Prepubescent Boys with Breasts

(Or, Eating in the Light of the Moon, Chapter 1 – “Woman Spirit”)

Last February, following 5 days of engaging in the symptoms of an eating disorder that I vehemently denied having, I told my counselor that maybe – just MAYBE – I’d be willing to make some changes.  Nothing crazy, mind you, but I might be willing to explore some of my issues with food and my body.  She stood up, reached behind her for Eating in the Light of the Moon and came to sit next to me on the couch.

We began reading with Chapter 1, “Woman Spirit,” pausing every few lines to check in on what I was thinking or feeling.

“Bodies sculpted by plastic surgery to look like those of prepubescent boys with breasts have become the standard for the ideal female body,” I read.

“Stop,” she said.  “What do you think of that?”

I didn’t know what to say, really.  My relationship with my breasts is a funny one.  In fact, I am so disgusted by the fact that I have them that even the word “breasts” sounds dirty to me.  There were brief periods where I enjoyed them (well, the boys I liked enjoyed them and I enjoyed the attention), but for the most part, from the time I started wearing a bra in fourth grade, I just wanted them GONE.

“I don’t know,” I stammered.

“I was thinking that sometimes I could even do without the breasts,” she said.

I laughed.  Maybe she wasn’t so bad after all.  Maybe I could survive this book and this shift in therapeutic emphasis, after all.

“Yeah, me too.”

—–

Four months later, I would have that coveted thin body sans breasts.  I could walk around without a bra for the first time since grade school.  I still thought of myself as horribly overweight, but loved the long line from neck to toes.

Johnston discusses in Chapter 1 how the celebration of women and their curves was slowly overtaken by the hierarchy of the line.  Masculine replaces feminine, angles and line replace curves.

Just this week in Body Image group we discussed the evolution of the ideal female form in Western society.  An interesting pattern emerged.  At periods of time in history when women are gaining more economic, political, and social power, the ideal woman is thin, thinner, thinnest.  In the early 20th century, it was desirable for women to have a layer of fat, to have curves, to look — in short — like women.

The Height of Victorian Fashion

(source)

But as women struggle for more power, they play small physically.

Just as the women are taking political power in the US through suffrage in the 1910s and 1920s, women cut their hair short and the thin “flapper” looks comes in to fashion.

1920s Flapper

 (source)

 In the 1960s, as women struggle for sexual freedom and gain more and more power politically, Twiggy appears on the scene, forever changing the ideal of women’s fashion and body.

Enter Twiggy

 (source)

The late 1990s and early 2000s see women increasingly involved in politics, economics, and government on national and international levels.  At the same time, the prevailing look in fashion is Kate Moss’s “heroin chic” — thin, emaciated women.  Prepubescent boys with breasts.

Kate Moss, the epitome of "Heroin Chic"

 (source)

We discussed the reasoning for this shift:   Women need to look like men to get ahead in the corporate workplace.  Women need to desexualize themselves in an era where they are seen as objects, things to be had and used.  Women need to make themselves smaller so as not to threaten the men they are taking power from.

Anita Johnston offers another interesting theory:  Our society is slowly changing into one that values even the LOOK of the linear over that of the curved, the round, the intuitive.  As women take their place in the sphere of influence, the only way they can be taken seriously is to conform to the society they are seeking to join.

     Women still live in a society where what is masculine, linear, rational, and logical is considered superior to what is feminine, circular, intuitive, and emotional.  Today’s woman is a round peg trying desperately to fit into a square hole in order to survive and flourish.
How does she do this?  By trying to shape her body into a more angular, masculine form, one that has zero fat to round off its edges. (p. 6)

—–

All quotations are from Anita Johnson’s Eating in the Light of the Moon, published by Gurze Books in 1996.  You can buy it here.

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10 thoughts on “Prepubescent Boys with Breasts

  1. The structure of the fashion industry is also a contributing factor. So many fashion designers are gay men. They are not interested in women with curves. They are interested in men, and often lithe, slender, young men. It’s no surprise that they would prefer models who look like boys.

    And in addition, clothes supposedly look better on very thin women with broad shoulders. And what the fashion industry wants most of all, is to sell those clothes.

    What’s strange is that we as a culture have taken “what works for the fashion industry (sells more clothes)” and turned it into “our culture’s ideals of beauty.” They don’t have to be the same thing.

    • Your point about the fashion industry wanting to sell more clothing is well-taken, but I feel like it still begs the question: Why can’t designers make clothes that look better on real women? Would clothes that are flattering on the median 50% of women not also sell well?

      Thanks for joining the debate and making me think!

  2. What an interesting post! It was fascinating to consider, and you explained it in a way that made it seem logical instead of just angry feminist ranting. I haven’t read this book before (the title has always made me roll my eyes–I have some hippie tendencies, but I’m not THAT much of a hippie) but now I think I might have to check it out from the library!

    • Oh, don’t worry – there will be plenty of time for eye-rolling in the next 13 chapters or whatever. I STILL roll my eyes at some of the chapters. I’m trying to keep an open mind as I’m presenting the chapters, keeping in mind that my views are not everyone’s and that something I find ridiculous may actually propel someone else forward in their recovery. For me, I follow the “take what works and leave the rest” line of thinking.

      Also, I’m glad I didn’t come off as a feminazi! I always fear that when I take on issues of women and media and body image.

  3. Love this caption:

    the height of Victorian fashion

    It’s funny, I had a similar response when I read the part about breasts. I could do without those. Question, though… do you think the goal is to be a pre-pubescent boy or a pre-pubescent girl? There’s the whole “avoiding adulthood” theory.

    Great post :-)

  4. Brilliant analysis…reminds me of the way Asian girls are coveted the more they look like caucasians. Yes, they undergo surgery on their eyelids and even very painful leg lengthening procedures to get taller to insure more success. White men fetishize the Asian women who look American. Lucy Liu? Likewise, black women (because I love refraining from the term African American) have to pay enormouse amounts of money on their hair…to make it less “black” and in many cases that allows them a certain amount of clout in the workplace — the less black they look.

    I reently converesed with a COE friend about how she is “glanced” past in the workplace because she carries excess weight. People see her as dumb or weak yet she has a PHd. Hmmm..

    You have my wheels spinning.

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