26 February 2010


Breast Obsession: What’s the Big (Bigger, Biggest) Deal? asks the cover of Allure magazine. When I fanatically flipped to find out, Allure supplied this concluding insight: “For better or worse, breast enhancement has become part of our culture.

An eight year old (sadly) could have told me that. I want to know what made it a big deal, not what “the big deal” literally looks like these days. Allure’s “How It [breast augmentation] All Began” tells me nothing about how we came to assign value to larger, more ‘perfectly’-formed breasts, or how we pieced together an objective boob-shape hierarchy in the first place. This hierarchy includes breast shapes dubbed “deformities” (at the bottom of the chart), diagnosed by cosmetic surgeons dubbed medical professionals.

I mean not to rag cosmetic surgeons. They went through a lot of school to get where they are (I assume), and they make a lot of people truly happy. But I do mean to question just where our “medical” info on “normal” appearance is being affirmed. I know I’m giving you a lot of these “—“, but they’re important for satirical emphasis.

I suppose a beauty magazine such as Allure is meant to tell me what is beautiful now, not why we think things are beautiful. Tyra Banks’ (ugh, can’t believe I’m citing her) BIO campaign—Beauty Inside & Out—is a model celebrity’s attempt to transform women’s understanding of beauty. But, as much as I want to hop naively on the BIO bandwagon, or at least what it stands for, the governing beauty framework still prevails.

The BIO campaign seeks a revolution within the obviously struggling gender, not within society. If women can expand their definitions of beauty, then we’ll have more confidence and think ourselves more beautiful. That would be nice, if Tyra wasn’t the one telling me my “unique” qualities are beautiful, despite what popular media say. Perhaps I have a personal vendetta against Tyra who makes me want to punch something (usually her), as she unhealthily counsels (patronizes) other women on her show.

Or perhaps, I feel that BIO-like ventures only address a fraction of the issue. For better or worse, sexualized beauty has become part of our culture. Youthful beauty, feminized beauty, pleasing beauty (to whom?), skinny beauty, leggy beauty, pouty beauty, busty beauty, and obedient beauty have become part of our culture. I hate to burst Tyra’s bubble, but culture is made up of more than just women. Transforming beauty understandings will take more than a self-empowerment movement led by America’s Top Model.

Changing how we see ourselves—the mission of BIO—is great, particularly if we feel energized by the process and outcome. But what do we do when others haven’t changed how they see us? Does it matter? BIO would probably say no; Allure would probably say no, adjacent to its Romantic Looks and Best Skin Fixes features. But how then can we really claim to have transformed understandings of beauty?

If enough of us (women) can say ‘To hell with popular beauty standards!,’ will models start looking more like me? Or will they still be seducing me on the covers of beauty magazines, as I sit and celebrate my uniqueness—or deviation from that image—at a BIO summit?

I think it’s going to take more work on a larger, more inclusive level to unpack the Big Deal with breast obsession. Once we derail the “naturalness” of our beauty standards, and convince more people (not just “Fiercely Real” women) of the beauty myth, then perhaps we can rework our narrow vocabulary, pictures, and obsessions.

Perhaps we can even do away with the question, “What’s the Big Deal with [FILL IN THE BLANK]?", when we start refocusing our gaze and valuing people for their total worth rather than amputated fragments (eyes, boobs, self-confidence) of a gendered beauty.


  1. WORD, so well said! The nonstop hypocrisy in magazines like Allure and Cosmo (e.g. exhortations to love yourself for who you are next to articles on the five million things you need to buy/do to be hot) makes me wonder whether the editors are just oblivious, or resigned to the existence of this mixed message fest in their industry.

    do you read the blog Sociological Images? I think you'd like it.

    - Hannah

  2. Maybe all your answers would be answered if you would just watch more Tyra. Try it.

    The last sentence of your post is worth the entire read -- great writing!!

  3. I meant "questions would be answered."

  4. I just looked up Sociological Images yesterday...it's great! Thanks Hannah!

    AND, as painful as it might be, watching more Tyra could be what I've been missing all along.