Ah, now! What were you expecting?
A picture can evoke a much deeper response at times than the most thoughtful, carefully-written article so, rather than write a thousand words on the subject, I’m inviting you to participate in a few short moments of self-reflection.
Before I say anything more, take a moment to ask yourself three questions (be honest with your answers):
1. Why did I click on this link? (Saying ‘I don’t know’ is a cop-out! Dig a little deeper for the underlying reason—curiosity? The need for titillation? The hope for beauty?)
2. What was my ‘gut reaction’ response when I saw the image?
3. Now sit back and just look at the image above for a few moments. Then ask yourself, ‘what does the picture evoke in me now?’
Having breastfed three children, it has always fascinated me how people’s perceptions of a woman’s breasts are determined so much by circumstance and conditioning. The man who was only too happy to stare at the outline of my breasts through a top, for example, but suddenly found it deeply disturbing to even make eye-contact when he saw me breastfeeding my first child. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, the young daughter who couldn’t keep her hands of my swollen cleavage when I was breastfeeding my third child.
At some deep level, breasts are a connection to deep human contact and nurturing , the kind of skin-to-skin contact that we all thrive on but lack so much in our ‘look but don’t touch‘ society. There is no substitute for the contentedness of a child nuzzling cheek to breast in its mother’s arms and there are few moments in an adult’s life when they feel as securely held.
At another equally deep level, breasts can be a source of sexual pleasure for both the woman and her partner. The nipples connect directly with the vagina, offering potential for incredible highs of pleasure for the woman. And, in some eastern traditions, the nipples are considered a source of energy for the man who suckles on them.
For most of us, this latter view is the one that dominates, and is reinforced by a lack of images and experiences of a less sexual nature that might otherwise help to balance it. How often are we presented with images where the breasts are portrayed in a sexual context and as objects to project our inner desires and fantasies onto?
Through my travels, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a little time in a variety of places with different norms around nudity —from nudist and topless beaches around Europe to Amazon tribes for whom clothing has only become a recent addition in response to external influences. It is so obvious that the sexualizing of the human body is closely linked to lack of familiarity, which in turn leads to a disconnection.
The less we see of ourselves and others in normal, everyday situations (which includes our daily media), the less comfortable we are with seeing the bare, human form and the more titillating it becomes.
All we have to do is imagine how different we might feel if we were facing family, friends and colleagues every day with little or no clothes on. What mental and emotional adjustments might that demand of us?
But reverting to a more traditional way of living is clearly not the answer, nor is stripping off clothes in a gesture of rebellion (especially in climates like the one I live in, here on the Atlantic fringe of Europe). Becoming aware of this bias in our society and in ourselves, though, may help us to filter through the images that reach us on a daily basis.
Next time you’re presented with an image of a woman’s breast with the unspoken invitation to see it as a sexual object, just imagine a baby attached to it and watch how your reaction shifts (an exercise which is as relevant to women as to men – but perhaps with different results).
And, if you’d care to share, please leave a comment or two below in response to your reflection!
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: courtesy of the author