Below The Belt

Why is Indian society so obsessed with breasts?

Why does everyone want to stake claim to them?

 |  Below The Belt  |  4-minute read |   29-09-2015
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I was a fat kid and so my breasts probably developed faster than those of most girls my age. By 11, I had to switch from a simple cotton petticoat to a conical-shaped bra. My mother always insisted I wear one. Even at home, something she does now as well. Telling me in a stern voice that "the shape will be spoilt".

What shape? My breasts quite honestly have always looked the same.

The bra, I feel, is a deceptively advertised garment - often labelled "sexy" - for a part of a woman’s body that ties her down, literally.

Our breasts are never our own, really – always a source of sacredness, sin or shamefulness. My breasts always need my mother’s approval; they always require me to wear a bra in the company of my father or cousins, in front of whom I can never come out in a towel. My breasts require protection from the men in crowded public transport who want to assault me. 

All my lovers, who would shower me and my Bengali race with compliments, were obsessed with my breasts. I can imagine how my child will be, when I have one, attached to my bosom, giving me breast pumps, leaving them sagging and filled with stretch marks. Don't men fantasise about breasts because of their Oedipus fixation? Male validation is somehow critical.

Are women's breasts only for men and their needs and desires?

The body, the soul

Why is that our breasts, which mark the beginning of a painful journey of womanhood for every girl, are only viewed through a physical lens?

Why does everyone want to stake claim to this one body part?

I don’t get it when even women tell me: "You’ve got good boobs," or look wistfully at another’s, and exclaim, "Wow! See how firm they are." The way we view silicone implants as something only porn stars and film actresses invest in.

Why are flat-chested women called "manchester" in jest? Or considered "not marriage material"? In a country where every woman pines to be thin and fair, we persecute a woman without a bosom.

Good branding

Recently, a Swedish phone company Rebtel launched a scheme that offered unlimited calls to India. To promote this initiative, it chose to have four topless women dance in the middle of Times Square, NYC, covered in body paint.

The four women were gyrating to "Chammak Challo". While the stunt was dubbed "sexist" by one and all, the company clarified, saying the marketing tool explored the “link between unlimited calling and freedom of expression”, and the stunt was to show it “chose to stand out as a rebellious brand”.

Why is a topless woman such a big deal? What is this obsession to have Bollywood actresses do item numbers, with the camera zooming in on their bust? Why do we have the national media going "Omg, Deepika Padukone’s cleavage" and a National Award-winning filmmaker like Madhur Bhandarkar getting away with a poster of women in bikinis for his latest film, Calendar Girls? Why can’t we just accept our breasts as something natural.

Past masters

Nakedness as a matter of shame is a concept new to Indian culture. It was once a thing to be celebrated in art and culture.

In fact, it is said that, in India, before the blouses could be in vogue, women did not wear upper clothes and were never ashamed of their bodies. Take a look at the ancient sculptures of Konark and Khajuraho and you'll get what I'm trying to say.

In Kerala, it was considered taboo for a woman to cover her breasts in the 18th and 19th centuries. None of the Hindu women, except Brahmins, thought that breasts had to be covered - to them, covering the breast was an act of immodesty. Nair women and upper caste women simply covered their breasts with a white mundu.

In Travancore, Cochin and Malabar, no woman was allowed to cover the upper part of her body in front of Brahmins until the 19th century. With the support of Ayya Vaijundar, certain communities fought for their right to wear upper clothes and the upper class resorted to attacking them in 1818.

In 1819, the Rani of Travancore proclaimed that the Nadar climber women had no right to wear upper clothes like most non-Brahmin castes of Kerala. However, the aristocratic Nadan women of Kerala, their counterparts, had the right to cover their bosom. Violence against Nadar climber women began, reaching its peak in 1858 across the kingdom, notably in Neyyattinkara and Neyyur.

On July 16, 1859, under pressure from the Madras governor, the king of Travancore issued a proclamation announcing the right of Nadar climber women to wear upper clothes on the condition that they should not imitate the style of clothing worn by upper class women.

Today we're fighting another battle.


Sreemoyee Piu Kundu Sreemoyee Piu Kundu @sreemoyeekundu

The writer is an ex-lifestyle editor and PR vice president, and now a full-time novelist. She's the author of Faraway Music, the best-selling female erotica, Sita's Curse, You've Got The Wrong Girl! and Cut. Last year, she wrote the internationally acclaimed work of non-fiction on single women in India, Status Single. A leading columnist on sexuality and gender, Sreemoyee is also the recipient of NDTV L'oreal Women of Worth Award in the 'Literature' category.

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