A couple of weeks ago I posted the picture above on our Facebook page because I love clever advertising and of course every busty girl has some experience of this situation. I was surprised that a lot of the Twitter and Facebook comments criticized that the girl in the picture has 'Too Much Cleavage'.
When you consider that a large proportion of bra sales rely on bras that add volume and cleavage to smaller boobs, why do we frown upon naturally 'cleavaged' boobs? The strength of feeling that this image evoked really got me thinking about the social and aesthetic sides to the question; What is too much cleavage?
What is Cleavage?
Cleavage is a relatively modern term deriving from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning split or gap. It was actually Hollywood who came up with the term to define the area of visible 'divide' between the breasts of their actresses. During a time when appearing moral was very important Hollywood devised a code by which they could measure how much cleavage it was appropriate to see on film. You'll maybe remember a wonderful scene from the The Aviator when Howard Hughes is defending Jane Russell's cleavage to the Hollywood Censors.
Cleavage is a partly mythical creature as it doesn't exist all the time. Just as your lap disappears when you stand up, cleavage evaporates as soon as you take off your bra. Because cleavage generally only happen when we're dressed, Fashion has a huge part to play in the story.
Cleavage Through The Ages
Fashion has treated the exposure or concealment of cleavage (this is called decolletage - the cleavage visible in a neckline) very differently over the ages. During large parts of the 15th to 19th centuries cleavage was seen as a sign of affluence and status so dresses were designed to enhance and display cleavage. It was far more risque to see a woman's legs than her decolletage.
|Giuliano Bugiardini (1475-1554) Portrait of a Woman 1525|
During the 50s and 60s women's liberation saw a huge backlash to restrictive undergarments so cleavage went out of the window along with the burning bra. Women didn't want restrictive girdles and agonizingly rigid figures, they wanted choice and diversity, in more ways than one.
The Canadians Bring Back Cleavage!
Our current perception of cleavage has only been shaped in very recent history. In 1961 Canadian company Wonderbra unveiled a little something called "The Push Up Bra". By the late 70s this bra was underpinning a resurgence in cleavage. In the early 90s Wonderbra repositioned their 30 year old bra with cleavage written all over it.
Pammy and Breast Implants
The increasing desire to have cleavage brought about the sharpest every increase in demand for breast augmentation. Medical associations across the world were divided on the safety of using silicone and the long term effects of breast implants. The US Medical Association even went as far as to suggest that being small breasted was actually a medical condition for which breast implants were the medical solution.
The international success of Baywatch brought about the breast implant poster girl, Pamela Anderson. Her gravity defying orbs made her one of the most written about women in the US and UK during the latter part of the 90s.
The Cleavage Backlash
By the mid 2000s the cleavage pendulum was starting to swing very much the other way (if only mostly with women). I don't think there was one single factor that started this but I know for myself that an insane amount of boob exposure made it increasingly difficult to be a big busted woman. Pammy herself became a caricature of herself.
We began to see a number of breast implants gone wild (I'll never forget my disbelief the first time I saw this image, I couldn't understand why someone would do this to themselves) which made big boobs seem ludicrous - indeed I think these extreme implants are insane. The prolific spread of the Internet meant that boobs could be seen, watched, downloaded and screen-saved at the touch of a button - men were suddenly very used to having 'instant' access to boobs and cleavage. It felt like boobs were public property, well mine aren't.
Have women made us ashamed of our cleavage?
As a busty woman I am used to staring and comments. I have always felt that it's part human nature - we're always interested in that which is different - and part bad manners which is why I keep the "are you having a stroke or don't you know it's rude to stare" line handy.
I think part of why being a busty woman today is difficult is the parade of boob first, personality later women on Reality TV. The prolific "look at me, I'm famous for nothing" personality has been manufactured for quick ratings and often includes breasts being referred to as assets or property which perpetuates the idea that big breasts equal vacuous women. Women have fought for centuries to be given equal rights and to be taken seriously so I really hate that a huge proportion of Reality TV relies on watching women defining their lives by their breasts/plastic surgery/shopping and tiny dogs. We are so much more.
I refuse to be pigeon-holed by the stereotypes that society forms around me. I love my cleavage, it is a part of me that is soft and evokes images of Marilyn Monroe in a flawless LBD (well in my head anyway!) I love that Mr Butterfly loves me as much in a turtleneck as he does in a plunging V neck and so do I, so I will continue to mix it up and bring out my rather fabulous decolletage when I want to.
I would love to know your thoughts on the evocative and mysterious creature that is cleavage xx