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When Susan Seligson released Stacked: A 32DDD Reports From the Front, Gawker dug up a grainy old photo of her and questioned the veracity of her title. "My dad has bigger breasts than Susan Seligson" asserted one naysayer in the comments section. "DDDelusions of grandeur" said another. Sixty-five people have weighed in so far.
All the hating sort of makes you just want to give Seligson a hug — a nice tight squeeze. But she can handle herself. In researching her compelling analysis of the massive industry dedicated to our nation's favorite gland, Seligson dealt with just about every sort of breast you can find, from the silicone weather balloons on exotic dancers to the double-mastectomied non-breasts proudly displayed by shirtless cancer survivors on the shores of Cape Cod. She confronted chauvinistic cross-dressers and crushed on an unnaturally tan celebrity boob surgeon. Nerve spoke with Seligson about this uniquely human obsession. — Catrinel Bartolomeu
Did the Gawker post and subsequent debate shake you?
I am definitely fair game. But what a terrible picture! No matter how much confidence you have, to be jeered at for your looks, it hits that fourth-grade nerve. You know you're no Christie Brinkley — you don't even care anymore. I stifled the temptation to respond. It's better to take the high ground.
How did writing the book affect your perception of women's racks?
I'm really aware of the fake ones now. They might as well have police lights on them. Gravity does something to real boobs where they don't have that half-coconut thing happening on top. A lot of strippers get bad ones that look like half-grapefruits placed askew. They're just wrong, wrong, wrong.
Are you a body-watcher by nature?
I look at people all the time. Sometimes, when my husband and I are watching CNN and there's something apocalyptic happening, he'll say, "Is that a wig?" and I'll say, "Is that Botox?" In the summer, when the tourists come, you realize there are a thousand different shapes of asses going by. You wonder why all those people wear shorts that are in their crack. So I really like looking at people. I'm not by any means obsessed only with [breasts].
How has this project changed your feelings about your own breasts?
When I was younger, I'd cover myself up. I got ogled everywhere. That's another thing about the jerks on Gawker — I don't have the biggest boobs in the world, it's just that the rest of me is small. I'd wear big floppy clothes that didn't fit. I was tired of getting the wrong kind of attention. As I got older, I thought, this is my body, I'm going to enjoy it. I started wearing clothes that fit, and I saw the humor in it. Once, a guy I was working with was talking to my boobs so I answered him back with them. I sort of shook them and said [in high-pitched Elmo voice], "Okay!"
Everyone thinks of big breasts as a gift, but you say they can be a burden.
Especially when you're young, it figures way too prominently in your life. And sometimes they're just so annoying, like if it's hot out. Just the weight. Some mornings I'll carry my boobs, one in each hand. That's more comfortable. There's the physical burden combined with the assholes saying things on the street all the time. For me now, I have the face of an older woman, and to still see that look on men's faces — that "Big Tit Alert" look — I mean, come on. Am I going to be hobbling around with a walker with this happening?
How do you know that it's always about your breasts? What if a guy is checking you out because he thinks you're cute?
That's a good point. If I had huge boobs, but was also obese, that wouldn't be happening. My body is a real old-fashioned hourglass, like when Playboy Bunnies had fat on them.
You note that we're the only primates whose breasts don't recede and go flaccid when we're not lactating. Are we just showing off?
There had to be some sort of selective advantage to having our breasts always engorged. Feminist theorists really hope it has something to do with nursing. But [biologist] Desmond Morris and others think it had to do with sex. He says that boobs became a selective advantage to reproduction when we started having full-frontal sex instead of being mounted from behind because they were reminiscent of buttocks.
These are smart people, not idiots who have these theories, but really nobody knows. I was a biology major, and intuitively it would seem that a woman with big boobs would not be sexually appealing because it would mean she was taken. And today, breast sizes across the spectrum exist in the population. Men will go on the internet to look at big boobs, but they don't necessarily require a mate with big boobs.
You write, "At some point women came to prize their breasts as a means to pleasure as well as of offering material sustenance. No one knows for certain how this came to pass or why." How do you know prehistoric women didn't always have sensitive nipples that liked to be touched?
I was assuming, evolving from apes, everything grew refined. When you watch the way animals have sex, they experience sexual pleasure, but what made a mate attractive was that she was in heat. I'm pretty sure we started out that way too, without erotic fixation on any particular parts.
There are still people who argue that breasts are not sexual organs.
The women in the Topfree movement feel that they should have all the same rights as men to be shirtless. Regardless of how legal it is, I can't imagine sitting in Central Park with my shirt off. I'd feel provocative and exposed. A friend of mine who had a double mastectomy walks around shirtless in the summer — I mean, it's Provincetown, so there's someone right next to her wearing a harness and chaps with a bone through his nose. She has no breasts, why should she cover up? I have female friends with full beards. She doesn't attract more attention than that. Her sheer existence makes people think, if I'm offended, why?
What do you think of the Topfree movement in general?
The Topfree crusaders are interesting people. They're not silly; they're serious and intelligent. I just think it's a weird battle to choose. Why use your spare time to scream about this?
How many breasts do you think you've touched in the course of your research?
Maybe thirty. A lot of fake ones, reduced ones, ones on an f-to-m. I've touched a lot of boobs.
Your book includes an exhaustive list of breast slang. What are your favorites and least favorites?
My least favorites are the descriptive ones like milkbags, clamnecks, chesthams. I loved minarets. The Mexican ones were really cute — challupas, chi chis, carambas.
Can you tell us about "boob rituals?" The Lesbian Carwash, for example.
[Lesbian political writer] Kate Clinton told me about this. All the women take their tops off, and then line up and face each other and swing their boobs as another woman walks through them — like the floppy, spongy things at a carwash. I do this thing that just cracks my husband up. When he comes home after doing errands and pulls up grumpy and carrying packages, I lift up my bra and smash my boobs against the car window. I don't know what he sees because I've never been on the other side of that, but he just cracks up. It brightens his mood.
Tell me about posing for Jordan Matter [photographer of naked people in public].
It was like rock-climbing. I can't believe I even did it once, and I will never, ever do it again. He is wonderful, very professional. I certainly wasn't feeling at ease, but I did feel like he was my protector. It was the final frontier of making friends with my boobs. It was scary and it was hot and it was getting later and out of a sort of weariness, I took my shirt off. I did learn that, amazingly, I have the power in that situation. Not only do men look at my breasts, but they say, "I'd like to get a look at those." I've been offered money to show them. I've been grabbed, and I sometimes feel like I'm a sitting duck. But when I exposed them myself, people were just terrified. It was an interesting reversal of power.
To order Stacked: A 32DDD Reports From the Front click here.