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Women > Breasts > Breasts In History

Isis and HorusOur changing view of the human body

It is difficult to look back at history and see how women felt about their own breasts as today our bodies are so highly politicised, and modern civilisation is in a crisis of understanding and appreciating our own human body.

In tribal cultures until today, the only value placed on breasts was for the nourishment of children, no one cared or took notice of bare breasts or what shape they were. What was more important was that a woman could produce sufficient milk for her babies, be a capable companion and a good community member.

In the most ancient art, the breasts were celebrated for their nourishment and the fact that all life comes into being through women.  There was great reverence and worship of women, but with the advent of agriculture and the growth of societies which began about 20,000 years ago, the roles and social positions of women changed, they became chattels to be owned by the parent and then the husband(s).

Every culture is different with different needs and understandings. Back in antiquity there is the story of an Amazon queen who cut off one breast as it interfered with her ability to shoot with bow and arrow.  Archaeologists believe the first clothing was invented about seventy thousand years ago simply for warmth.  When Rome ruled the known world two thousand years ago, clothing was an accessory and public nudity was common as was sex in public or mixed company.

Jesus himself is reported to have said "When you disrobe without being ashamed and take up your garments and place them under your feet like little children and tread on them, then [will you see] the Son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid." The Gospel of Thomas.

The modern era

I'm so prettyThroughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the ideal breasts were celebrated in poems, dialogues and artworks. The standard of beauty meant that a woman with small breasts and wide hips was more adored. The perfect breasts were high and round like fruit, small and quite wide apart. It is about this time that in Western culture the breasts  became erotic symbols. This new concept arose from a culture of art that had until then, portrayed breasts in a sacred manner - like that of Mary offering her breast to Jesus. This image is thought to stem from a much older Egyptian image of Isis offering her breast to her baby Horus.

With industrialisation and mass manufacturing coinciding with Victorian ethics, new ideas about fashion and morality evolved. These ideas were shaped in part by commerce in that the industrialists promoted the new ideas and sold garments to match, and the people conformed and covered up.

By the time of Jesus and despite the Roman and Greek attitudes where public nudity was normal, in the East women were valuable possessions and forced to cover up by their men for protection, an attitude we still see in Middle Eastern and Islamic customs today.  These women today although being forced to wear a hijab and cover their entire body in public will wear modern and sexy garments underneath, and in the privacy of their own homes, dress as any internationally 'normal' woman.  Those women forced to wear a hijab at home who go to the West without their husbands often immediately adopts the dress style of her new community.

Modern texts and art dedicated to breasts are typically from an aesthetic or erotic viewpoint as it seems everyone loves the soft curves of breasts and the differences between every woman's body; perhaps an instinctive appreciation for the gift of life from our our own mothers


When looking at the multi-billion dollar industry that surrounds breasts, perhaps we could say that most women are simply confused. In essence we live in a civilisation based on lies and half truths presented by our irresponsible media for profit and political gain.

Renaissance women tried to attain and keep those high apple-like breasts they saw in the arts. Beauty manuals of the time suggested a range of products from infusions made of ivy, rose oil and camphor to formulas containing crushed pearls and lard. Women even applied liquids that contained pigeon droppings and toad’s eyes to their breasts, or bound them up with bands dipped in vinegar and crushed lily bulbs, and many upper class women sent their children to wet nurses instead of breast-feeding which they believed may ‘spoil’ their breasts. Nude in nature

Another modern development is breast support, corsets came into fashion about the 15th century for the bourgeois and noble ladies. By constricting the waist and pushing up the breasts, they caused many ills that afflicted women as corsets crushed the internal organs inhibiting function, and around the start of the 20th century the bra or brassier was invented.

The bra has no scientific or medical grounds for its general use, its a symbol of oppression and control. The bra however creates illusions that the breasts are other than what they are.

Today's beauty ideal is for a woman to have a skinny body with bounteous breasts, this has given rise to the breast enhancement industry with plastic surgery and the safer herbal enhancement options.

For many active women today, her breasts are two edged; they get in the way of an active lifestyle but are also socially important as women also sell their breasts, and breasts are used to sell products completely unrelated to them!  You could say that breasts have become an industry and are appropriately displayed for personal, political or financial gain in boardrooms, competitions, clubs and bars.

What ever happened to the sacredness and simple appreciation of beauty?

As in the right image, perhaps it's time you set yourself free.

Further reading
The brassier
Breasts in perspective
Breast enhancement
The Gospel of Thomas.
Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence



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