The Prairie Doc Perspective

Why do breasts get attention?

By Richard P. Holm MD

Why does the female breast get so much attention?

Why has the female organ, which has evolved there to feed her newborn child become Madison Avenue’s sure-fired way to sell almost anything to men AND women?

Is it because the infant memory most of us have of the calming, unconditional-caring nature of Mama, and of the nutritious and life-sustaining milk coming from her breast?

Or is it because breasts are usually covered, or partly hidden from public view? Is it the fact breasts are forbidden fruit, and it is the social allure of the taboo that has made them so interesting? Jerry Seinfeld said that, “If women kept their heads covered instead of their breasts, we’d all be heading down to the corner store to pick up the latest copy of Heads Illustrated.”

I think the answer to our question runs deeper than juvenile musings or the appeal of a prohibited peek. Evolutionary psychologists speculate that breasts are what attracted ancestral males seeking a healthy partner with whom to make children. It is therefore no surprise that the human female is the only primate that possesses fully formed breasts even when not pregnant.

Is it also because of breasts that humans are the only mammals that mate in the frontal, facing-each-other, more interactive manner? And is it true what anthropologists suggest, that the consequence of that female-to-male, face-to-face, caring to competitive interaction, that has lead to a more compassionate and just nature of our societies allowing for social progress instead of war?

And yet with all this interest, the breast can turn cancerous and become a source for fear, loss, and suffering. It is appropriate and even glorious that we have advanced our medical and surgical knowledge to discover breast malignancy, to remove the destructive tumors, and to repair and reconstruct the breasts back to their original shape and consistency. Think how devastating to lose them, and not be able to get them back.

A woman’s breast is at once the origin of intimacy, the nourishing gift of mother’s milk, perhaps the foundation for civilization, and then after all this nurturing, to become such a potential source for individual suffering. No wonder breasts get all that attention. They deserve it.

Dr. Rick Holm wrote this Prairie Doc Perspective for “On Call®,” a weekly program where medical professionals discuss health concerns for the general public.  “On Call®” is produced by the Healing Words Foundation in association with the South Dakota State University Journalism Department. “On Call®” airs Thursdays on South Dakota Public Broadcasting-Television at 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain. Visit us at OnCallTelevision.com. 

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