The decline of the bosom
From being celebrated and worshipped in India as a symbol of femininity and fertility, the bosom has vanished from the arena of popular culture, writes Seema Goswami.fashion and trends Updated: Jan 27, 2009 17:20 IST
Okay, if I promise not to use phrases like “make a clean breast of it”, “bosom buddies”, “booby trap” or even “breast is best” in a nudge-nudge-wink-wink manner can I tell you about a pet theory of mine? Yes, you guessed it, it has to do with breasts, but I swear it’s not in the slightest bit salacious, lascivious or just plain prurient. What I’m talking about here is the decline of the bosom.
You must have noticed it too. From being something that was celebrated, even worshipped, in India as a symbol of femininity and fertility, the bosom has well near disappeared from the arena of popular culture. Sure, all the celebrities are wearing push-up bras and posing with décolletage on view for the cameras, but the breasts on display are but pale emaciated shadows of the proud specimens that went before.
Think about it. Temple sculptures in ancient India always depicted our goddesses in an hourglass shape, with an ample bosom and a well-upholstered derriere. The paintings of such artists as Raja Ravi Varma featured big-bosomed women as did the art of Mughal miniature or the Tanjore painting tradition. And Hindi cinema carried this proud tradition forward. All heroines were expected to be suitably voluptuous, even if they had to throw on heavy-duty falsies to make the cut.
One of the leading directors of the era, Raj Kapoor, was famous for his self-confessed breast fixation. All his heroines from Vyjanthimala and Padmini to Zeenat Aman and Mandakini were magnificently well-upholstered. And Kapoor took a particular delight in showing off their assets, putting Aman in a barely-there choli in Satyam Shivam Sundaram and placing a white-saree clad Mandakini under a waterfall so as to leave nothing to anyone’s imagination.
I suspect that Kapoor would find it heavy going trying to feed his fetish in the Bollywood of today. Even if you stick our current lot of heroines under a high power shower the results would not be half as erotic. After all, when you haven’t got it in the first place, what is there to flaunt?
But why has the bosom suddenly gone out of fashion? One reason for its fall may well be the rise of the size zero figure. Today’s ideal of feminine beauty is of a painfully thin silhouette with not an extra inch of flesh anywhere. And when you have dieted and exercised yourself down to non-existence, you can’t expect to retain a plump little bosom.
Think Aishwarya Rai in Dhoom II, for instance. She lost an incredible amount of weight for the movie and as a consequence had all the sex appeal of a stick insect (contrast this with her pulchritudinous charms in the Nimbuda number in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam). Or Kareena Kapoor’s bikini shot in Tashan which was curiously without heat. Yes, she looked thin; she looked toned; she looked great. But did she look sexy? If you ask me, even Dimple Kapadia with all her baby fat was sexier at the Bobby poolside.
But in a culture that increasingly abhors body fat of any kind, it has become unacceptable for a woman to have breasts beyond a polite BB cup. It can’t be a coincidence that the last top leading lady of Bollywood to have proper breasts was Madhuri Dixit. Since then, every new entrant, from Preity Zinta to Deepika Padukone has been less than well endowed. And the one heroine who does have a generous bust, Amisha Patel, languishes on the sidelines of a career that is rapidly going nowhere.
In the West, things are even worse. Here, big breasts have been driven out of everywhere and forced to seek refuge in the porn industry. And even here, the specimens on display are gloriously if flagrantly fake for the most part.
Outside in the real world it is hard to think of a bonafide star with big breasts. Of course, there are those like Pamela Anderson who resort to comical implants – but these women never quite attain Grade A status. No wonder then that Oprah Winfrey was so taken by Kate Winslet’s wholly natural bosom when the two-time Golden Globe winner appeared on her show.
But why do breasts get such a bad rap of late? I think it’s partly because we are subliminally programmed to think big breasts equals big bimbo. Women who have larger bosoms than normal will know exactly what I mean. The moment your breasts enter the room a few seconds before you the word bimbo hangs delicately above your head unless you can prove otherwise. And that’s not easy to do, given that nobody is paying attention to anything but your breasts.
No, it doesn’t help if you cover them up. They still lurk beneath your modest top, drawing attention to themselves by their very unobtrusiveness. Wear a low neck in the hope of minimising their size through visual trickery and everyone you meet will have several interesting conversations with your cleavage without even clocking your presence. Honestly, there’s no winning this one.
So, what do women who don’t meet with the new aesthetic ideal – perky breasts, pert bottom – do? Well, you could try wearing black, black and yet more black. Or you could retire from society till the hourglass shape makes a comeback. Surely, that day can’t be too far off?