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When it comes to breasts, I don’t care if you take them out

Lots of stuff makes me mad. Schoolyard bullies, border cops, airline fees, trans fats, people who don't vaccinate their children, stinginess, litterbugs, cabbies who smoke, fear mongers, waiters who glare at crying babies. I could go on, but I won't. (You're welcome.)

The point is, I have never had a problem getting my knickers in a knot; I'm a columnist for heaven's sake – a professional panty twister. But there is one thing I cannot get properly worked up about any more, and that is boobs. Breasts, bangers, mams, funbags, knockers, whatever you want to call them, are suddenly all the rage again (I'll get to why in a moment).

Personally, I don't care if you take them out or keep them in. I'm not bothered if they obsess or madden you, or both in equal measure. It doesn't matter to me if they droop or bounce or perch rigidly at attention like a pair of plump, pointy-beaked partridges under a sweater. Side boob doesn't excite me, nor does underboob, cleavage, wardrobe malfunctions or Beyoncé's nipple costume.

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I don't care about mine and I don't care about yours and I certainly don't care about Jessica Biel's. (Her relationship with Justin Timberlake, on the other hand, is a whole other matter.)

And yet increasingly I am getting the feeling that, as a woman and a feminist, I am supposed to have a grand opinion on the matter of breasts. Instead, I side with my four-year-old stepson who, whenever he sees a naked pair, bursts into a fit of giggles, points, and shouts, "Boobies!" That, if you ask me, is a perfectly logical and emotionally appropriate reaction.

So you can imagine my response last week when I was asked several times on Facebook to "like" a page called No to Titler at Tatler. The campaign was an indignant response to the British society magazine's May-edition feature entitled Titler, which featured a pictorial roundup of "the most magnificent, marvellous breasts in all society," and included those of former MP Louise Mensch and sports broadcaster Clare Balding.

The social-media campaigners, who also set up a Twitter account, @titler, demanded the magazine give an immediate retraction and apology for "objectifying respected public figures" through "picturing and characterizing their breasts." The campaign aimed to get 2,000 "likes" in 14 days. Instead, they got 141 "likes" and a whole bunch of articles written about them – articles with clever headlines like "Tempest in a D-Cup" (har har) that invariably ran with gratuitous cleavage shots – which, if you think about it, sort of defeated the whole point of the exercise.

This silliness sums up my feeling on the bare-breast debate: I see that it is ludicrous, and yet I can't avert my eyes. That's the thing about breasts, they are thoroughly absurd, and yet our cultural fascination with them persists. Why? Giggle. Point. "Boobies!" That's why. It may be childish of us, but we just can't look away.

Meanwhile, it came to light earlier this week that Lego will stop advertising in Britain's national Sun tabloid because of its legendary Page 3 spread, which features a different topless glamour model daily. The move was part of the latest public campaign (there have been several over the years) to get Sun proprietor Rupert Murdoch to axe the popular feature, thus ruining the first morning smoke for climate-change-denying cabbies across the nation. Murdoch has been characteristically unmoved.

But the feminist campaign, led by actor and novelist Lucy-Anne Holmes, is gaining traction. The Girl Guides have also spoken out against Page 3, and the supermarket chain Waitrose is said to be considering removing The Sun from its shelves. Holmes is currently lobbying Prime Minister David Cameron to join ranks against the bare boobs, and the online petition she launched has roughly 100,000 signatures. "The paper is always showing pictures of men in suits doing things," Holmes has said, "while women just stand around in their underpants."

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I agree that the endemic objectification of women in the media is a problem. But would it really be solved if those girls in just underpants simply put on a bra? Is Canada any less sexist than Britain because our Sunshine Girls cover their nipples? I don't think so.

If anything, we'd be better off campaigning for more visible boobs, not fewer, by which I mean: more boobs in parliament, more boobs on company boards, more boobs in positions of power generally – not bare ones, of course, but boobs all the same.

When breasts do pop out, I find it hard to get angry at the sight of them, because they are mostly innocuous, so round and soft and squishy. But I'm all for using them for threatening purposes if necessary. I might not "like"No Titler at Tatler, but I certainly like Femen, an international group of mad radical feminists who run around the world baring their chests in order to get their message across. (I think it's something about gender equality, but it's hard to tell with all the bangers bouncing around.)

Their most recent protest, earlier this month, involved several topless women covered in body paint outside a Brussels mosque. They were there in support of a Tunisian woman who is reportedly at risk after posting online naked pictures of herself covered in anti-Islamic slogans. As far as I know, she didn't make the Titler list, which is a shame.

In the meantime, I'm all for Femen and their tongue-in-cheek approach to activism, which cleverly appeals to the four-year-old boy in all of us: Giggle. Point. "Boobies!"

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About the Author

Leah McLaren is a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. She’s published two novels, The Continuity Girl (2007) and A Better Man (2015) both with HarperCollins Canada and Hachette in the USA. The first was a Canadian bestseller, though the second is actually much better. More


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