I was on holiday, swimming in the Med recently, when I spotted my ideal beach body on the shore. A woman, probably in her late 70s, average build, was standing in the surf, hands on hips, boobs out, smiling as she stared out to sea. That, I thought to myself, is exactly the kind of bikini-ready — or bikini-shedding — confidence that’s worth aspiring to.
I was reminded of her when I saw England striker Chloe Kelly celebrate her championship-winning goal against Germany in the Euro finals on Sunday night. In celebration, she stripped down to her sports bra, whipping her shirt off, to swing it round her head in euphoric triumph.
No, it’s not quite the same as baring your breasts in the Balearics, but what struck me in both instances was how unsexualised both images were. Women with their tops off, celebrating what their bodies can do, rather than what the male gaze makes of them.
Is that not sad that we’re so unused to seeing breasts outside of a sexual context that it feels quietly remarkable when it happens?
This week marks the start of World Breastfeeding Week, and nowhere is the sexualisation of breasts more keenly felt than when it comes to breastfeeding in public.
Having breastfed my two boys to their third birthdays, I’ve experienced it myself. “Oh he’ll be a boob man,” one person chuckled on finding out I was ‘still’ breastfeeding my two-year-old some years back.
“What does your husband think?” was another one, the inference being that my cleavage should surely be for his entertainment only.
Ireland’s breastfeeding rates are shockingly low. Some 75pc of pregnant mums intend to breastfeed but only a third of them leave hospital exclusively breastfeeding. By six months, only 10-15pc are breastfeeding — one of the worst figures in the world. A lack of support is one aspect, but so too is the cultural stigma attached to breastfeeding in public.
The ‘there’s a time and a place’ mentality that has new mums fretting about having to throw a blanket over their baby’s head because it’s all very well to see boobs on a top shelf, but God forbid there should be one next to you on the train with a suckling infant attached to it.
If you’ve struggled to get a baby to latch on, battled blocked ducts, experienced mastitis, pumped, been pummelled by a hungry toddler, smeared lanolin cream on cracked nipples, generally run the gamut with the whole breastfeeding experience, then you’ll know there’s absolutely nothing titillating about it. If you think any breastfeeding woman is an exhibitionist, getting them out in the hopes of turning on passing men, then you need to take a long, hard look at yourself because, frankly, you’re the biggest tit in the room.
There’s an art exhibition, Fighting the Breastfeeding Stigma through Art, currently running at Dublin’s Copper House Gallery, by male lactation consultant, Dr Afif El Khuffash, showcasing paintings of women feeding babies.
‘The Big Latch On’, a safe public space where mothers can feed their children together, is an integral part of this week’s Breastival celebration in Northern Ireland. But isn’t it crazy that raising awareness and de-stigmatising mammaries is still such an issue? How can we live in a time where so much is possible and yet the sight of a female nipple will have you slung off social media in shame?
Of course cleavage can be sexy, breasts can be sexual and sources of pleasure but, it’s not their prime function, their raison d’être. To paraphrase Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich: They’re just boobs, Ed. Just another bit of the body that most women barely think about unless wearing a particularly uncomfortable bra.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could stop seeing women’s bodies — breasts in particular — as sexual things, and instead start celebrating what the female form can do?
Because, whether that’s feeding a child, scoring a winning goal in a soccer tournament or simply swimming in the sea in our 70s and standing smiling on the sand, that’s so much more interesting. Nothing titillating, just tits.
Here’s something to think about while you try to save the world by washing your yoghurt pots out: A new report has revealed that the singer, and dedicated climate change campaigner, Taylor Swift took 170 flights on her private plane this year, racking up more than 22,923 minutes in the air and contributing 8,293.54 tonnes of carbon, 1,000 times more than the average person.
Swift has since said that “not all the flights were made by her” and indeed she’s not the only culprit on the list, released by Yard.
Jay-Z, Oprah, Steven Spielberg and Kim Kardashian have also notched up frequent flier miles at untold damage to the environment.
Yes, that’s the same Oprah who says everyone needs to see An Inconvenient Truth and declared that the environment “is the thing she values most in life”; the same Jay-Z behind the Greenprint Project.
Spielberg, who reportedly prides himself on driving an electric car, was shown to have taken a flight on a $70m Gulfstream jet lasting 17 minutes.
Yes, we all need to play our part to address climate change, but you can’t urge your fans to change the world by eating more plant-based meals and then justify winging it 47 minutes up the road in a fuel-guzzling, personalised Puma private jet that churns out four tonnes of Co2 emissions.
I’m willing to accept that super-rich celebs live in a different world to the rest of us, but when it comes to their eco-hypocrisy, they seriously need to be brought back down to earth.
Love Island is over and while I will miss the drama, the inane chat and the endless texts, there’s one thing I will be glad to see the back of: the background music.
From slowed-down versions of 1990s club classics like N-Trance’s Set You Free, to Whitney Houston remixes, the Love Island soundtrack has been happily butchering tunes from my youth for eight weeks now and I’m not impressed. It’s like living in one long John Lewis Christmas ad.
Get your own music Gen Z and stop messing with our classics.