Today, I’m going to write a little about breasts.
No, I’m not kidding.
There’s a documentary on Channel 4 at the moment, My Breasts Are Too Big, which I didn’t plan to watch, but it’s morbidly fascinating, and not at all prurient. The first shock, for me, was a statistic quoted by a manager at Rigby & Peller, the company who supplies underwear to HM The Queen. She says that the average bra size in the UK is now 34E, which – in my limited experience – is filed under “huge”.
First question I ask: “aren’t you in pain?” Tonight’s documentary was about the extreme cases, where the answer is definitely “Ouch!”. One woman reported shooting pains down her sides, back and neck problems, “athlete’s foot” under the, um, overhang, and men who talk to her chest, rather than to her face.
The documentary follows three women heading for surgery, two of which really need it, and get the surgery for free on the NHS for medical reasons. The third, however, is a 19-year old medical student who should have known better, and had to pay for it herself. Getting a plastic surgeon to agree to it meant counselling first, but she was not to be dissuaded.
Another woman’s surgery is shown in great detail, with the removal of a pound of flesh from each side. It seemed to go well, but recovery was complicated, a lung collapsed and she landed in intensive care. A month later she’s still tired, house-bound, but optimistic and already feeling the benefits.
Why is there such a huge variation in breast size? It’s most obvious in young societies such as the USA, where Will & Grace is a huge TV hit. Grace, played by Debra Messing, gets at least one joke per episode about her tiny bosom, especially compared to Karen (Megan Mulally). I find myself at odds with the apparent male preference for pendulous udders: I actually like the way Grace looks, since she’s athletic – well, athletic-looking – and it’s all in subtle proportion.
Maybe it’s my engineering background, but I’d rather see her than the women who seem physically unbalanced, structurally unsound, forced to wear girder-stayed hammocks, to stop gravity stretching the skin until her knockers knock into her knees!
What’s behind the growth trend? General weight gain is part of it, but I think I see a more insidious trend: evolutionary selection. If I’m right, then: men in some cultures, over the centuries, have acted on their preference for large-breasted women, with the result that every new generation of daughters outbats their mothers, and we end up with the situation I see some “old” societies such as the UK and Ireland, or Russia. Yet China and Japan are as old, but haven’t gone the same way, which says something about those cultures, I think. Big boobs make as much sense as a peacock’s feathers, or the red bit around a baboon’s bum. All in my opinion, of course.