My Breast Problem
Venetia Thompson’s ample cleavage has led strangers to “motorboat” her. So why aren’t designers interested in her chest? Plus, a gallery of top-heavy fashion.
My breasts have recently been weighing me down more than usual.
Last week, I was sexually assaulted in a nightclub frequented by Princes William and Harry on London’s Kings Road in Chelsea. While making a dash for the bar to imbibe myself with enough gin to survive the sticky carpets and awful pop music, I suddenly found myself being knocked backward as a strange gentleman (and I use the term loosely) forced me into a bear hug and promptly thrust his head between my Agent Provocateur-encased 32 F (well, my right one is apparently sometimes closer to a G) breasts before shaking his face back and forth like a drooling St. Bernard. I eventually fought him off, finally managing to hit him over the head several times with the metal clasp of my handbag.
I hope that if either of the princes had been present, they’d have come to my rescue.
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Strangely, this is the second time that this has happened to me in the last six months. Was I wearing a bustier or something equally revealing? No, just a simple black tank top and a pair of jeans. Yet it seems that large breasts have become such a rare, alien concept that the mere hint of a decent cleavage can now send men into a frenzy leading to what I have since discovered is referred to as "motorboating." As if finding clothes, underwear, and swimwear to accommodate my ample breasts wasn’t difficult enough, their mere existence is now putting me at risk of sexual assault. Is there no end to the trouble one’s bust can cause?
Everyone is quick to blame the fashion industry for the demise of the visible cleavage. Designers have always argued that having to add excess darts around the bust destroys their designs; that the weave of the luxury fabrics used simply doesn’t stretch to allow for breasts, and that pre-pubescent size-zero models are thus best equipped to display their clothes.
But it is arguable that the fashion industry’s dislike of large breasts goes way beyond the structural and design-based problems raised by them, and actually reflects a far broader social issue: Big breasts are viewed as cheap; as belonging in soft porn or the Playboy Mansion, but not in high society. Designers are aware of this, and have thus taken preventative measures: They do not want their brand to be cheapened by whatever porn star happens to totter past their boutique and decides to splash out, so they ensure that there is simply no room for breasts in their designs.
Breasts are ultimately as alien to the fashion industry as they are to your average gay male: fun to play with for a bit, but fundamentally of no interest.
Well-endowed women wanting to be widely accepted are therefore left with no choice but to keep themselves firmly strapped down and minimized, not daring to risk looking like a porn star, or God forbid, not being taken seriously in the workplace. Thus the only time that men now see large breasts is on the pages of porn magazines and movies, and occasionally during breast cancer awareness month.
But maybe there is renewed hope for boobs: Kate Moss has recently been spotted with a marginally larger cup size, perhaps even now filling a B, and the spring/summer 2010 collections have featured breasts more prominently. Underwear as outerwear is back, yet again, only this time in the form of corsets, bustiers, and underwear detailing. Christopher Kane used bra seaming and contouring throughout his collection at London Fashion Week; Milan saw Dolce & Gabbana bring back the corset and the visible bra, because, according to Stefano Gabbana, "it’s feminine and sexy"; and Paris has just witnessed Jean-Paul Gaultier subtly reworking his conical satin bras of yesteryear. But there was ironically still no hint of a "feminine and sexy" cleavage and no more than an A cup in sight, so I won’t be rejoicing just yet.
Vivienne Westwood, who earlier this year adopted Pamela Anderson as her muse and friend, can always be relied upon to accommodate breasts. Her designs have been worn by every hourglass figure on the red carpet from Nigella Lawson to the Baywatch babe herself, and it certainly hasn’t harmed Westwood’s brand. But while her latest collection contained all the usual corsetry, and the fall/winter 2009/2010 ad campaign even features Anderson, Westwood’s interest in Pam appears to have been no more than a brief flirtation, because the models on the runway were as flat-chested as ever.
When Anderson proclaimed earlier in the year, “yesterday I was considered soft porn, but today I am art,” "today" was sadly the operative word, because now it’s a new day and Westwood has moved on. Breasts are ultimately as alien to the fashion industry as they are to your average gay male: fun to play with for a bit, but fundamentally of no interest.
Away from the world of high fashion, there are of course specialist brands such as Bravissimo, which prides itself on making “lingerie, swimwear, and clothing for D-KK cup women,” and they even claim to have solved the timeless problem of gaping shirts and ill-fitting wrap dresses. Sadly, while undoubtedly structurally sound, this is really not the sort of underwear that you would ever want to wear as outerwear—but on the plus side, it may at least prevent any unwanted motorboating.
Occasionally, the lesser-spotted big-busted woman will make a pilgrimage to Victoria’s Secret, grabbing whatever she can in a DDD (their largest cup size)—before the sales assistant helpfully suggests going to Lane Bryant—and praying she might somehow squeeze into it.
Despite having been motorboated twice recently, I refuse to retire my cleavage—we have been through too much together to bring out the minimizer at the first sign of trouble, and I would urge other D-KK women to do the same. Breasts are back, and whether they’re firmly framed by Bravissimo or perfectly uplifted by a Westwood corset, it’s about time that they lose their soft porn connotations and are shown some respect.
Venetia Thompson is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Spectator. Her memoir, Gross Misconduct , will be published in February by Simon and Schuster U.K. She lives in London.