Nice Rack

In a society 'two clicks away from Victorian', breasts shape more than women's curves

When she was 16, Cara* already had what most men lust for and many women would do anything to have - large breasts.

The problem was, she didn't want them.

Not because she didn't like them, though. She saw her breasts as just another part of her anatomy, a genetic glitch at worst (the women in her family are notoriously small-chested).

But when you're a high school sophomore suddenly stuck with a 36DD chest, it's tough to block out the lingering, hormone-induced stares from the boys.

And it's especially difficult to ignore the punishing glares from the girls.

And then there were the rumors - the jealous classmates claimed she stuffed her bra with Kleenex. She didn't, of course.

For Cara, the harassment was enough to stir thoughts of invasive surgery. For a while, she thought a breast reduction and maybe a lift might boost her confidence.

"It's one of those decisions that I'm glad I waited to make," she says. "I realized I was doing it for the wrong reasons - because everyone else was encouraging me to get rid of them."

Now 21, Cara sports cleavage on a daily basis. And of course she gets the same looks from adults in Lawrence that she got from kids at her Paola High School - she just doesn't care anymore.

"It made me a lot stronger. I think I would probably care a lot more about other peoples' opinions if I hadn't gone through the years and years of being ridiculed for something that I couldn't change," Cara says.

"I'm comfortable as a woman and I'm comfortable with the body I was given."

Prodigious and perky

Cara's level of self-confidence is one many women - much less at her young age - haven't yet reached, perhaps because our society places so much pressure on having perfect breasts.

Whether you're watching a rerun of "Dr. 90210" on E! or flipping through a gossip mag with weekly coverage of Lindsey Lohan's cup size, you can't help but notice America's cultural craving for all things breasts, boobs, tits, mams ... whatever people are calling them.

Our MTV-watching, In Touch Weekly-reading culture idealizes breasts as large and perky.

And don't even get started with ideal nipple shape, color and size. Start listening to Dr. Robert Rey - Dr. 90210, self-proclaimed "psychiatrist with a knife" - and you might find yourself under the knife paying $5,000 for a totally new set.

Curves that shape a self-image

Audio clips

Nice rack

For healthier body advice, it's perhaps better to consult Dr. Dennis Dailey, local sex expert and KU emeritus professor (and blogger).

He says he's all too familiar with the "enormous pressure from our culture for women to be somehow mysteriously attractive."

And he says that a woman's breasts have the power to shape how she sees herself - for better or for worse.

"It's difficult first of all to hide the fact of their breasts because they're publicly visible," Dailey says.

"And I think it is also a struggle for women to hide or to swallow or to disregard the emotional responsiveness that they are having to their breasts - men looking at them, how they respond to that, men not looking at them, how they respond to that."

And though constant catcalls or the lack thereof can be enough to make any woman hunch to hide her breasts, Dailey says that ridicule from other women can do the most damage.

"I mean, I've heard men say some things about women and their bodies that give me a cold chill, obviously, but I tell you - I have heard women say things about other women that just blow my mind," Dailey says.

He explains that women are extremely sexually competitive and that, from an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense. Our cognitively less advanced female ancestors once had to compete for top male specimens to mate with. In that game of attraction, healthy breasts became an invaluable sexual asset.

Today those assets seem valuable as ever thanks in large part to the media's pervasive role in amplifying the importance of breasts - that is, the importance of perfect breasts.

And now, women who really aren't happy with their breasts can do something about it - they can be purchased, implanted, and lifted like never before.

Cup size: 'D', for "Dismissed as superficial and vain"

"... just a mediocre debater with big, fake tits."

Or at least, that's what 20-year-old Tina* read about herself one day on a listserv for debaters, coaches and alumni from KU and from all over the country.

Tina-a KU student and debater with an eye on law school-was furious.


KU student "Tina" before augmentation.


KU student "Tina" after augmentation.

She's not ashamed of the fact that her parents bought her breast implants for Christmas two years ago. That's her business, and she'd probably tell you if you asked, anyway. But this hurt.

Luckily, many of Tina's fellow debaters rose to her defense. But the whole ordeal brought her face-to-face with a harsh stigma: Women with breast implants are often dismissed as superficial and vain.

You might not guess that Tina has breast implants at first glance. She's petite, smart and articulate. She's also a size 36D - sizeable, but not overly large.

That's the same cup size required of Victoria's Secret models, which is fitting, because Tina works in a Victoria's Secret in Kansas City. She's the only one out of 30 employees who has implants.

"I wanted them for a very long time," Tina recalls, "I never went through a self-conscious phase until after I had them. I was never like, 'Oh, my boobs are so small, no one's going to like me.'"

  • Editor's note: this story was updated in Fall 2007 to use 'Tina' in place of the name of this source, who contacted us saying she'd been denied a job because of this story. In February 2012, a similar circumstance led to use the name Cara in place of another subject's real name.


Some adults might balk at the idea of a teenager getting implants. Dailey doesn't.

"I think adults are so goddamn condescending when it comes to teenagers. Just makes me furious," he says.

"Do I think most older teens - 17, 18, 19 - have it enough together to make that decision, understand why they're doing it? Sure. Do I think they're operating under the same pressures as their mothers and all the other women with respect to that stuff, sure. Do I wish it wasn't that way? Yeah," Dailey says.

Tina says she didn't want implants because of pressures from the media or other girls. She just wanted her body to feel more proportional.

When, at 16, Tina pitched the idea to her parents, they flatly refused. But for one reason or another, maybe because Tina's mom works for a plastic surgeon, they let her have the surgery at 18.

"I did throw a little hissy fit when I was first talking over it. My mom was like, 'She wants to go to a C" and I was like, 'No, I would like to go to a D'," Tina says. "I started crying because they wouldn't let me and I was like 'No, if I'm gonna do surgery then I want a D!"

Needless to say, Tina got what she wanted. After surgery, the pain in her chest was intense.

"It was like everything in my chest was stretching to the breaking point. And I kept thinking, they're just going to explode. I'm not going to have boobs, because they're just going to explode," Tina says.

Tina loves her new breasts. She wears a lot of cleavage-baring tops and says she likes the attention she gets from guys. The only thing she doesn't like is when, at parties, people (read: dudes) think it's their right to feel her up - as though fake breasts are less hers than real ones, she says.

But, as Dailey points out, there's a difference between getting friendly and treating someone's anatomy like a piece of meat.

"When breasts or penises, or anything else ... become objectified, when they're seen only as sexual ... I think that is hurtful or destructive," Dailey says.

"For example, when a man meets a woman and says 'Hello' and immediately looks at her breasts [that] sends a message to her that the most significant part of her humanity is her breasts," he says. "That's an objectification thing."

Shoulder back, head high

But breasts are hardly just some unwelcome burden that women must bear.

Dailey says breasts, and especially nipples, often provide women with sexual pleasure, and that some women are capable of orgasms through breast stimulation alone.


"Tina" (left) with her roommate Alyssa Wrightsman. Wrightsman says she's been jealous of her friends' much larger breast sizes, but is nevertheless happy with her A-cup size.

And though breasts can be a woman's biggest insecurity, they can also be incredibly empowering.

Take it from Alyssa Wrightsman, Tina's roommate. Though she's always been a bit jealous of her large-breasted friends (she has quite a few), Wrightsman's happy with her A-cup chest.

She used to be shy about having breasts at all, especially around her family. Wrightsman even subconsciously developed bad posture because she felt uncomfortable sticking her chest out. Since those awkward teen years, she's embraced her feminine shape.

"Honestly, if you're confident enough, your breast size is not going to matter," Wrightsman says, shoulders back.

Cara, because of her weighty chest, has trouble sitting up straight and forcing her shoulders back.

She says she deals with back pain every day, which is why she gets massages about twice a month.

For women with large breasts, normal activities like jogging and swimming are particularly awkward. Cara says she tried to swim competitively in high school, but because of her chest, that didn't last long.

"The breast stroke was more than a joke, let's say that," she says.

Dailey says pure physiological discomfort like this is one reason women get breast reductions. The other reason, he adds, is more psychological.

"They just don't want the focus on their breasts," Dailey says.

That could explain why not one, but three Lawrence women we contacted who had had reductions didn't want to talk about it, even anonymously.

"For a lot of women who have been treated poorly about their breasts," Dailey explains, "revisiting those feelings can be extraordinarily difficult."

Dailey also says that he's never known a woman that regretted getting a reduction, but that he's known many who went through a difficult adjustment phase after the surgery.

The psychological scars of being more memorable for your breasts than anything else, it seems, can't be mended through surgery.

A couple cultural clicks from Victorian

Lately, Cara considers her breasts as a "valuable commodity." She says she watches enough surgery TV shows to know that what she's got is something many women would pay thousands to have.

But Cara - who, until recently, was a waitress at Free State Brewery and has since moved to New York City - says there's still one stigma she can't wrap her mind around.

"It's viewed as socially unacceptable for a woman to expose her nipples, [but] a man has the exact same thing," she says. "It's more of the social construction that women should keep certain things hidden and that's one of them."

We all remember Janet Jackson's Super Bowl slip and the purple pasty Lil' Kim sported on the red carpet. But why?

Dailey says it likely has to do with nipples being the most erotic part of the breast - apparently, that scares people, he says.

"When a woman is in a public setting, and she's showing her breasts ... there is a risk that evidence of her arousal will be noticed by her nipples erecting," Dailey explains.

"It's actually not so shocking when you think about it because we live in a world that is so friggin' sexually uptight," Dailey says.

"Particularly in the United States and pretty much Western culture. We live in a culture that's just a couple of clicks away from Victorian."

Phil Cauthon contributed reporting for this story.


davisnin 11 years, 8 months ago

I guess its been a while since his class for me, but I wouldn't think Dennis Dailey would be so apt to agree with Dr Rey(who may be satan) about the teen fake-tittay market. Maybe it is really the best way to boost self-esteem... Go Feminism!

Nate Poell 11 years, 8 months ago

Breast implants are an utterly retarded waste of money. Terry Thomas said it best over 40 years ago: "And this infantile preoccupation with bosoms. In all time in this Godforsaken country, the one thing that has appalled me most of all this this prepostrous preoccupation with bosoms. Don't you realize they have become the dominant theme in American culture: in literature, appetizing and all fields of entertainment and everything. I'll wager you anything you like that if American women stopped wearing brassieres, your whole national economy would collapse overnight."

funkdog1 11 years, 8 months ago

I have to say I was a bit surprised by Dr. Daily's comment: "When a woman is in a public setting, and she's showing her breasts ... there is a risk that evidence of her arousal will be noticed by her nipples erecting,"

This seemed like a fairly "high school guy" comment to me. Yes, it's possible that a woman is aroused because her nipples are 'erected,' but it's also possible that she's cold, that a shiver ran through her, that something brushed up against her, or she's just nippin' out for no good reason at all. They're not like penises.

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 11 years, 8 months ago

I love breast implants, especially the obvious ones. It lets me know right off that I'm dealing with a shallow idiot, and that's always helpful.

Aileen Dingus 11 years, 8 months ago

I can see if a woman of any age had a mastectomy, or a serious deformity (ie: only one breast developed, or an obvious disparity in size) then a breast augmentation would be a viable alternative.

But "I want a D cup!" doesn't seem like a good enough reason for me. It pains me to see any woman put more value in her boobs than her brains, but to see younger and younger women do it is especially troubling. It makes me wonder what the women's liberation movement, the struggles that woman have gone through and my own hard work has gone for.

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 11 years, 8 months ago

Dazie, I agree completely. Women fought for decades to be recognized as human beings instead of walking wombs, and here these stupid little twits are reversing the process. And more and more, it's actually the girls who are intelligent (like that deluded law student up there. . .shudder. . .G-d grant that my legal fate never be in the hands of someone who thinks it's a good idea to undergo expensive and invasive surgery just to fill out a slutty tank top better) who are pulling these asshat moves, because they've gotten the idea (wonder where from?) that intelligence is de-feminizing, and one must "compensate" or "apologize" for one's brilliance with one's boobs.

Aileen Dingus 11 years, 8 months ago

Devil's advocate here- I have piercings, I have a tat, I color my hair, I paint my nails, I occassionally wear makeup. Isn't that the same thing? Body modification is body modification. Right?

If I was actually AGAINST augmentations etc- then I'd go grey gracefully, I'd not worry about the length or color of my nails, I'd leave my earrings at home and throw away the Maybelline... right?

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 11 years, 8 months ago

I think there's a big difference between putting on some eyeliner and letting somebody cut open your torso and shove plastic bags up in it.

But then I'm on a cosmetic surgery tear; this weekend I saw my first Jocelyn Wildenstein wanna-be in person. For the amoung of money this woman had spent on her tits and face, she could have just bought a 20-year-old Playboy model, had her skinned and tanned, and wore the pelt out for special occasions, since that seemed to be the look she was going for in the first place.

smerdyakov 11 years, 8 months ago

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Aufbrezeln Eschaton 11 years, 8 months ago

Who's lashing out? I'm just calling them asshats ;) You don't wanna see me "lash out" (besides, on the Lexapro, it happens much less often ;)

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 11 years, 8 months ago

And may I also say that this article is a hell of a lot more socially relevant and non-retarded than that piece of crap stating that children were the new hip lifestyle accessory? I picked up that copy of the Deadwood and thought, Jesus tits, it's like Johnson county raped Lawrence and this is the result. Disgusting.

thetomdotdot 11 years, 8 months ago

I am undecided on this issue. I better go look at the pictures again.

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 11 years, 8 months ago

funkdog--just ask any woman who's breastfed her infant whether erect nipples are a sign of arousal. I'd advise making sure that she's not drinking anything at the moment, though.

alm77 11 years, 8 months ago

I feel like I'm jumping in here late, but here's my two cents:

Yeah, I thought the erect nipple comment coming from a GUY was a bit obtuse. Couldn't a woman sex expert be found for comment? My lack of desire to show the world what I got has nothing to do with my arousal and everything to do with my safety and well being.

I'm still trying to figure out the point of this article. It's just a list of facts about boobs and who has big ones. It's not advocating anything, nor is it discouraging.

Dazie, I would say the desire to have implants and the desire to wear make-up do have similar origins. As would tatoos and piercings. We all want to look a certain way. Nothing wrong with that, I guess.

I can't say if I'd have augmentation done, cause quite frankly, God gave me enough, but after three kids, I wouldn't mind having them put back where they started. :)

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 11 years, 8 months ago

In all honesty, the baby-as-accessory story could have been a great one, had it focused more on what local parents who don't want their children to look like GAP billboards do in terms of children's fashion, like DIY and local designers instead of throwing around a bunch of celebutante and designer names, but it just had such a "E! Weekend Wrapup!" voice to it. If I wanna read about "Celebrity BumpsTM", I'll give myself a lobotomy and pick up an issue of People.

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 11 years, 8 months ago

That said, it wasn't bad writing, per se. In the right forum, for the right audience, it would have been a successful article, but in it seemed more like me writing a column for Good Housekeeping.

Aileen Dingus 11 years, 8 months ago

Misty- why do you hate America? . . . . . . . . . (kidding- but you probably figured that out already)

Kelly Powell 11 years, 8 months ago

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alm77 11 years, 8 months ago

Phil, usually the top story on is lacking comments. Seems like you've hit your target if your goal was to start a conversation with this one. Maybe I'm just too used to reading articles (in other places) with a slant and an obvious agenda. ;)

I still think a women would've had more insight on the issue. A man talking about a woman's feelings about her bare breasts, is like a man talking about a child birth experience. He'll never know what it's actually like.

funkdog1 11 years, 8 months ago


I've actually breastfed an infant myself, and though I've heard of women who found breastfeeding to be arousing, I honestly, honestly didn't. Sure, it made my nipples physically hard, but I definitely wasn't aroused, which is the distinction I wanted to make.

I dunno, maybe I've got weird boobs. All I know is--and this is admittedly TMI--I can nip-out at the drop of a hat (or some other piece of clothing) and it doesn't have to have a goddamn thing to do with being sexually aroused.

As far as the whole breast augmentation thing goes, I personally think it's effing stupid, but then again, I've got big boobs.

Terry Bush 11 years, 8 months ago

I am late to this topic, but oh well.

I can't relate to anyone wanting more breast size. I was "blessed" with DDD's from the time I was 16, and let me tell you they aren't always a blessing. Clothes don't fit, gravity is a bitch, flat chesters are sometimes really mean about it, and I really like to have people looking at my face when I speak. Anyone wanting some of my extra can have it for free!

I worry about youngsters doing ANYTHING permanent to alter their bodies. I grew into my boobs, which is also not a blessing (but at least I'm more porportional now). But what about the women who put in huge cans that don't change as the rest of their bodies do? Any type of body alteration that cannot be easily reversed or eliminated results in a life-time of living with a decision made when you looked and felt differently. Do what ever you want that makes you feel better about how you look. But try to remember that "FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE " is sometimes a lot longer then it sounds.

And as for the woman who could use a skinned/gutted 20 year old as a wrap ....I know this woman all too well. I need some advice on what to say to her next time - She's 49 and has spent tens of thousands of dollars having things lifted, tucked, enlarged, sculpted etc, and thinks she looks fabulous on the arm of her 28 year old body building fiance. It's hard to figure out what to say when she fishes for compliments. MY aren't you looking ....errrrr..... Help me fill in the blank.... It's actually a real problem..... I am not a good liar....

alm77 11 years, 8 months ago

LL, just compliment her on her outfit, or her haircut, or her shoes. Usually people fishing for compliments don't care what you compliment. I'm sure you can find something superficial about her that is flattering. She'll be happy, you'll be honest, it's a win-win.

As for the other paragraph, I get that lecture from my husband when I talk about getting a tatoo. I've wanted one for over 10 years, and for 3 of those years, I've known what I want. You would think that alone would be enough for him to say, "Well, I guess you've given it a lot of thought, so I'll keep my opinions to myself......" But that hasn't happened yet.

Terry Bush 11 years, 8 months ago

Yea...compliment her fashion style or taste ... Well let's see ....hmmmm that has it's problems too; it's hideous. She is one of those people who thinks money and trendyness = good taste. For example, at her daughter's recent mega-wedding, she wore an off-white brocade dress (yes, that's right, the mother of the bride wore white) that was low back and front and slit up the side. The material itself was nice I guess. If you like brocade so stiff it stands in the corners by itself. Frankly, I think it was material or upholstry material, now that I think about it. But at the time I was too distracted by the shelf-o-boobs and UGLY tatoo down her back to notice the material.... And her hair? Striped. Literally.2" stripes too, not some highlight job. And not in matching or contrasting tones. Black and white - think Cruella Deville ala 101 Dalmations - with 3 bottles of hair spray (the hair dresser told me) holding each spikey strand in place. It reminded me of one of those lap dogs she favors.

Jewelry? Well, there were some big rocks there...around her over-tanned creping bare neck...but I'm not impressed or pleased to see rosaries worn as jewerly, no matter how flashy the stones. I just said "Oh you must have worked so hard to get everything ready", to which she had to tell me how much she'd paid the wedding coordinators.

Sigh. Proof positive that money can't buy class .... or apparently good looks. Normally I am real good at seeing the positive, but I just could not... And I tried. MEOW! It didn't help to have Misty whispering awful, but correct, comments into my ear.

On the tatoo thing, I've heard tell of a new ink. Permanent UNTIL or unless you expose it to certain light/chemicals. If you expose it to that light/chemical, it fades it away to nothing. No more needles or surgery needed! That is what I'd use if I were to get a tat. As much as I like art work, I can think of nothing I want on my body for the rest of my life (wrinkles and gravity could destroy the good looks of even a Renoir work of art!).

However, it IS YOUR BODY isn't it?

alm77 11 years, 8 months ago

My body, yes, but I value my husband's opinion. He'd have to look at it for the rest of his life too. I wouldn't want it to be the equivalent of him hanging Dogs Playing Poker over the fireplace.

smerdyakov 11 years, 8 months ago

ladylaw - what is a "brocade"? (Is that like a boob-job with a barricade built-in?) Does knowing what is a "brocade" evince the same sort of vanity that you besmirch? I'm not necessarily saying it does - just that I've never heard the word...and upon reading your comment, I suspect those who know the word and who use it also place similar importance upon the same things that you criticize.

Again I mention, those comfortable with their own selves tend to not lash out - or criticize, gossip about, make light of, etc - choices by others which are ultimately those people's own decisions to make. If it doesn't affect you - other than, say, pricking your own insecurity in some way - why does it matter that someone else dresses a certain way, or has an elective (even Frankenstein-style) operation, etc?

I could understand taking exception to an inconsistency in that person's professed morals, and perhaps suggesting that they FIRST think of the hungry or the homeless whom they might help with their money BEFORE helping their chest or buying that "brocade" ... but I tend to think that's most effectively done in a private conversation with the person in question, face-to-face, rather than in an online forum. No doubt this forum will help third parties think more closely about their own decisions, but with regards to this particular 49er, I don't suppose your insight will likely reach her least I hope it doesn't!

alm77 11 years, 8 months ago

smerd, knock it off. Maybe her opinion expressed in this online forum might sway the decision of younger more impressionable women who may be considering altering themselves. When LL says she knows someone who's done it all and looks tacky, it makes me think that maybe I wouldn't want to do that to myself. And she did say "However, it IS YOUR BODY isn't it?"

I got the message that this is a discussion. brought the topic, the rest of us discuss it. I think the giving examples is the best way to make your point.

smerdyakov 11 years, 8 months ago

alm - point taken. I think I'm agreeing with you ("No doubt this forum will help third parties think more closely about their own decisions..."), but I'm aslo saying that I read in some of the comments less care about potentially naive decision makers and more venom towards those who've embraced the "it's my body to do with what I will" perspective, even if those people have gone overboard with it. I appreciate the examples, but give them less credence when they seem to be peppered with hostility.

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 11 years, 8 months ago

Dude, you only don't know what brocade is because you have a penis. We ladies understood the whole damn thing.

And I don't think it's my insecurities that drive me to make fun of people who pay out the triple-lifted ass to have their bodies made into living Madame Tussaud's displays. It's the fact that I'm an evil nasty bitch, and if I didn't get to make fun of the asshats who are fucking up my corner of the world with their asshattery, I'd probably shoot them all, instead. Call it a bargain.

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