Ask a man how he feels about cleavage and he’ll go all misty-eyed. He might even do a ‘cupping’ style mime as he talks whimsically about ‘nuzzling.’ Ask a woman and she’ll talk about the engineering properties of brassieres, the social implications of getting one’s cleavage out at family functions and the wisdom of putting your breasts under wraps when they’ve, you know, drooped or worse, gone crepey. Some women love the power their cleavage has over people; they buy clothes, underwear and accessories to create the illusion of fulsome chest flesh. It seems everyone, everyone – men, women, small children – love the comfort proffered by a generous bosom.
The big attraction of boobs is formed by our primal experiences – breasts are truly the milk bar of ultimate joy, the abundant fountains of nourishment and pleasure. From the first moment we rooted for our mother’s oozing nipple, we were hooked. And if psychologists are right we are all, for the rest of our lives, searching for the creamy contentment we found therein.
When Richard Burton first clapped eyes on Liz Taylor it was her bazoombas that caught his eye. In fact, they nearly took his eyes out, frankly. “Her breasts were apocalyptic,” he later boomed. “They would topple empires before they withered.” Blimey. And I thought I was big-chested.
It makes sense that a man should be drawn to a woman whose mammarian appearance suggests she is likely to provide him with healthy offspring; luscious la-las are clearly a good advert for genetic quality. Apparently, asmall nose and chin, big eyes and full lips are baby-faced characteristics that men can’t help but love. Conveniently, these features indicate high oestrogen levels, linked with fertility. The designers of Barbie dolls, Disney animators and the surgeons who created the phenomenon known as Jordan all understood the non-verbal evolutionary signals of sexual attraction. So a ‘cute’ face atop good tits is obviously a key genetic draw.
But which breast is best? Pert ‘n’ perky or proud ‘n’ pendulous? Is cleavage appeal based on size? Shape? Anti-gravity properties? When you’re looking at Kelly Brook’s fun-bumps, what is it that makes you prefer hers to Holly Willoughby’s, for example?
According to German sexologist Piero Lorenzoni: “A woman’s breasts denote a woman’s character, just like her star sign.” He has categorised breast types according to fruits and says men can draw up their own horoscope-type chart that indicates what a woman’s chest size says about her. Pert, oval-shaped breasts apparently like pineapples. “A woman with pineapple breasts is gifted, often has a career but is still romantic. They are also faithful. Whoever wins their heart will not lose it promptly.” I’m not entirely clear what a ‘pineapple breast’ looks (or tastes) like but Lorenzoni has clearly put in a great deal of man-hours trying to find out.
The idea of breast / personality classification not new. In 18th Century Spain a divination was used to discern a woman’s personality by looking at her breasts. Devotees of this method called it ‘Sternomancy’ It relied on looking at the bumps on a woman’s body from breasts to belly. Personally, I’d call it ‘blatant opportunism’ but maybe I’m being picky. Though not much is known about this art, it is highly possible that men may have dominated this practice and this may have been a damn good excuse for them to undress a pretty woman in the interests of ‘science.’
Zoologists point out that no female mammal other than the human has breasts of comparable size, relative to the rest of the body, when not lactating and that humans are the only primate that have permanently protuberant breasts. (Apart from Jodie Marsh, natch).
Ever wondered about the similarity between breast and buttock cleavage and its evolutionary purpose? Yep! Me too! Well, zoologist Desmond Morris believes that the shape of female breasts evolved as a frontal counterpart to that of the buttocks. He reckons the reason for this is that while other primates mate in the rear-entry position, humans, because of their upright posture, are more likely to successfully copulate by mating face to face, in the missionary position. In 1967 Morris suggested that cleavage would have encouraged this kind of coupling in more primitive incarnations of the human race, and a face-on encounter may have helped found a relationship between partners beyond merely a sexual one. Obviously, he’s never been down my local on a Friday night.
Various methods have been used by women in history to accentuate the allure of Happy Valley. Corsets that enhanced cleavage were introduced in the mid-16th century and by the late 18th century cleavage-enhancing corsets grew more dramatic in pushing the breasts ever chinwards. The tight lacing of corsets worn in the 19th and early 20th centuries emphasized both cleavage and the size of the bust and hips, thus exaggerating a woman’s evolutionary love lumps. Ball or evening gowns especially featured décolletage designed to display and emphasize cleavage – probably because these would be worn at night-time social occasions: when one is on the hunt for a mate, all our evolutionary arsenal should be cocked and fully loaded.
Modern bras and padding serve to project, display and emphasize the cleavage and probably the most bizarre breast-based innovation is the silicone chicken fillet. Call me prudish, but calling an aide d’amour a chicken fillet rather kills the moment. It’s fine if you’re in a long-term relationship and your fillet pops out but if you’re with a guy for the first time, it’s probably best you come clean and tell him your cleavage was inspired by Bernard Matthews before he starts doing any basting.
In contemporary Western society, the extent to which a woman may expose her breasts heavily depends on social and cultural context. For instance, getting one’s baps out at a board meeting held in a church with an entire kindergarten looking on might, in some quarters, be deemed inappropriate.
In 1953, Hollywood film The French Line shot in 3D was found objectionable under the Hays Code because of Jane Russell's "breast shots in bathtub, cleavage and breast exposure" while some of her decollete gowns were regarded to be "intentionally designed to give a bosom peep-show effect beyond even extreme decolletage". As of course, they were.
As recently as 2007, in two separate incidents Southwest Airlines crews asked travelers in the USA to modify their clothing, to wear sweaters, or to leave the plane because they did not consider the amount of cleavage displayed to be acceptable. Yet in South Africa, Wonderbra sponsors a National Cleavage Day during which women are positively encouraged to display their cleavage. Mixed messages? Hell yeah.
Women want the best breasts money can buy and consequently, breast augmentation is big biz. In 2010 Women had 90% of all cosmetic procedures, the same percentage of total procedures as in 2009. The top one was breast augmentation - up 10.3% from last year after two years of small or no increases (which is actually an ironic way of putting it when you think about it).
And what of man-breasts? Plastic surgery statistics in the UK show a record number of "man boob" reduction operations as the rise in demand outstrips that for all other procedures - including women's breast enlargement.
Figures published by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPs) – yes, that really is its acronym - showed operations to correct gynecomastia in men grew by 27.5%, while overall male cosmetic surgery grew by 6.6%.
The association's audit reveals 581 male breast reduction operations were performed by members in 2009, up from 323 in 2008. Five years ago, just 22 gynecomastia operations were performed on men. The association represents one in three plastic surgeons, so the UK total is likely to be more than 1,000 operations. That’s a lot of unwanted moobs. Maybe men regard their jiggling breasts as being too ‘feminine,’ detracting too bouncily from their more turgid procreative appeal.
In summary, we can say that our fascination with cleavage is biologically programmed. So next time you’re admonished for ogling a lady’s brimming num-nums, just blame Charles Darwin.