Breasts: a conundrum


Ancient sculptures celebrated breasts.

It might surprise you to know that displaying female breasts in public was once the height of fashion. Prehistoric statues, by and large, almost always depicted breasts in their entirety. After all, early humans understood these appendages were pretty useful and rather magical, since, geez, they produced food.

During the 16th century, women of all classes happily displayed their breasts and no one seemed to upset about it. It wasn’t until the late 19th century when John Singer Sargent painted the Portrait of Madame X in her sleek black dress that people started raising their eyebrows in regard to exposed mammary glands.

By today’s standards Madame X – actually Paris socialite Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautre – is ridiculously tame. So, attitudes were clearly changing. By the early 20th century, there was nary a breast to be seen, as women were now covered from head to toe, and that ideal, except for the odd formal occasion, was the norm.

Until it wasn’t.

In the sixties and seventies, breasts were once again released from bondage, as the Burn the Bra movement took over. I will admit right here that, at the tender age of 16, I took one look at that uncomfortable contraption and without a second thought chucked it. For the next 30 years, I mostly avoided bras.

Then I became a teacher. A colleague took one look at my chest and shook her head. “You can’t go around like that in school.”

I frowned. “Like what?”

She pointed at my chest.

“Don’t be silly,” I said. “I’m old enough to be their grandmother.”

Still, that very day, I realized she was right, when I caught a student eyeing my breasts. So, off to the lingerie store I went, trying to find a system I could stand to wear. It wasn’t easy.


On the island of Marstrand on the west coast of Sweden, I discovered a different attitude toward breasts.

Around the same time, I took a trip to Sweden. I’d lived with a lovely family when I was a student in Luxembourg. They were Swedes who had a summer home on the west coast near a beautiful island called Marstrand. One day, I took a ferry to the island, where I found no cars, lovely little bistros, and a grand 300-year-old castle called Carlsten’s Fortress. Sailboats dotted the sea. The sun was out, apparently a bit of a rarity up there in the North Sea, and the locals were so joyful they…um…took off their clothes.

As I walked the seaside trail, I noticed many people reclining on the gray rocks, mostly naked. I considered this as I sat in a grassy spot to read a book. But I couldn’t concentrate. I wondered how all those people could be so comfortable in the buff, out in the open. So, in a When-in-Rome moment, I whipped off my shirt and bra, tugged my cap down low, and waited. I pretended to read my book, but really I was thinking about sitting there naked from the waist up.

A short time later — and to my everlasting horror — a family of four approached on the trail. Two boys, maybe 10 and 12, followed their parents.  I was frozen in place. What happened next was not at all what I expected.


Showing all the cleavage you can is popular right now.

Later that evening, over a bottle of wine, I explained the event to my Luxembourg parents, Kurt and Margareta. I shook my head. “They never even looked!” I said, clearly flustered. At which point they laughed so hard they almost spit out their wine.

Today, breasts are, once again, everywhere on display. Many women feel no qualms about exposing every inch of cleavage they can muster. I have no problem with this in general. Though I do feel there’s a time and a place for such displays. I’m still pretty old school about educational and office environments. As I have often told my students, dress any way you want for a party on Saturday night, but give your wardrobe a bit more consideration on that job interview.

I’m guessing, since we know history tends to repeat itself, the fashion world will eventually force breasts  back into hiding.

As for me, since I recently retired from teaching, the girls can once again go free.

Ah . . .

Wild Horses on the Salt Cover 2

Wild Horses on the Salt

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Order your copy here:

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

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