The Nipple Effect; Breast obsession in relationships

Tall and slim, Melissa is a woman most people would turn their head to. Her eyes are expressive and full of life, and she seems to know how to use this beautiful, lively face and body to her advantage. Her friends adore her generous and sunny personality and often compliment her on the good job she’s done turning her life around. She is now aware of her inner beauty and works hard to preserve the gift of her outer attractiveness. She learned to love herself.

Melissa hadn’t been this joyful most of her life; in fact, this newfound peace of mind had eluded her for a very long time.

Until ten years ago, Melissa suffered from a severe eating disorder. She was practically saved by the unwavering efforts of her mother, family and professional help (family doctor and therapist).

In her therapy sessions, Melissa learned about her own body image, her perfectionistic attitudes toward herself and others, her judgmental nature, and her need for control. Brave work paid off; Melissa overcame the disease and then pursued what she considered a productive, creative and comfortable life.

Four years ago, Melissa became romantically involved with a young man she loved and respected, and wanted to marry. Steve was blown away by her beauty and personality, as well as her quality of life, her positive energy, vivacity and yes, her cooking skills. They didn’t like spending time away from each other and decided to move in together. Both worked on their careers and slowly built their love nest; a beautifully decorated house where they were happy to come.

On a Saturday night a few weeks ago, Melissa and Steve went dancing at the club where they first met. They do it often and they are both good dancers. This time, however, a young woman was dancing beside them. She wore a red top that was cut short, revealing her firm abs, her large breasts were accentuated by a low neckline, and her nipples peeked through the red fabric. Steve looked intrigued. The young woman looked back at him and smiled. When Melissa and Steve returned to their seats, he was still staring at the woman in the red top. Melissa noticed his fascination and felt that something inside her had just been provoked. She let him know how she felt. Steve kept saying (defensively) that he was just watching and that watching is not action, acting, etc. His words did not help her emotional state. If anything, those words made the situation worse.

Within a week, Melissa was back to her old eating disorder behaviors. Her tendencies to starve herself and purge after eating have returned. She became obsessive about perfecting her environment, controlling, judging and feeling miserable. Melissa lost her trust in Steve; projecting her insufficiently good condition onto him and feeling depressed. Melissa regressed.

Let’s go back to that Saturday night at the club. Steve, at the club, was unaware of Melissa’s predicament. He reacted to an external stimulus; breasts and nipples exposed near him, why? What’s wrong with that?

In my recent book Booby-Trapped, How to Feel Normal in a Breast-obsessed World, there is a discussion (including historical research) that explores Steve’s thoughts on this culture and how young men have become so obsessed with women’s breasts, or more visually descriptive; ‘mini-trap’. Steve reacts to the woman with the red top as he did to Melissa a few years earlier; with fascination, provocation, sexual attraction and intrigue. However, his apparent callous behavior at the club is an area that needs improvement. Steve belongs to this generation where large breasts are considered one of the main criteria of attractiveness. It’s a kind of code we teach our young men. It is now a mental health hazard with many painful consequences. And it’s a family problem that becomes serious, like an eating disorder.

Back to Melissa. She instinctively felt threatened by Steve’s reaction and recoiled in depression. Why such a strong reaction from Melissa? She has a great body, thin and sexy. She also has big breasts. Did I mention that Melissa had breast augmentation surgery as part of her quest for self-improvement?

Well, as you have learned by now; Melissa is at least as ‘trapped’ as Steve; namely, she is obsessed with the size and shape of women’s breasts. These emotions and preoccupation with body parts such as breasts often mask deep feelings of shame about one’s femininity and self-worth. No wonder she is threatened by the sight of another woman’s deliberately displayed large breasts, attracting the attention of her man.

Melissa, like many women of her generation, accepted the culture-induced ‘norm’ of large female breasts.

What kind of example will he set for his future children? How will she ‘deal’ with breastfeeding, motherhood, aging, life and other maturing processes?

Notice how Melissa’s regression was not caused by a bare, firm stomach, but by envy of her boyfriend, large dancing breasts, and noticeable nipples that set off a ripple effect.

What Melissa will learn is actually the message and motto of Trapped, How to Feel Normal in a Breast Obsessed World;

Size and shape are human tissues,

Shame and fear are human issues!