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by Sarah DiRoma May 14, 2010

They say laughter is the best therapy, and we wanted to perk things up by exploring the breast with a more lighthearted approach. We know that one size does not fit all in the bosom world, but there is no denying how the breast has influenced our world throughout time and how our world has influenced the breast. All body parts considered, it is safe to say that breasts measure up as two of the most arousing features in the anatomical structure and have long served as a source of preoccupation, exploitation, intrigue, and sensuality. Whether they are round and peppy, high or low, engorged or deflated, breasts have a way of attracting attention and causing a stir. Let’s face it, we live in a breast-obsessed society, to the point where surgical enhancements and the Wonderbra are commonplace in our beauty vernacular.

So why are we so fascinated with breasts?
In many Western cultures, there is an undeniable paradox as it relates to the female bosom. We are conditioned to believe that they should be kept undercover, but when they are exposed, we tend to look on with mesmerized eyes. One could suggest this modern viewpoint is attributed to our culture’s puritanical roots that harvested a more conservative approach to nudity and sex, leaving us with a compelling attraction to the so-called forbidden fruit. This is by no means an endorsement of demeaning the female anatomy, yet we cannot deny that breasts have been synonymous with beauty and sexuality throughout the ages.

Let’s first embark on a physiology lesson to really understand the anatomy of the breast. Female breasts are primarily composed of mammary glands, but they also contain an abundance of fat and connective tissue, giving them shape, softness, size, and fullness. Less conspicuous components of the female breast include milk ducts, lobes, lobules, arteries and lymph nodes. Of course, we cannot forget the areolas and nipples, which are also known for coming in different shapes, sizes, and colors.

It is no secret that not all breasts are created equal, yet it really wasn’t until the twentieth century that these differences were properly accommodated in the undergarment department.

Prior to the official advent of the bra, the cleavage- friendly corset enjoyed a rather long reign in female fashion and beauty. This complicated contraption was used to reduce the waist in an effort to exaggerate the breasts and hips, creating an appealing hourglass figure. The cumbersome, comfort-challenged corset would lift, push and pull the female body into voluptuous torture and could actually reduce waist size to as low as 13 inches, sometimes less, depending on body type. So how did the corset come about? The invention of the corset is attributed to Catherine de Médicis, wife of King Henri II of France. Around 1550, she enforced a ban on thick waists, preferring that ladies in waiting cinch their waists for court attendances, thus starting over 350 years of whalebones, steel rods and midriff misery.

The corset was finally outdone by the first modern brassiere, patented in 1913 by New York socialite Mary Phelps Jacob. One evening, Jacobs was changing into her newly purchased, sheer evening gown for one of her social events. At that time, the only acceptable undergarment was a corset stiffened with whaleback bones. Jacob found that the whalebones were just not working with her outfit because they poked out and were visible around the plunging neckline and under the sheer fabric. Like any female caught in the midst of a wardrobe malfunction, she summoned her creative genius and feverishly jerry-rigged a makeshift contraption conducive to her attire. In lieu of the uncooperative corset, Jacob craftily used two silk handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon to keep her breasts intact, and just like that the modern brassiere was born. Eventually, Jacob sold her brassiere patent to The Warner Brothers Corset Company, which is known for introducing cup sizes A, B, C and D to provide more options and comfort for women. Since then, the bra has continued to evolve, and now all of womankind is likely to find the right fit for their form.

Whether you have too much or not enough, the quest for perfect breasts is not just about comfortable undergarments. These days, whether you prefer a push-up bra or a visit to the plastic surgeon, the simple swipe of a credit card can give you a bust booster if you can’t fill your desired cup size. If you need to get some weight off your chest when battling an overabundant bosom, that too can be rectified with a surgical procedure. In fact, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), breast augmentation surpassed liposuction when it became the top surgical procedure in 2008 with 355,671 women undergoing the procedure. That’s not to say bigger is always better, especially when you consider that breast reduction for women was the fifth most popular cosmetic surgery in 2008 with approximately 139,926 undergoing the procedure.

Breast concerns are not limited to women either.
According to ASAPS, the fourth most popular cosmetic procedure among men in 2008 was a breast reduction to treat enlarged male breasts (gynecomastia). Since men also have breast tissue, albeit much less than that of most women, it can lead to overdeveloped breasts and sometimes even breast cancer. Have you ever wondered why men have nipples? A brief reconnaissance into the subject reveals a rather interesting explanation for this parallel between the sexes. Aside from ornamenting pectorals and being a victim of the occasional love nibble, the male nipple has a rather titillating past. It turns out that in the earliest weeks following conception, the male and female embryo follow a virtually identical developmental trajectory. In fact, during conception, each fetus starts out with an X chromosome from the mother, after which it receives either an X or Y chromosome from the father, determining the sex. When you have XX chromosomes, the child will be a female, and XY chromosomes will be a male. If the father provided a “Y” chromosome, the production of testosterone will begin around the sixth or seventh week following conception and that’s when the male deviates anatomically from the female. The nipples remain because the chromosomal process left them in the mix. Very interesting indeed!

Now that we have a better understanding of the breast from a female and male perspective, it is important to be aware of the anatomy and to administer self-examinations each month to ensure everything is normal. It is known that breast cancer is best treated with early detection, so be sure to monitor yours regularly.

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