In the bowels of the Paris metros are many cleavages selling you movies, swimsuits, appliances and everything in between. The sexualized breast is displayed to tempt our insatiable (and unsustainable) consumption. This is somewhat ironic since breasts are primarily for the consumption of nutrients ...breast milk is, by far, the best food for infant bodies and brains.
As I am faced with breasts around every corner - the chicken and the egg question comes to mind. Did the attraction to the breast lead to the baby that is then breastfed or did having a baby that is then breastfed lead to the sexualization of breasts since it resulted from a sexual act.
There are many theories on the sexualization of mammary glands. Some argue that it is cultural - in that we are not as much drawn to breasts as taught to find them erotic. There is research that suggests it is a sign of fertility. A 2004 study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society discovered that women with large breasts have higher levels of the hormone estradiol, which is related with increased fertility. Other studies find that the 'love drug' - oxytocin - is released when a woman's nipples are stimulated during breast feeding, helping her to bond with her infant. But it seems that this neurochemical is also released when breasts are stimulated in general. So, those who stimulate the breasts of their ladies are more likely then to have partners who bond with them and more likely to have offspring. Cha ching!
And what of the women? For many breasts are erogenous zones and find pleasure with them, through them. Especially during pregnancy (who knew?). Meanwhile for others, they can take it or leave it; you might as well touch their left elbow.
Recently, I learned that the bosoms of pregnant and breastfeeding woman can be VERY attractive to partners. Meanwhile, many new mothers find the pain of breastfeeding, pumping, maybe leaking onto t-shirts during that fatigued, emotional state to be the furtherest thing from sexy. So there is a dissonance. While the partner finds her incredibly hot with these new bodacious breasts, she's probably thinking, BACK AWAY FROM THE BREASTS.
A few random studies: Men's pupils gaze at a women's chest within 200 milliseconds and linger there more than any other region. Women are likely to pick up women hitch-hikers (researchers) with any size breasts where as men are much more likely to pick up the C cup versus the A cup. Having more sexualized content in the ad can draw more attention but less to actually remembering the brand. Other times it helps sales to skyrocket.
Then there was this cover of Time, one of their best selling issue, that for many, pushed the boundary of looking at breasts as nurturing (way past infant stage).
So, sex or food? What are breasts good for anyway? Can they be for both, without contradiction? Can they be sexy food? Like tapas?
Indeed. That is precisely what I think: For me, breasts are the tapas of the female form. They come in all different sizes. There is a variety (bite sized or a full 3 course meal's worth). They may not be every body's choice but they can also be a bit of an obsession for others. While this is tongue in cheek humour there is some resonance of truth.
And breasts, the male gaze, breasts in public spaces are also culturally specific. Think about all the you've read about women being asked NOT to breastfeed outside of the home and if they do, to make sure nothing is showing. Yet these same people walk by ads spilling over with bosoms and don't give a second thought.
Breasts: for food, for pleasure, for bonding.
And, it seems, for Parisian metro stations.