I have always theorized that male supremacist representations of the "ideal woman" look as they do in the West, in general, in the United States more specifically, in large part because throughout history, neither men nor women had any idea what women's bodies actually looked like in their amazing diversity. I think it was circular: having snuck a peek at a woman or possibly a few women, in some stage of undress, out of the impulse to objectification, men and boys, beginning ages and ages ago and continuing on through the generations, created images of "ideal women" based on the very few models they had snuck a peek at and consistent with the images of women they had inherited, in so doing constructing both patriarchal beauty standards and male desire. There's no other reason which makes sense to me for the Barbie-doll-like uniformity which American culture pronounces "beautiful," and especially, "sexy."
It's always struck me as so odd: asked what they find attractive, individual heterosexual boys and men often describe women who diverge from the ideal, sometimes widely, and a quick look around evidences that most men do not partner with Barbie-doll types. But the success of the pornography industry and the pervasiveness of its imagery demonstrate that Barbie-doll types nevertheless are the gold standard for "hot," and therefore the standard by which traditional women measure their own and other women's attractiveness, and by which men also measure women's attractiveness– even though they may partner with women, and be attracted to women, who do not meet the prevailing American standard! And of course this disconnect reflects the way men construct their multiple sexual universes: these women are the good women whom I marry; those women are the bad women whom I fuck. It's the latter group, the fuckable group, which is the standard by which all women's appearances are measured, including the "good" women. I've never put much or any stock in studies which purport to demonstrate some genetic or biological basis for what men find attractive in women; I think those studies simply evidence how successfully the standard itself has been constructed by men and imposed on women over millennia.
The result for women and girls, though, is (1) shame about their bodies, which are 99 percent of the time nothing like the ideal, and their either (2) covering their non-ideal body parts, or (3) altering them via constricting or padded undergarments, surgeries, dieting, working out, or a combination of all of the above. This, in turn, continues to reify the ideal as ideal, to make it real.
In American culture only those women who match or somewhat match the ideal, or who have some body parts which match the ideal, are generally willing to display their bodies or their best parts, meaning the only real bodies anyone in American culture ever really sees are (more or less) ideal bodies, with the lion's share of the population so painfully and shamefully aware how much they do not measure up that they make sure nobody knows how much their bodies really deviate from the ideal.
Then, in our culture, it is permissible for breasts to be revealed for men's objectifying or fetishizing pleasure, but it isn't permissible to display lactating breasts which are nursing infants. For one thing, this kind of revealing gets in the way of the prevailing belief and insistence that boobs exist for men's sexual pleasure. For another thing, women's body fluids, including breast milk, are considered repulsive and offensive under American male supremacy, a real "ick" factor, something to be sanitized, deodorized, absorbed, wrapped in tissue and disposed of discreetly, and that's certainly not what's ever going on with breastmilk. There is something proud and arrogant and defiant about public breastfeeding, it has nothing at all to do with men, let alone sex with men, and so patriarchy must punish it, must insist that those who practice it hide themselves. It's just not consistent with the male supremacist plan.
What's sad is, it's not only women's perceptions of their attractiveness or desirability which are affected, it's also their perceptions of the functionality of their bodies. If all a girl has ever seen is Barbie-doll boobs, including in the way the size and shape of the breasts are suggested in breastfeeding imagery (because even in that imagery, in general, traditional beauty standards prevail), they may, and often do, conclude they will not be able to breastfeed because their breasts are substandard and not like other women's breasts. I have heard woman after woman explain to me that she felt she couldn't breastfeed because her breasts were too flat or too small or too large or for some other reason related to their appearance.
I think one way of fucking patriarchy's fascist beauty standards might be simply publishing photos of real breasts– the real breasts of real women, breasts which began to grow when they were 8 or 9 or 13 or 15 and which continued to grow or to diminish, or both or neither, throughout their lives, breasts which nursed infants or not, which grew throughout pregnancy or not, endured biopsies and mastectomies or not. Real breasts are not symmetrical, are every size, are not round or oval or any predictable shape, might be soft, firm and everything in between. The shape of real breasts does not in any way resemble the packets of saline or other substances which surgeons, after having cut a woman open, insert into her chest, usually destroying the sensation in, and hence the sexual pleasure of, her nipples and greatly reducing the likelihood she will ever be able to nurse an infant. Implants are part and parcel of male fantasies about breasts; they both perpetuate the fantasy and impose it and reimpose it on women, and all in the course of a certain kind of torture: cutting, mutilation, the letting of blood, lasting scars.
We Second Wavers discarded our bras not only for comfort, but also because we really did view patriarchal beauty standards as an important site of our resistance. Our rejection of bras was our collective fist in the face of a surrounding culture which insisted we force our breasts, of whatever size or shape, into unyielding, constricting, tight, boned, padded undergarments which sometimes caused us physical injury: permanent grooves in the shoulders, back and neck and shoulder injuries, and ongoing pain. Over the past forty years there has been an incremental return to these and other constricting garments — including boning, even corsets — not to mention an explosion in the numbers of women who have sought out costly and painful breast implants, some of which have left them with permanent, debilitating health problems. Free and unencumbered breasts rarely fit neatly or comfortably into clothes designed for women (or for men), and that is by design. It's the way male supremacy ensures we will continue to accommodate its requirements; if your boobs don't work with our clothes, it says, it's because you are defective, and the evidence of that is all around you, in all of the many images you see — just look how well those women fit our clothes! — but if you are defective, we can help you out with bras, padded or boned, with diet plans and exercises for the pecs, we'll even cut you open and will happily repair your defect.
The best place for women to be relieved of their fears and illusions about women's bodies might be the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival where women gather each year in safety and freedom and in a spirit which celebrates the beautiful diversity of women's real bodies. This isn't possible for many women (and no men are allowed at Michfest), so second best might just be visiting this great pro-real-boobs site featuring photos of the real breasts of real women– women of all ages, women who have been pregnant and not, have breastfed and not. I think these photos might be a revelation to those who have never seen real boobs in all of their beauty and amazing difference.
Then do yourself a favor and visit Victoria Nahum's blog and follow the blogger's navigating all of the many health problems resulting from her implants of seven years, implants she has finally had surgically removed.