Buttocks and Breasts: An Obsession
After getting shamelessly lured by an eye-catching new book, Butts: A Backstory by Heather Radke, I couldn't help but wonder: why do people obsess about certain body parts?
Objectively, we all have body parts we find attractive in others. It stands to reason that we also have parts of our own bodies we like to accentuate because it makes us feel confident. Since I wanted a more well-rounded blog post (pun intended), my mind wandered to the other big obsession in Western culture: women's breasts. Though I personally find them a nuisance in my fitness pursuits, and I greatly dislike unwanted attention being paid to them, my own breasts did prove useful when I had my son and embarked on the journey of breastfeeding. To that end, here is a curated list exploring the history and socio-cultural reasons behind fetishizing these two prominent body parts.
Books About Buttocks
The Rear View : A Brief and Elegant History of Bottoms Through The Ages by Jean-Luc Hennig
This cheeky little book is worth the trek to the Toronto Reference Library (TRL). Through a historical lens, Hennig takes us on a deeply enjoyable and witty journey of both the artistic and literary obsession with bottoms. I swear, we keep all the best books about nudity up in the Arts Department at TRL.
Seen From Behind : Perspectives on the Male Body and Renaissance Art by Patricia Lee Rubin
For you history buffs, this book flips the usual scholarship of the male body's phallic imagery to the male backside, specifically in Renaissance art and culture. This book is perfect if you're looking for serious scholarship and about the male body in particular.
Reading From Behind : A Cultural Analysis of the Anus by Jonathan A. Allan
Another rejection of phallocentrism, this wildly charming book analyses the anus in everything from porn to poetry. This book is filled with pop culture references that will help you reexamine sex, culture and identity but in a light-hearted tone. Jonathan A. Allan is a contributing author of another sexy little book called "Virgin Envy: The Cultural (In)Significance of the Hymen."
Butts : A Backstory by Heather Radke
Not willing to wait in the long hold queue, this book was worth every penny of my Libro.fm account credit in order to buy the eAudiobook: "Butts : A Backstory" is 8 hours and 13 minutes of robust delight. Radke asks us, "how did a mass of muscle and fat become an aesthetic and a cultural Rorschach test for our collective feelings about what's desirable, acceptable and shameful?" This book covers anatomy, emotion and culture with particular attention being paid to female butts.
Books About Breasts
A Boob's Life: How America's Obsession Shaped Me... And You by Leslie Lehr
A great mix of personal narrative and cultural analysis, Lehr's book considers a huge range of factors like Playboy, beauty pageants, bare breasts in American films, breastfeeding guidelines, breast augmentation surgeries, censorship laws and even breast cancer. For people still smirking at Jax's hit song "Victoria's Secret" (also covered in this book), you'll want to check this one out.
Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams
Williams is a science reporter who tells us about the evolution of the breast from puberty to pregnancy to menopause, all wrapped in excellent cover art. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on hormonal birth control as well as the discussion of toxins in female breast tissue.
Boobs : Women Explore What It Means To Have Breasts Edited by Ruth Daniell
This collection of short stories made me sit down and truly consider how having breasts has impacted my life. The stories featured in this collection cover a wide range of life experiences, from surviving sexual assault to a young woman deciding to undergo breast reduction surgery to a gender non-binary parent's ambivalent relationship with breastfeeding. Incredibly powerful, Daniell truly captured what having breasts can mean outside the usual images in pop culture.
Cultural Encyclopedia of The Breast Edited by Merril D. Smith
A truly impressive resource, Smith argues that "because there are so many cultural aspects to the breasts, the encyclopedia is an ideal format for covering the topic." This book is a one-stop shop for dissecting cultural fascinations with breasts. Because it is multidisciplinary, drawing on medicine, sociology, media studies, gender studies, history, art and literature, Smith is able to take us on a global tour of everything from statues to modern advertisements and unpack why we are so obsessed with breasts.
Have I neglected a particular body part you are obsessed with? Comment below!