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.