In or out – that’s the story of breasts over the ages. The Minoans exposed them; the Greeks shielded them with fabric. In 14th-century France, the bust was strapped down; a century later, the fashion was for clothes that would push it up and out. The Elizabethans covered it entirely.
In the Regency period, it was clearly visible, then the Victorians invented the monobosom – a solid, safely sexless mass of flesh.
Yet men’s fascination with breasts has never dimmed. It goes back to infancy: are they a symbol of male vulnerability (snuggling in for a warm drink) or male power (being received on demand)? And if infant lads were suckled at, say, the navel, would grown-up men still be so excited by breasts?
In the 20th century, the choice was between leg and breast. Men’s preferences yo-yoed – following the diktats of fashion and, increasingly, women themselves – between the aerobic lines of a well-turned ankle and the tantalising softness of a bosom, as amply displayed by Anita Ekberg in the 1960 film La Dolce Vita. Today’s men don’t choose – they take the lot. Is that because they are more liberated, or more sexually omnivorous? Either way, the female body has become a vast smorgasbord to lust after.
Will this
embarras de richesses eventually dull the very appetite it is meant to feed, creating in men a desire for bodies covered up in the Greek, Elizabethan or Victorian manner? I think you can guess the answer.
(First published December 2005)

First Image
Photo: Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita