I, for one, am relieved all the breasts have been put away for the new year. Possessed of a decidedly average pair myself, I'm not jealous, nor prudish; I'm merely uncomfortable with the glut of naked, quaking décolleté on offer over the holidays. Unappreciated and unsung are the small, the unremarkable, and the clad.
Part of what set me musing about the ubiquity of big, bared boobs was the TV hit drama Homeland, starring the lovely and conspicuously flat-chested Claire Danes, possessed of the teeniest pair of pert adult breasts you're likely to see on television. Even more startling than the nondescript nubs themselves was my surprise at my surprise – inured as I've become to buxom starlets. Hollywood directors reputedly struggle to find female actors whose famous faces have not been frozen expressionless by facelifts and botox. Ms. Danes set me wondering just how hard it might be these days to find an actress with a breast size that mirrors the unadulterated norm of the real world.
In 2011, more than 307,000 American women (and teens) underwent breast augmentation, and an additional 90,000 got a breast "lift." As a health reporter, I've interviewed plastic surgeons who claim that while it was their passion for delicate reconstructive surgeries on trauma victims and congenitally malformed babies that lured them to the profession, boob jobs – alas – make up the bulk of their practices. For the right woman, they tell me, a breast "enhancement" can truly build confidence and a sense of self-worth not achievable through self-help books and therapy.
In fact, a swelling body of medical literature seeking to understand the psychology behind breast augmentation has consistently suggested that women who go under the knife for a bigger twin-set are happy with the results, although the reasons underpinning this sense of satisfaction are unclear. Also unexplained is the two- to threefold increased risk of suicide among women who have had cosmetic breast augmentation.
The so-called third wave of feminists broke away from the bra-burners to embrace, even flaunt their sexuality – an act of re-appropriation that, they claim, was at once liberating and empowering. But if repossessing one's individual sexuality can be equated with self-assurance, surely that would also entail an acceptance and celebration of whatever it is you're born with, rather than what can be augmented using a year's worth of college tuition. Surrounded by so many amplified bosoms, you'll pardon me for questioning the surgical route to female emancipation.
Then again, Western society's relationship with the female breast has always been rife with contradictions. Low-cut necklines in vogue this Christmas made for not-uncommon sightings of errant nipples, yet young mothers still fumble modestly under blouses and blankets to nurse their babies. We're urged to exercise regularly, but I've yet to see a sports bra that can adequately harness some double Ds comfortably in place for a fast jog. Breast cancer claims the lives of thousands of Canadian women, yet we arguably worry more about how best to exhibit our lady lumps than we do about routinely checking ourselves for early-stage tumours.
Ironically, the limited scientific literature probing the subject suggests that breast self-exams may actually be easier if you have augmentation, because the smooth surface of the implant serves as the perfect foil for unwelcome bumps. In some research, women with breast implants have actually been more likely to detect early cancers – I'm imagining something akin to using two fingers on the meringue of twin Baked Alaskas to figure out if the ice cream inside is still cold. My own theory is that women with surgically enhanced breasts might simply spend more time roving in wonderment over their new landscapes.
Happily, we have a few months' respite before the mammary organs are once again stripped down and hoisted up for the summer. As I ring in the New Year, I'm raising a toast to the contentedly flat-chested and the modestly mounded – making our way in a busty world with our big, beautiful brains.