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Video interview: On small boobs

May 15, 2013

To follow up our post on Nora Ephron’s essay on how small boobs can affect your self-confidence (eye-opening for someone with much-maligned, larger boobs), I thought it would be interesting to get a contemporary view on the issue from a young woman today.

Here’s what journalist Antonia, 22, said when I chatted to her about her smaller boob size…

Thanks to Antonia for her honesty!

Do you agree? Would you prefer smaller or larger boobs? Have you had both in your life, and preferred one size over the other? Do you think it matters? Let us know below…

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What’s your Bare Reality? A new photo project on breasts

May 10, 2013

Bare Reality: A project by Laura Dodsworth [Image: from BareReality.net]

Bare Reality: A project by Laura Dodsworth [Image: from BareReality.net]

As we know, OMGGs is just one blog dedicated to revealing the triumphs and trials of women’s breasts in a more diverse way than the usual, objectifying/comedy/sleazy tropes often seen in the media.

So when I stumbled on the Bare Reality project – ‘an art and social project exploring how women feel about their breasts’ – I knew I wanted to chat to the woman behind it.

Laura Dodsworth is a professional photographer with a mission: to explore “the dichotomy between how we feel about our breasts privately, and how they are presented through the media”.

“I’m 40, I’ve had children,” Dodsworth tells me. “My breasts have had different roles at different points in my life. I wanted to create a dialogue going about how women feel about their breasts. Talking is central to these intimate experiences.”

Her Bare Reality project asks women to fill in a survey about how they feel about their boobs, with the ultimate aim to collect photographs and experiences from different women everywhere. She hopes that the project will culminate in a book, and generate discussion over the different functions, and feelings, women have about their most obvious – if not always most significant ‒ assets.

“The survey’s gone brilliantly so far,” she says. “We’ve had 1,300 responses in three days!”

Dodsworth, whose photography has featured in a number of London exhibitions, is also very clear to call herself a feminist, which she sees as entirely relevant to the project. “I’ve always been a feminist. This project is about giving women a chance to have a voice about their own experiences.”

Amen to that.

Check out more info about Bare Reality, and take the survey, here

Nora Ephron: On small boobs

May 10, 2013

[Credit: CC Flickr, Matt Hurst]

[Credit: CC Flickr, Matt Hurst]

Halterneck tops. Bandeau bikinis. A total inability to wear backless dresses without serious (and potentially expensive) breast harnessing. Car seatbelt dilemmas. The constant risk of looking like a shelf if you wear high-necked tops, but looking ‘vulgar’ if you wear low cut ones. The need to put a strappy top under every single V-necked item of clothing. The sheer lack of effectiveness of pretty much any bra when doing any kind of exercise. Expensive bras. Back-ache. Posture problems. Unwanted attention; harassment; men talking at your chest rather than your face. The list goes on.

Yep, if you have big boobs, it can be extremely tempting to imagine that a smaller, perter bust would be more than helpful . Indeed, a cursory search through Twitter shows larger-boobed ladies everywhere lamenting that big isn’t necessarily better.

View my Storify Twitter story: “Twitter: On small boobs”

And yet. Another search term, ‘small boobs’, shows that far from championing their smaller, more manageable, more-dressable bosoms, smaller-sized women aren’t happy either. And it’s not as if Twitter is the cause – nay, as with everything, it’s merely a new outlet for this long-felt source of frustration.

In a world where bigger boobs are often seen as far superior (witness Page 3, Wonderbra, etc), it’s little wonder that the smaller variety have been bemoaned for years. It’s certainly a difficult topic whichever side of the fence you’re on, with ‘larger’ seen as ‘glamour’, ‘kiss-me-quick’ and bordering on vulgar, and ‘smaller’ seen as somehow unfeminine, embarrassing, ‘boy-like’, child-like, or epitomising the cut-throat world of high fashion, where big boobs simply aren’t part of the equation.

But me, feel sorry for people with smaller boobs? “Sorry,” I would have said had you asked me a week ago, “I’m too busy strapping my bust down and trying to find a top that doesn’t hang like a tent to care.”

And yet, while reading some Nora Ephron the other day (the late, great, legendary writer of films such as When Harry Met Sally, and brilliant treatises on the irrational relationship women can have about their bodies, such as I Feel Bad About My Neck), I came across “A Few Words About Breasts”, an essay Ephron wrote about her teenaged struggle to accept her tiny chest as her own.

Under the poignant and almost gratingly-honest prose (about growing up boobless in the 1960s) I began to think that maybe, small-boobed women might have an argument. What is it like, I then asked my friend Antonia, having small boobs? “I’d prefer bigger ones”, she said, at length. Suddenly, I began to see where the small-boobed brigade was coming from.

Ephron on boobs

Because right from the beginning, Ephron is characteristically candid. “I have to begin with a few words about androgyny,” she says, hinting that she had, tragically, believed that her small boobs rendered her less of a woman. While this is obviously untrue, it is the heartfelt insecurities about her identity that make themselves sadly clear.

Breasts, a teenaged Ephron felt, would make her “an indisputable girl”. Their visibility made them the clearest signal of being a woman, and with that came all the attendant rubbish that teenage girls peddle about sexuality and body image (“You’ll get them after you’re married”, Ephron’s friend said. Huh?)

This, of course, sent young Ephron into a spin of insecurity about what boys might think (Which, we all know, isn’t a good road to travel.) A thoughtless, ridiculous comment from her then-boyfriend’s mother helped none.

Big boobed women: full of shit?

[Credit: CC Flickr, YourSecretAdmiral]

[Credit: CC Flickr, YourSecretAdmiral]

As an adult, a still-flat chested Ephron still struggled. “The two of us together couldn’t fill an A-cup,” said a “minor celebrity” to a random bloke at a party Ephron attended in East Hampton. “It isn’t even true, dammit!” says Ephron. “Why say that? Is she even more addled than I am on the subject?”

And while saying that her worries are “exaggerated” and “peculiar”, she is also clear that “If I had had [breasts], I would have been a completely different person”.

Complainers like me are given short shrift. Women “with nice, big breasts”, wrote Ephron, “would go on endlessly about how their lives had been far more miserable than mine. Their bra straps were snapped in class. They couldn’t sleep on their stomachs. They were stared at whenever the word “mountain” cropped up in geography.”

“They had a terrible time of it, they assure me,” she says. “I have thought about their remarks, and considered their point of view. I think,” she concludes, “that they are full of shit”.

Nora Ephron: The small-boobed woman’s salvation?! She does, eventually, admit that men didn’t seem to mind at all (well, thank GOD for that), but, more importantly, after all that, she did finally come to see that her breasts were “just right”. Which, given the extent of her insecurities detailed in the essay, is heartening.

Because while this blog may have been born from frustration over having large boobs – it seems that all women, big or small, can have ‘issues’ about their bosoms. And if anyone can show me the other side of the coin, it’s Ephron.

So here’s to boobs, whatever size they happen to be.

Is there such a thing as an ideal breast shape?

May 10, 2013
Irwin-Scott Flickr CC

Image: Irwin-Scott Flickr CC

A few months ago I posted a slideshow of pictures featuring the boobs that I had come across in my day-to-day life on posters, in magazines, in shop windows and such like (click here to see the original article). A fellow blogger called thelingerielesbian kindly commented on it, and said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said “One thing to notice is the wide variety of boobs that they show– I know that I am much more the shape of Eve on the Paradise Lost book than any of the others, and yet that is apparently a body type that I never, ever see on modern women (who are in magazines).”

And she’s absolutely right. If you look at most boobs on posters or magazines, or wherever they may be, they all seem to either be of the bouncy, round, beach-ball variety, or the non-existent fashion-model variety. The Botticelli-style slightly softer and lower-slung variety are nowhere to be seen.

It has been argued that “beauty” is not an objective value, but rather a reflection of powerful social influences. The most famous anecdotal example is that, when times are tough and there is genuinely a possibility of people going without food, it is plumpness and roundness that is coveted. At times of economic booms, however, skinniness becomes popular.

So perhaps it is inevitable that our tastes in boob shapes change over time, and is subject to phases and fashions. Taking the Eve photo as an example, it is not only the boobs that are currently out of vogue, but her shapely thighs and slightly fleshy belly. If we were to put forward an image of female perfection now – which presumably the Eve image would have represented in its own time – I would bet money it would be a very different story.

But I have a theory – only a theory – that there is one particular social factor that is determining our current boob-y ideal. The rise of plastic surgery.

There is programme on BBC Three called Snog Marry Avoid. You may well have already seen it, but if not the basic format is this: there is a woman (or occasionally a man) whose look is “fake”. It is explained to them how revolting they look, and to make the point clearer they are then subjected to a cruel game of (you guessed it) snog marry avoid, in which everyone invariably chooses to avoid them. They are then transformed – via a “make-under” – into “natural beauties”, and have their new look validated by another round of the snog marry avoid game where everyone now chooses to either snog or marry them.

There are many aspects of this programme which need to be commented on – not least the fact that it cheerily and shamelessly uses the age-old chestnut of whether or not men would fancy these women as a benchmark for style and beauty. But for the purposes of this article (and in the interests of keeping a long story short) I would like to ignore all of this for now, and focus on the simple fact that the “fake” look has enough cultural presence to justify pinning an entire programme around it.

There is, in other words, a significant portion of the population who believe that to look “fake” is beautiful. To have orange skin, and painted on eyebrows, and fake nails, and lip fillers, and hair extensions, and fake tits is the ultimate in bodily perfection. To look like a doll, and barely be able to move your face, is nice. As Eva Wiseman has observed in a brilliant article for The Guardian, there seems to be a developing fashion for young women such as Lindsey Lohan to have so much work done that they reach a bizarre “ageless” look of permanent fakery. The aim is not to enhance yourself in a way that no one notices, but to go so overboard that people will be sure to know that you have had work done.

And for women, one of the main requirements of this look is, of course, fake – or at least fake-looking – boobs.

On a recent episode of Snog Marry Avoid (which I was only watching for research purposes, honest) one of the fakery culprits actually said the words “My ambition is to be like Pamela Anderson, because she’s got big boobs. And one day I’m hoping to have big, fake boobs.”

Notice – the ambition (shudder at the use of “ambition”) is not to have big boobs, but to have big fake boobs. She is not saying that she wants big boobs that will have to be fake because hers aren’t big naturally, but that their very fake-ness is the whole point.

For me – and I imagine for most people – this attitude is bizarre to the point of being slightly obscene. But is this strange aesthetic the reserve of troubled celebrities and a small group of the public, or has it filtered into society more widely?

I spoke to Mr James McDiarmid, a plastic surgeon who performs breast augmentations, to see if this look was something he came across frequently in his surgery, and if there was a mainstream demand for fake looking boobs. Happily, he said that 99 per cent of the women requesting surgery are after a natural look, and only one per cent are after something a bit more dramatic. In technical terms, Mr McDiarmid tells me, this means that very few women are after a particularly “high projection”.

He summed the situation up pretty neatly, saying “most women would rather look like Kelly Brook than Jordan.”

So if there is a demand for the “fake” look, it seems, it is not necessarily one shared by the general population – even those going in for enlargements already.

But I still can’t shake the feeling that, even if we don’t actively conform to or even like this penchant for all things fake, it does seem to be symptomatic of something wider, as the artificial ideals spreads insidiously into our cultural consciousness. We have all seen what can be attained through plastic surgery – what pertness, roundness, and slightly freaky “perfection” – and though we may not want to look quite so shiny, those pert round bosoms are a difficult image to shake. After all, people may not necessarily be after fake looking fake boobs, but they are after fake boobs in general no matter how “natural” they want them to look.

In the same way, there may only be a few who have gone full pelt for the “Barbie” look (like this strange lady), the doll’s long legs, tiny waist and massive boobs have long been cited as negatively influencing young girls body image. Or, though not everyone doggedly pursues the hideous skinniness of catwalk models, their omnipresent thinness inevitably has an impact on a wider perception of bodily perfection.

And maybe I’m wrong, but it does seem to me that the “ideal” shape for boobs presented in magazines and adverts does at the very least draw on artificial perfection for inspiration. After all, in a culture where it is possible to sculpt and mould whatever part of your body you choose, it is inevitable that the “best” boobs are the ones that have been made specifically for perfection, and natural boobs have to compete at that level.

Well, ok. But what about the merits of natural beauty? Of imperfect but characterful bodies and shapes? Or lips that move and eyebrows that frown? Broadly speaking, I would say that Mr McDiarmid is right, and that most people are after a natural look. I, for example, think the overly polished, shiny, bouncy, perfect plastic look is downright hideous. And if Mr McDiarmid’s Kelly Brook analogy is anything to go by, it seems that most women are with me.

But as an ideal is increasingly portrayed  in popular culture where lines are blurred between real and fake, and it is a requirement of models to look absolutely “perfect”, surely there is a danger that the line between “natural” and synthetic will become increasingly blurred and we will be striving for something more and more unattainable.

And why shouldn’t a pointy boob less plump breast be just as beautiful as a round and bouncy one? It’s just a fashion, after all, and we shouldn’t be afraid to dismiss it as such. Bring back the soft, squishy, natural boob in my opinion. If it was good enough for Boticelli, it’s good enough for me.

Google trends: Big boobs have the biggest following

May 9, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 17.06.08

If you need proof that big boobs are popular, here it is. The chart above is a result of typing “boobs” into Google Trends. As you can see, it shows that the most popular related term to “boobs” is “big boobs”.  Topping “sexy boobs” and “nude boobs”, it seems that when people want to see them or read about them on the web, they want them big.

Extra! Extra! Read all about tit!

May 7, 2013

It might not come as an enormous surprise that, out of all newspapers, The Sun is the most prolific publisher of boob-y news. It is the home of page 3, after all. The actual extent of its boob-story domination, though, might. In the past year, 780 articles have appeared in UK newspapers  with “boob” in the headline. A whopping third of these have been in The Sun alone which, if you consider the number of national, regional and local papers there are, is something of an achievement.

And perhaps even more astonishingly, over half of the grand total come from just three newspapers – The Sun, The Mirror (and The Sunday Mirror), and Daily Star.

infographic

Number of articles with “boob” in the headline between 7 May 2012 and 7 May 2013 in UK newspapers. Information sourced through online database Nexis.

Interestingly enough, in their print version The Daily Mail (and The Mail on Sunday) only has 8 stories with “boob” in the headline. Online, however, MailOnline has produced the majority in the past year.

Number of articles with "boob" in the headline between 7 May 2012 and 7 May 2013 in UK online publications. Information sourced through online database Nexis. Both infographics by Lucy Haenlein.

Number of articles with “boob” in the headline between 7 May 2012 and 7 May 2013 in UK online publications. Information sourced through online database Nexis. Both infographics by Lucy Haenlein.

So there you have it. We may seem to be a culture obsessed with boobs, but it is actually just a few usual suspects who are responsible for the majority of our daily boob bulletins.

“Tittooing”: Isn’t a nipple just a nipple?

May 3, 2013
tittoo

Image: Detail from image in possession of George Eastman House, Flickr Commons

So. As if there weren’t enough things to worry about, apparently now there is a difference between good nipples and bad nipples.  Such a difference, in fact, that women are opting to have a procedure intended for women having breast-reconstruction, and having darker nipples semi-permanently tattooed over their natural ones. This, apparently, transforms inadequately defined nipples into the image of nipple-y perfection.

Is it just me, or is this pretty weird? Maybe I’m being naïve, but surely a nipple is just a nipple? It can’t be an acknowledged truth that bigger and darker is prettier, or sexier, or whatever it is that makes them apparently desirable. Is it?

And quite aside from the fact that the aesthetic decision is a dubious one, I can’t help but feel that there is something seriously wrong with this whole “tittooing” thing.

Gail Proudman, a clinician who performs the procedure, was quoted in the The Telegraph as saying “A lot of people want their nipples made darker. It’s the fashion. Some people think theirs are too pink or their boyfriends want them done. I think sometime they are doing it because they are conscious of them being pale and they think it’s fashionable to have dark nipples. They’ll look at the magazines and page 3 and unfortunately a lot of it might be peer pressure.

“The girls get them done so they can go topless and not be embarrassed, or when they’re in a changing room and getting changed. They can go on holiday in front of their partners, go for massages, spray tans and just not be conscious of their body.”

So much is the pressure on girls to look perfect, it seems, they would feel self-conscious if they didn’t fork out serious cash for some designer nipples.

My general attitude to voluntary cosmetic procedures up until now has been a little wishy-washy.  Though I can’t imagine ever going in for one myself, I have always adopted a position of  “your body, your decision” and can envisage circumstances where the improvement of quality of life could be worth it. And there is an argument that for women to have control over their own bodies to such a degree that they can change them if and when they like is a liberating act of feminism.

But as far as I can see, there is absolutely nothing liberating or feminist about going to such extreme lengths to achieve female ‘perfection’. I am jumping off my comfortable position on the fence on this one, to say firmly and confidently that this is ridiculous.

Because the remedy for feelings of inadequacy and self-consciousness shouldn’t be to change ourselves to fit in with a (bizarre) conception of beauty, but to build self-esteem in how we look as we are. This constant quest to find artificial ways of ‘improving’ ourselves is only ever going to reinforce the idea that our bodies aren’t up to scratch, and that we should feel unsatisfied in how we look. So please, step away from the tattoo needle. Enough is enough. A nipple is a nipple.