais, who researched how people in Western cultures remember images of both men and women. While men were more likely to be seen as a whole, women were more often “reduced to their sexual body parts.”
Some might argue that going topless will only reinforce the objectification of women. But the fault of objectification lies with the objectifier, not the women.
Topless marches have been held in Farmington and Portland in the past to protest the double-standard that makes it socially acceptable for men to go shirtless on a hot day and not women. While some men joined the women in support, many other men (and women) gawked on the sidelines and snapped pictures — perhaps driven by the same desire as the photographer who took photos of Middleton and the people who constitute the market for those photos.
To those and other like-minded people, we say: Be respectful. Have you really never seen breasts before?