We often forget that the human population is merely a member of the animal kingdom, our individual traits, and physical characteristics developed specifically to assist us in survival and the continuation of the species. However, have you ever stopped to consider the traits that serve no clear purpose?
The breast is a feature of the body that has long been debated in our society – are these merely a practice part of a woman’s body designed to provide sustenance and nutrition to our babies in the form of breast milk, or are they a highly sexual body part that should be treated with the same level of secrecy as our genitals? Without getting into the great breastfeeding debate, there is a lot that we don’t understand about a woman’s breasts!
In order to truly understand society’s view of breasts, one would have to look back on the moments in history that their role began to change. As science writer and author of ‘The Chemistry of Connection’ Susan Kuchinskas explains:
“In the Playboy era, people used to sniff that men’s fixation on breasts was an urge for their mommies. Then, modern conveniences freed many women from the drudgery of housework, and let them become more ornamental. Mommies were freed from having to use their breasts to mother, thanks to formula, just like having a dishwasher let them keep their manicures. It’s not surprising that women’s fashion become more artificial in this era. Hair was teased and spready into a bouffant and long fingernails became de rigueur. No wonder breast augmentation was invented in this era.”
It is estimated that, in 2017, 300,378 women underwent breast augmentation surgery in the United States. There is no denying that this contributes to the notably large size of many women’s breasts today, but scientists now say that it’s bigger than that. Even those women sporting A and B cups still raise the question, why are human breasts so much larger than the rest of the animal kingdom?
If you look at the other mammals that we share this planet with, there is no denying that they breastfeed there young and therefore, nursing mothers must have breasts. The difference is that those breasts develop only during ovulation and nursing, shrinking away once again after the milk is gone. The human population is the only one that sees breast development occur as a sign of puberty, causing our breasts to grow larger and maintain their larger size throughout our lives. But is there a purpose to this difference?
There are a number of theories regarding our larger breast size. Biologist Tim Caro predicted in 1987 that these larger breasts served a specific practical purpose, allowing women to breastfeed their children while still balancing the baby on their hip. This was key as it allowed for greater mobility, while also freeing up one arm. This would allow them to continue to get important things done while still caring for their young children. This, however, fails to explain why the breasts develop so early, as this could still be accomplished should the breasts develop during ovulation.
Another theory, proposed by Charles Darwin and further studied by zoologist Desmond Morris may shine a light on the original debate mentioned here – They stated that the larger breasts were an evolutionary development to let males know when a woman reaches sexual maturity, which is why they develop during puberty. This still, however, fails to explain why the breasts remain after women reach menopause.
The truth? Further research is required before we will ever fully understand the existence of women’s breasts. However, curiosity encourages us to continue exploring.