a Christian view of breasts

Breasts.  I’ve been pondering them lately.  Not my own, but breasts in general.

Why, you ask?

Well, there are a few reasons.

This pondering of breasts first came about as a result of a picture on the cover of the WELS monthly magazine “Forward in Christ.”  The June issue had on its cover a young woman surrounded by many other young people.  All the other people were wearing neutral colors like white or gray or black, but this one woman was wearing a coral shirt with a softly scooped neckline.  I never thought a thing about it; neither did my pastor-husband.

However, in the August issue of “Forward in Christ”, two letters from readers were printed in the Feedback section.  These two letters were from women complaining/ condemning the magazine for showing a woman on the cover for showing too much breast and being immodest.

I was shocked when I read those letters.  I couldn’t believe that this woman’s shirt could actually be considered immodest!  Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve lived in California for the past nine years, but even so, I really didn’t think anything was wrong with that lady’s shirt.  (A few months later, I was relieved to see another letter printed from someone who shared my point of view that those two women were WAY too sensitive.)

The second thing that got me thinking about breasts came out of the doula workshop I attended last September.  One of the topics we discussed was breastfeeding, part of that being society’s attitude towards breastfeeding.  That prompted my own thoughts about how annoyed I am by how breastfeeding is often seen in the United States.  I hate the fact that women so often feel the need to cover their baby up and keep their breast hidden at all costs.  Before I had children, I remember visiting a friend once and noticing her almost smother her baby under a heavy blanket so that me and the others in the room wouldn’t see any of her breast while she was nursing.  I felt so sorry for her baby!

Now, I’m not advocating that women be flashing their breasts out in public at all times and places, but I do think that as a society, we need to get over our fear of seeing breasts.  Breasts have become an almost solely sexual organ, and this sexualized view overshadows any other purpose.  There’s a great blog post that’s gone viral about this topic that shows how ridiculous our society has become: Society and the Sexualized Breast.  It’s well worth your time to read.

I discussed this topic with my husband, and he shared with me a story that one of his college professors once told.  This professor had previously been a missionary in an African country, a country where women routinely walked around topless.  One day, one of the native Africans stopped at the house where the pastor and his wife and children were living.  He knocked at the door, and the wife, wearing a shirt and a pair of shorts, answered the door.  Immediately, the man looked straight up at the sky and conducted the necessary conversation with the wife while never once looking at her.  Later, the missionary and his wife learned that in this country, a woman’s knees were considered immodest, and so the man at the door had done the proper thing in his culture and adverted his eyes.

Our obsession with hiding our breasts as we do in western culture is just that — our culture.  Breasts should not be implicitly immodest, and I frankly believe that it would be healthier for our country if breasts weren’t seen as such highly sexually-charged objects.  Sadly, in our culture there even are women who won’t breastfeed their babies because they’re worried about what shape their breasts will have after they finish nursing!  (Which, by the way, is ridulous, because it’s not the breastfeeding that changes the shape of breasts; it’s the hormones connected with pregnancy.)  Women implant things into their breasts to make them bigger, and they wear tops that reveal the curve of breasts while still hiding what is socially necessary (although the amount of breast that is socially necessary to hide seems to becoming less and less.)  Our society is completely fixated on equating breasts with sex, and it’s ridiculous!  It needs to stop.

Back when I was breastfeeding my babies, I made a point to try to breastfeed in public, around both men and women, and I rarely covered up with a blanket.  However, I did wear nursing tops that made it possible for me to breastfeed without flashing too much breast.  But I’ve nursed around women and men.  I’ve nursed in the middle of malls, in airport terminals, and on airplanes (which is very convenient while taking off and landing, let me tell you!)  I’ve nursed in the back of church, and I would be willing to nurse in church if I wasn’t afraid that the slurping and burping of the baby might be a bit distracting to the other people.  🙂

I’m not sure if I would consider myself a “lactivist” or not, but I do strongly feel that western society, including Christian society, needs to get over its obsession with breasts as sexual objects.  It’s not healthy for moms or babies or society in general.  This blog post, entitled “Girls Gone Child,” written by a fellow Lutheran pastor’s wife, shares some of those same thoughts.

Last year, a documentary movie titled “Babies” was released.  The movie followed four babies in four diverse locations around the world through the first year of their lives: Japan, Mongolia, Namibia, and San Francisco.  A friend of mine mentioned that she watched the movie with her children, including her sons.  After watching the movie, her 13 year old son remarked, “That’s the most breasts I’ve seen in a long time.”  What’s wonderful about that movie is that it shows how other non-Western cultures view breastfeeding, and it shows people in those cultures using breasts as God intended them to be used – for feeding babies.  What a good thing for children (and adults!) of any age to witness!

I plan to buy that movie for myself, and I plan to watch it with my daughters — and my sons, if I ever have any boys.  I want my children to know that our bodies are created by God, and that “sexy” begins in the mind, not merely in any one specific body part.  I also want my daughters – and my sons – to know that modesty is as much an inward action as it is an outward action.

(I think it’s noteworthy that in the Bible book “Song of Songs,” as the male author raves over his wife’s body, he raves over her whole body, not just her breasts.  Her breasts are great, to be sure, but he doesn’t fixate on them.  He praises her entire body.)

Breasts are a wonderful means that God has provided to women to feed and nourish their children; research is continually being done that proves over and over how breastmilk is truly the perfect food for babies.  God’s design cannot be fully replicated by anything man-made.  Breastfeeding is something that we should be actively encouraging as a society and a culture and a Christian culture, and we should be doing whatever we can to make breastfeeding as culturally acceptable and easy as possible for new moms.  A good first step in helping to make that happen would be to stop viewing breasts primarily as a sexual object and to start viewing them as a part of God’s plan to care for babies.


7 thoughts on “a Christian view of breasts

  1. I’m so laughing right now because Joel wrote a letter to the editor about the letters to the editor regarding FIC cover. He felt those letters shouldn’t have been published and that it was drawing even MORE attention to something that wasn’t scandalous at all and making it into something that was! He’ll be glad to know you felt the same way 🙂

  2. Well said, Emily! I think about how I’m doing my part to normalize breastfeeding and desexualize the breast every time I nurse in public! I guess that makes me a lactavist? I haven’t had a hard time of it (I come from and married into families that support breastfeeding) but I’ve heard stories from other women about how hard it can be just to feed a baby – good grief! I want it to be easier for the next generation. Maybe the normalizing we do will make it easier for our daughters and daughters-in-law to feed their babies!

  3. I am with you on the whole topic, Emily. The reaction to the Forward picture got more of a reaction from me than the photo itself. And you are right on the money with our society putting far too much in the way of sexual emphasis on a woman’s breasts. If anything, it is what the woman’s breast can do that should be bringing them the attention, not what they can do to a grown man.

  4. Emily,

    Your purposes no doubt are noble, but your project, I fear, is futile. Because the female breast has a dual God-given role. You are minimizing the one, and most guys tend to minimize the other.

    The sex drive, after all, is a God-given instinct. The problem since Genesis 3 has been in properly channeling and controlling it. But the female breast is divinely designed to play a major role in that plan. Now the guys in Africa who would not look at the lady’s knees are in the same category as the Victorians who deemd it immodest for a lady to show ankle. Modesty may have relative applications in different times and cultures, but the basics of sexual attraction are constants from God Himself. It wasn’t the knees or ankles themselves that were the source of sexual attraction; it was the entrance they provided to the slippery slope of indecent exposure that was the issue. And when St. Paul enjoins modesty he’s speaking to people who naturally recognize the innate difference between a visible ankle and a visible breast or part thereof.

    Yes, there have been many cultures where women went around bare-breasted, and it’s common enough under certain circumstances (beaches, for example) in much of Europe today. But I think it’d be hard to find a clearly Christian culture where this has been the case. And even apart from Christian morals, it seems rather unnatural for this to be an everyday norm for mixed societies.

    The reference in Song of Songs to the female breast is simply Biblical evidence that the sexual desire is not in and of itself wrong, and is permissible to refer to decently in polite company, even sacred confines.

    I never saw that FIC cover, and of course all this “coverage” of what was reportedly not covered enough has me curious. Also, legalism in this area is not only improper but impossible. Did they measure girls’ skirt lengths in any WELS school you attended? I remember it and its short-lived futility. What’s needed is immeasurable but invaluable judgment, decency, modesty, common sense, self-control.

    But to pretend that the seeming over-interest in the female breast is simply a cultural issue that can be corrected is wishful thinking, since this is innate, not culturally-produced. It’s up to guys to keep it under control and girls not to flaunt it, or to blame guys for their attraction.

    I thought I had other pearls of wisdom in mind before getting a chance to comment here, but whatever they were, they have escaped me for now. And I will withhold all the cheap puns that so easily suggest themselves on a topic like this!


  5. Once again I have a snarky dissimilarity to comment upon:

    Homosexuality is now considered normal, while breasfeeding is not. Hmm…

  6. Jon, I did not argue for women going around bare-breasted in our western culture. What I’m making a case for is that we need to de-sexualize the breast to the extent that it has been sexualized in our western culture. Our culture has no problems with dresses that show plenty of cleavage, but the sight of a mother nursing her baby is something that shouldn’t be seen in polite society. Even as recently as last week, Facebook was removing photos of nursing babies, categorizing those kinds of photos as “hateful, threatening or obscene.” This dichotomy does not make sense.

    This issue has many oppportunities for legalism, and as always, legalism should be avoided. But, as you said, “judgment, decency, modesty, common sense, self-control” are very important in the area of human sexuality, and women should exercise those aspects of morality as they choose their clothing.

    I don’t expect that the female breast will every lose its charm from the male point of view, nor do I want that. But I do think that, as a culture, we need to recognizing that besides being sexy, breasts also have the God-given use of making food for babies (and an amazingly healthy food at that!), and we need to culturally encourage that behavior for new mothers by letting nursing breasts be culturally accepted.

    I’m not advocating any specific ways to accomplish that goal, other than to point out where our culture has gone wrong. I’m not advocating women whipping their tops off to nurse their babies, but I’m definitely condemning the practice of women being forced to nurse away from polite society and/or being stuck in dirty bathrooms to nurse their babies. (Would you want to eat your lunch on a toilet?) A happy middle between both extremes will have to be decided on an individual level using both Christian discretion and Christian freedom.

    BUT, my point is that our society is very messed-up as to the point of breasts, and I want to raise awareness of this idiocy so that each person can take the steps s/he see fit in their own sphere of influence to make that stop.

    ~ Emily

Comments are closed.