Female breast exposure has always been a subject of controversy, and nowadays, the focal point of several campaigns such as Free the Nipple. But how did this body part of women become so sexualized? The female breast is made and utilized for breastfeeding to take care of babies, how did this become the new focus of pornography and different industries who looked to make a pretty penny of exploiting the female physique, emphasizing specifically on the breast and nipples?
In classical art of Ancient Greece, and renaissance paintings and sculptures, the female breast was not exploited with sexual connotations. The female breast was simply part of the female body, and was seen as desirable and beautiful in the soft focus of lighting in the paintings where the female subject was seen nude. Women and men in nude were not seen as porographic, but more as a celebration of the beauties and wonders of the human body, because humans were celebrated in all their glory during the Renaissance era in the arts. Women in the times of Ancient Greece and Egypt were even very liberal with breast exposure, artwork points out that their breasts would be unclothed doing daily activities of the day in their daily lives.
Women, mistresses and queens had paintings and woodcuts of them in very showing dresses, exposing breasts and even the occasional nipple to encourage male audiences. Breasts were a huge selling point for the fashion industry, as well as to be better known to their public, because women showing their breasts and nipples was not as scandalous as it is now when a celebrity on the red carpet experiences a wardrobe malfunction or has a “nip slip”.
So you may be asking yourself, if the exposure of female breasts were perfectly acceptable in art, when was the turning point? Why are breasts now seen as taboo or unacceptable in public in some states and even some cultures around the world, but in other places are deemed acceptable?
Some historians believe it may have had something to do with patriarchal society, as women in societies began to be forced into their homes when women were overseen by their fathers, husbands and other male members of the family, living under male supervision. The female breast had become the dominant symbol of fertility and women retreated into the roles of wife and mother, they may have been forbidden to show the female breast in public. This is a case and point for women in Islamic societies, in which women are more likely to be very covered, sometimes head to toe in their garments for their religion. In other societies, such as where the weather is tropical and sweat-inducing, women are more likely to be topless just so they can be relieved from the heat.