My earliest recollection of what “boob” meant was not “breast” but a foolish, stupid person. It came up often as a child, usually when my father was referring to the TV; he called it the “boob tube”. In thinking about this post, I wondered if I had mis-remembered this. I Googled “boob”. The usual trash came up but so did the Free Dictionary definition listing with the first listing exactly as I remembered. So why do we refer to our breasts by this demeaning term?
There are two obvious reasons:
- We lack a good understanding of our bodies, even what different organs or muscles do, on the most basic level. I couldn’t even identify where my uterus was on a diagram (or even what it did!) before I had my daughter. Granted, I’m no science nerd but as a woman it seems like I should know my own reproductive organs.
- Many of us also recognize that our bodies are less than perfect, which often renders them hated in our eyes. We see all the imperfections, deep wrinkles, hanging flesh, endless dark spots, small or big scars and become angry. We remain angry.
We all know that it’s easier to engage in name-calling or shaming something we don’t understand or dislike. And certainly our breasts are not exactly like our uterus-we can identify them on a diagram-but while we know that our breasts are capable of feeding a baby, do we know the mechanics of how that works or what to do with a hungry newborn? Most of us don’t. Not only are we unfamiliar with the physical capabilities of our breasts but our breasts are often something that we don’t like about our body either, for whatever reason. Unsurprisingly, breast augmentation (enhancement) surgery was the number one cosmetic surgery in the US in 2011, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
But, there’s something else beyond aversion and ignorance at work here. It seems to me that there is a misogynistic, hostile undercurrent in the mocking switch from “breast” into “boob”. Something about this demotion feels unimportant and expendable. Kind of like how society has come to view the female body: something less than. We reduce it to chopped parts in advertising. The fetus has become more valued than the woman who is carrying it. We abuse and damage the female body in the name of free speech and “sexual expression” in the most extreme gonzo porn. Heck, even survivors of rape or incest in North Dakota will soon not be allowed the choice of an abortion. Why in the world would one piece of the female anatomy be any more valued than the whole?
None of this is new, of course. But the degree to which women (women of color and poor women especially) have lost power and control over their own body has reached higher, scarier levels. So what can we do? Let’s start by reclaiming language that demeans us. Let’s start with replacing the insipid “boob” with the powerful “breast”.
While there are many pieces of our lives that that are governed for us, the language that we use is one way in which we can exercise control over our body. Language matters. If you doubt that, just consider the affect on your self-esteem when you curse yourself for falling off your diet or the exercise wagon. Or when you yell at your toddler because you’re both over-tired at the end of a long day. Language matters. What you say and how you say it makes a difference.
My breasts will never be as perky as they once were. But they continue to feed my ten month old daughter as much as she wants, as often as she wants. And thanks to my post-partum doula training, I even have an idea how that works! Maybe this is why I wince when someone calls breasts by their derisive slang name. My breasts are imperfect and still not completely understood but they are powerful and deserving of the correct name. Since our body deserves to be treated as powerful and worthy, so too do our breasts. An appreciation of the power of the breast and all it is capable of evaporates -not even diminishes, but disappears – when we say “boob”. Let’s take back some of the power that has been wrestled from us by starting with one spoken word: breast.
What do you think? Is breast best? Leave a comment below.