On Breasts, Identity, and Refusing to Hate Ourselves

Sounds like a serious subject, right? Nah.

See, Iranian cleric Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediq isn’t just notable for his highly un-pronounceable name. He’s also an expert on God, breasts and geology. And he’s fairly convinced that our breasts, ladies, are the cause of the earthquakes that have killed tens of thousands of people in Iran in this decade alone. I’ll allow Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediqi (how on earth do you say that?) to elaborate in his own words:

“Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes.”

Hmm. So…our breasts are so powerful that not only do they render men completely faultless for cheating on their wives, but they can also cause earthquakes? Sweet. I wanna know what else they can do!


I mean, is it possible that my breasts are responsible for the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland? And what’s with the correlation between breasts and things that are really, really hard to say?

But seriously. Imagine the possibilities! We could use the combined power of our boobs to accomplish all sorts of dastardly things. For example, the exposed breasts of this project’s models theoretically will cause a massive spike in males who sin, angering the Almighty and almost certainly producing a large hurricane in our home city of Minneapolis. Having leveled a sizeable city with our audacious bazoombahs, we’ll return home to buy flooded real estate at tremendous discounts. It’s just one city, but it’s a huge step on the Feminist Agenda’s Step-by-Step World Takeover Manual.

Noting that Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediq–who I’m henceforth just gonna call “Ho” for short–didn’t seem to provide much scientific data for his claims, Facebook member Jennifer McCreight is organizing a massive experiment. It’s called “Boobquake“, and the plan is for female Facebook members to cause an earthquake by simultaneously wearing cleavage-revealing shirts on April 26th. Looks like your jumblies will be causing the rumblies, ladies! Way to lead those poor, sweet, helpless guys astray. The only thing that could protect the earth from untold tremors and terrors would be for those fellas to not commit adultery in response to our shirts? Will Iranian men be able to take responsibility for themselves and save the world? Tune in Monday to find out!

It’s funny! It’s hilarious, and out there, and crazy, and we’ve never heard anything like it!  Except…we have.

It’s easy for women in our culture, and in many others, to develop something of a love/hate relationship with our bodies in general and with our breasts in particular. What my buddy “Ho” was saying is just a more obvious and radical version of a sentiment that women hear all of our lives.

We’re told that our breasts have power. I’m okay with it so far, I guess, but that’s not all. We’re told that our breasts have power because they’re beautiful. Alright. I’m still in, I suppose.

Here’s where it all falls apart for me: We’re told that our breasts have power because they’re beautiful, and that this is somehow wrong. Don’t believe me? I’ve got examples.

  • Last December, police were called on a woman who was breast feeding her four-month-old infant in a Michigan Target store. Because, let’s be honest: Mary Martinez’s all-powerful, life-sustaining breasts were clearly presenting a huge moral threat to the Target security guard who called the authorities, claiming that it was illegal for her to breast feed in public. In fact, it is perfectly legal, and Target corporate policy allows for breast feeding in stores.
  • More recently, in Oxford, Alabama, Erica DeRamus had to choose between being paddled (wtf???!!!!!) or suspended when she showed up her senior prom wearing a dress that was determined to be too revealing. Because her cleavage was so powerfully beautiful that it forced an administration to condone physical punishment of children on an institutional level, right?  How’s that for logic? And how many boys were punished for dress code violations?
  • Though the policy changes faster than we can keep track of it, social-networking mega-site Facebook has at times published policies prohibiting photographs of bare breasts in any context, including photographs of breast feeding and relating to breast cancer.

The list goes on and on, ranging from thought-provoking to patently ridiculous, but one central theme remains. In our culture, it’s okay for multinational corporations and advertising agencies to sexualize our breasts to sell products. It’s okay for religious leaders in our culture to demand that we hide them–it’s not limited to Iran, and it’s not just our friend “Ho” who thinks this way. It’s acceptable in our culture for men to blame our breasts for causing them to “stray”. But it’s not okay for me to celebrate their femininity in my formalwear choices, or feed my baby with them, or show them in an honest and realistic and educational manner?

It’s really, really hard to know what to think of our breasts. If we’re careless with them, after all, it’s “slutty”. If we’re proud of them, we’re accused of immodesty from one side, while the other side says we’re more than the measure of our breasts and we shouldn’t care. If we’re shy about them, we’re “prude”. And that’s assuming that our breasts behave in a “normal” way.

So what happens when we add breast cancer to the mix?

Let’s imagine for a moment that your slutty/prude/immodest/unenlightened/all-powerful/beautiful/ugly/sinful/proud/shameless/lucrative/hidden breast finds itself affected by a disease that might kill the rest of your body. You didn’t know how to feel about it before your diagnosis. So how in the world can you be expected to make the decision that’s best for you in regard to your treatment?

And–please tell me–how on earth can a woman know how to feel about her body when those ever-confusing breasts are altered, or gone? When her “beauty” and her “power” are gone, and all that’s left is scars?

Oy, vey.

Can someone call me when it’s okay for us to regard our breasts as beautiful, without buying in to the idea that our breasts are our beauty? Will you wake me when women and our bodies are no longer held responsible for the decisions that anyone else might make? And please–please–let me know when it’s okay to embrace a woman whose views on sexuality/modesty/breast feeding/bottle feeding/working moms/stay-at-home moms/mastectomy/lumpectomy/ reconstruction/not reconstructing/minivans/SUVs/SmartCars/gas guzzlers/ men/women/weather/pop culture differ radically from my own?

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When can women just live, without it offending someone? Will you let me know when that happens? Because I promised to keep this light, and it appears that I’m failing, and so I have to stop writing now.

I hope that this project helps us all to understand the beauty of our unique experiences, whatever they may be. I hope when you stop by our site now, or when you see our prints later, you recognize a part of yourself. I hope that it makes you proud. I hope you can see that your real beauty and your real power are in the real you, whatever form that takes.

Until then, let me know if things change. You’ll find me in my closet, trying to make a tornado with my nipple.

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11 Comments

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  2. I’m just writing to say that I applaud your post, and thinks it’s a shame that your breasts don’t have the power to make men (and women) think rationally about breasts.

  3. Thank you. You’ve nailed it. The breast I lost two years ago was beautiful. But since then, I’ve never felt more beautiful and powerful and alive. That’s been a contradictory feeling I hadn’t completely sorted out. But you got it. My breast was beautiful, until it threatened my life. Then, not so much. Talk about causing earthquakes, cancer certainly turns life upside down for a while. But here’s some news for Ho that’s going to rock his world: When you “stray” away from taking responsibility for your own self, an earthquake in your life is pretty much guaranteed to happen. But you can survive an earthquake if you come home, clean up your own mess, and rebuild your own house. So simple really.

  4. Geez, I never thought of them as that powerful…and others as so powerless over themselves.

  5. Kate, it has always bugged me, as a man, that any part of the female body (either in general or a particular female) can be used as an excuse to avoid responsibility for one’s actions. Or an attempted excuse, regardless of the success of the attempt to avoid responsibility. And, yes, I am lumping Ho’s comments with attempts to get away with sexual discrimination or even sexual assault.

  6. The “Ho’s” statement was ridiculous, and fits right in with the way that culture treats women in general. But I’m going to venture an opinion that may not be real popular, in this forum. I don’t know the specifics of each example you cite, because I wasn’t there. But the young lady at her prom–she probably could have used better judgment. And the woman at Target breastfeeding? I breastfed my kid until he was 11 months old, in public and in private, and I never got a cop called on me. I was able to do it discretely–with the specially-made bras, the towels thrown over shoulder, etc. So I sort of wonder–how did the Target situation happen? I can’t say, I wasn’t there. But possibly the woman could have used a bit more discretion. Breasts are wonderful, and they are beautiful. They convey nourishment, sex, and volumptuousness. But there are social conventions against displaying too much of them. It’s about using common sense. The “Ho’s” statement, and the way the extremists treat women–that is seriously bad and we should all consider contributing money and support to women’s causes everywhere to increase equity for women.

  7. Mimi, don’t worry about the popularity of a statement on this site: our goal is to begin dialog. As long as it’s well thought and respectful, we’re good with it! Follow the link to the Target story, though, and I think you’ll be surprised at the details. In fact, I chose that example specifically because it was relatively free of controversy. The Target security guard was simply in the wrong.

    In any case, when you google “arrested for breastfeeding”, you’ll be amazed at how many hits you get. To me, I guess the question isn’t one of whether it’s in good taste to breastfeed in public, or how one should do it, but a question of its legality. Tacky or not (it’s never bothered me, but I’m pretty comfortable with that stuff), as long as it’s legal to breastfeed in public, we shouldn’t hear about stories like that.

    For what it’s worth, I’m terribly fascinated at the difference in treatment of breastfeeding abroad. I’d noticed that in Europe it’s extremely in the open, and it never surprised me there. But on a recent trip to the rather conservative Argentina, I was fascinated to see a woman walking down the street, nursing as she walked. The shyness is kind of an American thing, in my experience. While I was always aware of my “audience” when I nursed my own children, I think the scenario begs an interesting question. Why, in the context of sustaining life for another human being, do those social conventions exist? And how different, really, is that from Ho’s “hide them at all costs” message?

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