Katy Perry's breasts have been giving her trouble of late. First, they got her cut from her appearance on Sesame Street because it was decided that the stylist had put her in a top that showed too much décolletage. Second, this week we learned from the Daily Mail that "[her] representatives asked for her 34D breasts to be Photoshopped smaller in a new promotional poster".
Our breasts are part and parcel of ourselves, but it's easy to feel distanced from them in light of how often they are regarded as if they are entities quite apart from our bodies. This range from media dissection of the issue of whether a celebrity is sporting the correct ones, as in the case of Katy Perry, to the depressingly-common experience of having your breasts addressed in conversation as if they are separate from the rest of yourself.
Even many well-meaning breast cancer awareness campaigns draw on these themes relying on innuendo and jokes that see breasts as comical accessories rather than organs. The dispiriting breast-shaped cupcakes that one company sent me come particularly to mind - they were hard to enjoy with a nice cup of tea when every single one of the women in my family in the generation above mine have fought the disease.
And perhaps even more disconcerting than the way our breasts are considered to be separate from our bodies as a whole is the way in which we are also held responsible for their appearance, as they were a pair of earrings or shoes: changeable accessories. Like Katy, we are damned if they're too big, and damned if they're too small - which, of course, also depends on the time of day or the dress that we're wearing. Women with larger breasts are blamed for being intentionally provocative if they don't want to wear a polo neck at all times; women with smaller breasts are judged not sexy enough. This despite the fact that we have arguably less natural control over the way that our breasts turn out than other parts of our bodies, since their size and shape is mainly dictated by genetics, and can't really be altered by exercise.
But an imperfect pair is reason for panic, as was driven home to me some years ago when I went to have my bra size fitted at a leading Oxford Street department store. The sales assistant took one look at my décolletage and screechingly declared them to be "totally weird" because, she said, my breasts were not perfectly symmetrical (a difference so subtle that I had actually never noticed it myself). I apologised, and allowed her to continue, ridden with guilt that I had presented her with such a difficult professional challenge - only later considering that I should perhaps suggest that she should not be so rude about her customers' bodies. Would it have been fair game if, say, I was shopping for jumpers and one of my arms was slightly longer than the other? I suspect not: we have accepted that breasts are available for public critique unlike any other body part.
Thank goodness, then, that technology has stepped into the breach: providing us with minimizing bras and push-up bras and a wide range of surgical procedures that will help us to achieve whatever bosom has been designated as appropriate for the season. Just because there's a way, I'd suggest, doesn't mean that we should allow the collective will to make us thing that we should resize these body parts any more than we should act to lengthen a shortish neck or truncate a leg that demands an outsized inseam. Our breasts are part and parcel of our whole selves, and it's time to stop acknowledging people or ways of thinking that regard them as anything but.
On top of her role at Glamour.com, Jean Hannah Edelstein is also the author of Himglish and Femalese: Why Women Don't Get Why Men Don't Get Them. Check out her blog at www.jeanhannahedelstein.com