Itty Bitty Titty Committee

No matter what your breasts look like, they are not good enough.

It’s the late 1960s. I am at the movie theater with a bunch of my straight school chums, none of whom are aware of my disinterest in women’s bits and all of whom are breast-obsessed. We are here to see Performance, a trendy, louche movie starring Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, and Michele Breton as three drug-addled funsters who while away their bohemian Notting Hill lives in various sexual triangulations. There is no shortage of nudity. At one point Mick and his two playthings splash about in the bath. While I try desperately to catch a glimpse of Mick’s bottie, my pals focus on the chests of the two ladies. Later, at the pub, my dude pals kvelled enthusiastically about Pallenberg’s modest knockers. Special praise was reserved for Breton’s pert, little, no-brassiere-needed appendages. As far as my pals were concerned, boulder boobs were for barmaids and strippers. Cool girls like Twiggy, Ali McGraw, Mia Farrow, and the above-mentioned degenerates were all highly desirable, despite being small of tit.

Images of Mademoiselle Breton’s boobies came flooding back on a recent trip to the cinema. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is, as those of you have seen it will be painfully aware, intermittently enlivened with startling bursts of no-holds-barred sado-masochistic porn. Whenever the narrative starts flagging, off come the clothes, and here come Rooney Mara’s modest, well-shaped natural chests.

During the non-porn, fully clothed segments of the movie, I found myself speculating as to whether the ferociously compelling Miss Mara, with her uninflated mammaries, might possess the power to usher out the era of the porno-hooter? Can she put the natural knocker back up where it belongs? Might The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo repopularize the smaller breast, or Bristol, as it is known in the Cockney rhyming slang of my homeland? (Bristol City = tittie.)

It’s a funny thing, what Simon Doonan is doing here: He’s arguing from the basic assumption that among straight men today, small breasts are universally deemed unattractive. And large breasts are fake. And back in the day, small breasts were attractive because they were class markers of the “cool girls” who you wanted to hang out with, not the “barmaids and strippers” who you undoubtedly fucked but probably didn’t want to be seen in public with.

I realize that, as far as red-blooded heterosexuals are concerned, there is no issue here. Straight dudes are too busy enjoying the current era of the mega-boob to give a thought to any alternative. In this regard, they are most selfish. After all, lots of women lust after men with tight soccer-player buns, but how many of you pudgy straight guys would willingly undergo surgery to achieve this effect for your lady’s delectation?

At the end of the day, health concerns may well cut the cackle. The New York Times recently ran a story about the recall of thousands of dodgy, leaky implants. French health authorities have advised 30,000 women to explant those suspect implants ASAP. Similar warnings have followed in Germany and the Netherlands.

Ah yes, it’s just that he’s concerned for your health, really. Because women just wouldn’t have large breasts without implants, right? And women who do have implants are shallow silly sluts (he won’t say that, of course).

There is of course something to be said about beauty culture, and the lengths women (to a much greater degree than men) are willing to go (and are expected to go) to fit a fairly narrow model of attractiveness. And there is something to be said about the normalization of large breasts when, as I’m writing this post, I am about to call myself “small of tit” and then I remember that I’m between a B and a C-cup and in what universe that is abnormally, notably “small” is beyond me. And there is something to be said about the assumption that larger (but not too large!) breasts are assumed to be more attractive when I assume that saying I am “small of tit” will be understood as an admission of less-than-attractiveness.

But really, what the Doonan article comes down to is who is considered a “woman” in his estimation. Because he’s not talking about women generally — he’s talking about women who are stereotypically bangable. Women who are thin and white and young and able-bodied and have big tits but otherwise might have small tits. Not women who are fat, or who are old, or whose big breasts aren’t at a right angle from their rib cages, or whose “mega-breasts” aren’t DD cups but are F or G or H cups or larger, or who just aren’t “hot” for whatever reason. I’m pretty sure women like that aren’t even on the radar screen here.

Or whatever, just read Kate.

About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Beauty, Class, Gender and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to Itty Bitty Titty Committee

  1. Donna L says:

    God. Another one for the “women can’t win no matter what” category.

    I do hope this doesn’t turn into another 300-post thread about breast implants. (But if it does, I’m sure it’ll be all trans people’s fault!)

  2. Azalea says:

    I can’t….Im fucking pissed. I grew this J’s naturally years of painful ass mammory/pectoral growth and two breastfeeding stints gave me the unreal 34Js I have. They kill my back n shoulders but they are as real as my heart, brain and lungs. Im not a sex worker Im not a barmaid but somehow growing naturally large breasts determines my career choice and social life. FUCK THAT!!!

  3. Jenna says:

    Not new, but still bleak. There is no right way to be female it seems. I’m glad for the heads up about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I was planning on watching it, but now I think I’ll pass…

  4. igglanova says:

    I, for one, look forward to the day when men finally shut the fuck up about other people’s breasts. You have a unique sexual taste! Sweet, me too! THE WORLD DOESN’T NEED TO HEAR ABOUT IT EVERY 6 SECONDS.

  5. Anna says:

    Oh, we have come such a long way since the “real women have curves” era. Everyone will have their turn to be objectified!

  6. Esti says:

    Not really on-topic, but the description of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is not remotely accurate. There are some fairly graphic rape scenes that are relatively short, and there is one very brief consensual sex scene. There is nothing remotely akin to “sado-masochistic porn” in it, and I think anyone who believes the rape scenes were intended to be titillating kind of missed the point.

  7. Caperton says:

    Jenna: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo does include some very, very intense, potentially triggering, scenes that involve nudity–and I actually have a post coming up about that–but only the most twisted fuck on the planet would see them as “bursts … of porn.” There are certainly reasons not to see it, if you choose not to, but the threat of a titty show isn’t one of them.

  8. The very idea of a “trend piece” about anatomy is itself disgusting. It positions bodies — women’s bodies, or bodies assumed to be women’s bodies because people tend to impose their conceptions of gender whether it fits people or not — as commodities for consumption.

    Trend pieces should actually be about inaminate objects. Monochrome ties are out! Motif ties are in! This is a trend piece! It’s actionable information. Folks can make purchase decisions in tableware and windowdressing and clothes based on what’s in and out — of course, feeding all the while a highly unequal consumer society, etc.

    But the media’s creation of body trends is just inherently wrong. It’s not fair to the presumed female object: women can’t just pick their anatomy based on trends, and shouldn’t have to even if they could. It’s not fair to the presumed male subject: my sexual subjectivity, first, shouldn’t be exclusively a product of kyriarchal privilege; it’s a human right. And second, they don’t speak for my preferences and neither does a marketing survey. I am neither wierd nor wrong if what I find attractive doesn’t match the media’s narrative.

    Finally, the whole positioning of bodies (only women’s bodies) as consumables is just fucking gross. My sex partners are not, and have never been, bodies. They’re people. The body and the mind are not separate units.

    In the far future if we can all have some advanced technology craft the bodies we want and I can look like Spock for one partner and Nightcrawler for another, then I’ll look forward to the return of the body-part-trend-piece.

  9. figleaf says:

    Not to sound tetchy here but WTF? Simon Doonan simply doesn’t sound qualified to explain the ways women are sexually attractive to men.

    Seriously, he sounds like little kids trying to explain the “mushy” parts of a movie they had to watch with their parents.

    It’s like listening to a straight person try and tell you that the more a gay man cross-dresses the more attractive he becomes to other gay men.

    Um, no, that would be as stupidly ill-informed as Doonan’s speculations about men and breast preferences.

    It’s not that there aren’t some men on the planet who think big breasts are great. Heck, there are gay men who think female-impersonators are hella hot. But characterizations like that are, oh what’s the word again? Stereotypes? And like a lot of stereotypes about “others” with which you have little in common, it’s kind of not really true about very many people the stereotypes are supposed to typify.

    A real WTF, though, and a real reflection of the power of stereotypes, is that reflex feeling we get when they’re repeated in ways we’re not conscious of. So when someone who’s main credentials appear to be “creative ambassador for Barneys New York” says something about men and giant hooters you reflexively assigned yourself to the “itty bitty tittie club.” Even though if you wear a B-to-C cup bra then, yeah, you’re not. Doonan just says you are.

    Stereotypes, they’re powerful, insidious stuff. Also, stereotypes? They’re what people make up when they don’t have an f-ing clue.

    What I really want to know, though, and what I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, is how much of peer pressure and sex and gender stereotyping originates with people like Doonan who, rather than speaking with authority are basically faking it?

    figleaf

  10. Figleaf, everyone who tries to do what Doonan is trying to do is basically faking it, in the sense that desire is personal and we can all only speak for ourselves. There is no authority in desire.

  11. Emolee says:

    That article is so insulting. One of the worst things about it is that it completely erases so many people (as Jill points out). Big breasts would still exist on a lot of people even if no one had any breast surgeries. But perhaps many of them would be the “wrong” kinds of people or the people that do not exist in an analysis of “wat is hawt.”

    And Kate’s piece is great.

  12. Donna L says:

    And Kate’s piece is great.

    I only wish she hadn’t brought up The Crying Game. That was — I’ll just say unnecessary.

  13. figleaf says:

    Oh, and just to be clear, I’m not objecting that Doonan is mistaken about “what straight men really like instead.” (Because who knows!?!?! “Straight men” is a pretty big sample to try and characterize!)

    Instead I’m objecting to his making blanket declarations about anybody based on stereotypes, Saturday Night Live sketches, National Inquirer covers, and maybe Disney movies.

    figleaf

  14. benvolio says:

    For a guy who’s worked in fashion, Doonan’s assertion that big breasted women have been ‘in style’ or ‘in-demand’ is particularly laugh-worthy. Because it’s been so freaking easy to find a woven garment in my size to fit over my large breasts all these years.

    Douchenozzle.

  15. Dominique says:

    My tits are not, nor were they ever, a fashion accessory. Get some bangles and leave me out of it. Thank you.

  16. figleaf says:

    Aaand now that I’m back from getting my rear windshield fixed (not a euphemism) it occurs to me that the whole “men’s fascination with big boobs” theory is only as timeless as the ‘winger notion of “traditional marriage.” To the extent they were true at all they only really existed between the early 1950s and the early 1970s.

    In other words, once again, the meme is great stereotype fodder but not particularly true.

    figleaf

  17. firelizard19 says:

    Yeah, I read that article on Slate a minute ago, before clicking over to Feministe, and just found it odd more than anything. The guy was having a lot of fun with breast puns, but that seemed to be the only point. Though it was *really* weird and skeevy that he equated violent rape scenes with porn. I mean, what kinds of issues do you have to have to think that’s supposed to be a turn-on rather than a shocking and painful thing to watch?

  18. sabrina says:

    just want to chime in and say that the girl with the dragon tattoo is most definitely not about sado masochistic porn, and anyone who would have taken the time to read the fucking book would understand that. There really is no excuse for missing the fucking point by that large of a margin. As to the breast comments, I’d have him know that my natural DDD’s are not a fucking fashion accessory so much as a back breaking pain in the ass.

  19. Tess says:

    The only men who make stereotypical comments about women’s breasts are the one’s who don’t know what they are talking about. A women can have large breasts and they can be PERFECTLY natural. I don’t know how many times I’ve been objectified for my naturally grown D-cups. No, I’m not a stripper, nor a prostitute. I have a PhD in criminal law and I teach at one of the most highly acclaimed law schools in the country. Don’t give me crap because of my genetics and heritage, because I’ll throw it right back at you.

  20. Corazon says:

    “As far as my pals were concerned, boulder boobs were for barmaids and strippers. Cool girls like Twiggy, Ali McGraw, Mia Farrow, and the above-mentioned degenerates were all highly desirable, despite being small of tit.”

    Ahh, the virgin/whore dichotomy. Still alive and kicking even in the second decade of the 21st century.

  21. j. says:

    Simon Doonan wrote an equally creepy and smarmy piece about going through some of Marilyn Monroe’s old clothes (I can’t remember how he had access to them) and sneering at how she was much “fatter” than everybody remembers. Oh, and he has a new book out called Gay Men Don’t Get Fat.

  22. Angie unduplicated says:

    Kate might look up Jimmy Murdock, if he’s still alive. He put Chippendales together from the relayed request of a fourteen-year-old feminist, and might be game to do an actual restaurant.
    Sexualization of mammaries became a quiet horror to me after an acquaintance was murdered and her breasts cut off, among other indignities. I’ll never lose my suspicion of the “tit man”.

  23. kungfulola says:

    Simon Doonan wrote an equally creepy and smarmy piece about going through some of Marilyn Monroe’s old clothes (I can’t remember how he had access to them)

    He has had a long career in the fashion industry. He wrote Confessions Of A Window Dresser, about how he got his start designing window displays for high-end department stores in NYC. Much of his horrible attitude makes sense when you consider it in context of someone who makes his living off of appearances and shallow spectacle.

  24. Elena says:

    And for anyone who’s actually seen Performance, Anita’s boobies are not tiny–I’d say they’re mid size for that era. Michele was 14 when that movie was filmed, so yeah, hers are very small.

    I’m not even going to comment on the objectification/overall silliness of this article. It’ll just get me too worked up. And really, who made Doonan a tittie expert? Did he earn a Ph.D in boobology from FunBags U? AAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRR…I’m sure he’d point at me and say “barmaid! slut! hussy! stripper! trollop!” this piece just makes him sound like such an eejit.

    keep your opinions away from my boobies. mmkay?

  25. Azalea says:

    women can have large breasts and they can be PERFECTLY natural. I don’t know how many times I’ve been objectified for my naturally grown D-cups. No, I’m not a stripper, nor a prostitute. I have a PhD in criminal law and I teach at one of the most highly acclaimed law schools in the country. Don’t give me crap because of my genetics and heritage, because I’ll throw it right back at you.

    Exactly, I can’t tell you how pissed off I was when I read this. The stereotypes don’t stop; being a POC (check), being a woman (check), being a working mom (check), having large breasts (check). At some point you’d think the ridiculousness of these stereotypes would just go away. He isn’t even the first to suggest that if a woman hasl large breasts that aren’t sagging they’re fake, or she’s a sex worker, or she “gets around” like the size of my breasts dictate how many sexual partners I’ve had, what I do for a living, whether or not I’d be an alcoholic/bar groupie etc (barmaid, seriously?! wtf is a barmaid?).

  26. Dao says:

    This reminds me of articles on hair. Every few years an article is published in some fashion magazine on how curly hair is in style. Well, I’m so glad my curls are suddenly in style as if they’re some fashion accessory.

  27. DonnaL says:

    I have a PhD in criminal law and I teach at one of the most highly acclaimed law schools in the country.

    Not that I disagree with your point, but I’m curious. Advanced degrees for attorneys aren’t called Ph.D.’s; the equivalent law degree would be a J.S.D. (or S.J.D.). Do you mean you have a Ph.D. in criminology? That’s not exactly the same thing.

  28. Drew says:

    Dominique 1.20.2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink
    My tits are not, nor were they ever, a fashion accessory.

    I am a huge fan of this. Thank you.

  29. Kristen J. says:

    @Donna,

    More recently some law profs call the jsd/sjd degree a phd and some programs including Berkley I think are calling that advanced degree a phd particularly if there are any interdisciplanary aspects to the degree. probably makes the degree more marketable.

  30. BigRed says:

    His misconception is imo incapsulated in:

    “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is, as those of you have seen it will be painfully aware, intermittently enlivened with startling bursts of no-holds-barred sado-masochistic porn.”

    Unless I miss something there are a forced blowjob and a rape — nothing masochistic about that — a lesbian make-out scene and two heterosexual sex scenes — neither nor. I am not a fan of marginalizing someone bc of their opinion but I believe that this interpretation gives a clue to his pov.

    More generally: between twiggy and double-Ds, I just fail to see how either of these unnatural bodies should be attractive — guess I have my own hangups.

  31. Xeginy says:

    More generally: between twiggy and double-Ds, I just fail to see how either of these unnatural bodies should be attractive — guess I have my own hangups.

    Did you just say that thin women and women with large breasts (DDs) have “unnatural bodies”?

  32. igglanova says:

    More generally: between twiggy and double-Ds, I just fail to see how either of these unnatural bodies should be attractive — guess I have my own hangups.

    *spits*

    Oh dear, here we go. I have more than a few friends of the aforementioned shapes who would be rightly pissed if you’d said something this insulting to their faces. Shouldn’t rightly be considered attractive? Goddamn, man, those are fightin’ words.

    Please tell me you don’t actually think that the cause of feminism is propelled forward because you have a slightly different opinion from the ‘mainstream’ of where the boundaries of acceptable femininity lie.

  33. DonnaL says:

    I’d love to hear an explanation of the “unnatural” comment.

  34. Caperton says:

    More generally: between twiggy and double-Ds, I just fail to see how either of these unnatural bodies should be attractive — guess I have my own hangups.

    Aaand now I’m having flashbacks to my single days, when guys would try to impress us with their sensitive-guyness by saying earnestly that they didn’t understand why all those shallow guys were into big boobs, since these sensitive guys thought big boobs were gross and little boobs were wonderful. This would, of course, always be delivered to my thinner, prettier, blonder, less-endowed friend, while I looked down at my D-cups and told them I loved them anyway.

  35. igglanova says:

    Aaand now I’m having flashbacks to my single days, when guys would try to impress us with their sensitive-guyness by saying earnestly that they didn’t understand why all those shallow guys were into big boobs, since these sensitive guys thought big boobs were gross and little boobs were wonderful.

    It’s so fuckin’ weird, eh? Like these people are so literally incapable of thinking in a way that does not prioritize the male gaze that they think ‘well this is what I find attractive’ is a legitimate statement of support. Dumbass, the fact that women are coerced into conforming to a standard at all is the problem! Yeesh. Women’s lot in life is not advanced if you simply move the goalposts on what men consider hot or not. For fuck’s sake.

    I mean, that scene in ‘Mad Men’ where Don Draper comforts his wife by telling her that ‘some men like thick eyebrows’ was not supposed to show us how enlightened he was.

  36. Tori says:

    More generally: between twiggy and double-Ds, I just fail to see how either of these unnatural bodies should be attractive — guess I have my own hangups.

    Guess you do.

  37. Glass says:

    I just fail to see how either of these unnatural bodies should be attractive

    My partner as well as her mom and aunts all have DD or larger breasts naturally and the back pain and discomfort to go with it. So if you actually meant how this sounds you should probably go fuck yourself now.

    ‘Kaythanksbye

  38. Devorgile says:

    One thing that really bothered me about Doonan’s article is the assumption that the size a woman’s breasts happen to grow to somehow TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT WHAT SHE IS LIKE AS A PERSON. Jobs as barstaff or strippers are to be held only by large-breasted women, and ‘cool girls’ must be ‘small of tit’ apparently.

    On another note, I could not think of one media portrayal of a ‘cool’ female character that wasn’t directly linked to her sexiness (in contrast to the dozens of leathery-skinned male action heroes who are revered as supremely cool) – until I saw The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Lisbeth Salander is one badass motherfucker. Doonan seems to have realised this and concluded ‘oh hold on, a woman can’t be cool without being sexy, since sex appeal is a woman’s only valuable quality! so how does this chick get away with it? it must be that itty bitty titties are in this season!’

  39. Azalea says:

    Glass @ 37, Thank you because that…how the hell. Who thought that was ok to post on a feminist website?

  40. Azalea says:

    DonnaL 1.21.2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    I’d love to hear an explanation of the “unnatural” comment.

    I can tell you what that means, since I was a little girl I was told I would probably grow up to be heavy chested like my mom and aunts and there would be people who would have something snide to say about it. Well, by the time I was a teenager and it became clear I was already heavy chested and it would probably get heavier, “boob jobs” were well known. I was told my chest was fake (skinny girls dont have heavy chests). Pfft Now that I have a small waist, my heavy chest and heavy bottom I have an “anime” body, yup, my entire body is fictional because , society says so. You dont get to have my shape at my weight unless you paid for it apparently. Thats why the talk of unnatural and unattainable body types make me very uneasy. I was a DDD before I was 18 and they’ve grown since to J’s. All natural but my “unnatural” looking body type is very much so all real. Im not the only woman in the world built like this but because my natural shape isn’t shown much in the media its “unreal” and according to some people on the internet unattractive.

  41. Azalea says:

    And just to be clear, I am no longer a skinny girl, I have a small waist/back but Im not skinny anymore. Still, big breats have been deemed fake, now big butts are being deemed as fake too.

  42. shfree says:

    Well, unless someone’s body makes little “click wrr” machine sounds when they walk around, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say their bodies are natural.

  43. miga says:

    True story, y’all:

    My mom took my little sister and me bra fitting. The attendant was helping my sister (who has always been well endowed) with her fitting while I looked around. When my mom called me over for my turn the fitter took one look at my small chest and laughed something about me being the “other end of the street, now”, simultaneously mortifying both myself and my sister in one fell swoop.

    This article feels like the same thing.

  44. lacyuu says:

    I read through the comments in the article and was scared how one commenter suggested every woman with a DD cup or higher should get breast reduction to reduce back pain. First, I got an E cup myself and I don’t have back problems (thanks to a well-fitting bra, I noticed many women, including me, wearing the wrong size, whenever I wear one of my less-well-fitting older bras the back pain returns). And suggesting an extremely painful surgery which carries risks for everybody who doesn’t fit in a certain pattern is just the same as saying women with very small breats ought to get breast augmentation. I don’t want to live in a world where there are only B and C-cups (I guess the fashion industry would be happy though, this is already the standard for many stores)

  45. David says:

    I am a male of some years. I have thought about women’s bodies all of my waking life. Not all men are obsesses with size when it comes to breasts. In fact I believe that many are not, that this notion was sold to us by Hefner and his ilk and has come to be supported by critics of men and so the beat goes on…. Most men I know and have talked with are in fact goofy about breasts of any size, if the women who have them like their own breasts and if the women respond to their mate touching, etc, if they enjoy the male’s appreciation of their breasts, if they make them available for appreciation in a good and whole hearted way. Personally I am intimidated by too much….I just wish women enjoyed their breasts as much as I would like to

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