By Guest Contributor Felicia Carparelli Chicago-native Felicia Carparelli is a retired teacher/librarian and avid film fan, particularly of Hollywood's Golden Era. She is also a published author of The Murder in the Library, young adult novels and Jane Austen-inspired stories.
It is a sort of personal hell when you are scared to look at yourself in the mirror.
American cinema celebrates and glorifies the female breast. Many filmmakers have punctuated their scripts with tantalizing or frustrating visions of this glandular body part that can be shocking, alluring, mesmerizing or downright obscene.
But what do I think of the female breast? This writer must share that on September 13, 2018, I had breast cancer surgery. Until that time, I thought of my breasts as something nice to put into a colorful brassiere. They budded at 12, fed babies at 32, sagged a bit at 50 and now there is a scar on the left breast that is worthy of Karloff in Frankenstein. I can’t find my nipple - it is hidden somewhere between the incision and the swelling (I hope). Perhaps it will descend like Katharine Hepburn in Suddenly Last Summer (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1959) quietly and magnificently, or perhaps it will stay tucked up in my body to rest during the last quarter of my life in happy isolation.
If you have never watched Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), one of the most frightening films ever made, take a look. I don’t compare my breast to those creatures who suffered with birth defects and other pituitary deformities but I can understand their problems. It is a sort of personal hell when you are scared to look at yourself in the mirror.
But let’s get back to boobs, Hollywood style.
In the 1920’s and 30’s, breasts were not accentuated. They were draped in silk and satin and bias-cut gowns that skimmed the figure and highlighted hips and stomachs and glorious gleaming shoulders. In the 1920’s breasts were often constricted with an elastic band, so the flapper gowns, adorned with fringe, could hang well and shimmy as they danced. Look at Theda Bara and the silent film stars who were almost flat chested but still very provocative.
In the 1940’s, the pin-up girl look like Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall, was not a busty look but a sleek, slender, close to the figure outline with well-fitted suits and form-fitting sweaters. Bathing suits had sweetheart necklines with halter straps, that pushed up and enhanced but did not show much cleavage. There was a war on.
All that changed in the 1950’s. Suddenly flesh was prominent, available and as flashy as the fins on a 1954 pink Cadillac. The bosom was encased in rather severe fitting bras that forced the bosom into a conical figuration that could put your eye out. There were also push-up bras with strategic boning that caused Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield to ooze out of their dresses. Watch Marilyn in The Seven Year Itch (Billy Wilder, 1955) or Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959); see Jayne in The Girl Can’t Help It (Frank Tashlin, 1956); or watch Sophia Loren, the Italian goddess, in anything. Her bosom should be classified as the 8th wonder of the world. Amazing.
In the 1960’s slimmer women like Janet Leigh in Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) or any James Bond female had high pointed breasts wrapped in tight, tight sweaters. How could they breathe in atomic age lingerie? Also in the 1960’s, all expectations of the female form broke loose. On one hand, you had the small breasted, often braless look of Goldie Hawn and Mia Farrow, and on the other the goddess look of Brigitte Bardot, Sophia (always), Raquel Welch and Elizabeth Taylor.
After the 60’s, this writer likes to think beauty was more subjective and not judged on the size of one’s bust. Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Emily Blunt, Kate Winslet - beautiful figures but not outrageous or caricatures - until Kim Kardashian. Ahem. Implants have enhanced many an actress and have launched many careers that were built on silicone and not talent.
I wish I had appreciated my own breasts a little more before my cancer. Now I will always be looking at them through the filter of my memory, what was, what is, what will be. But I will stand up straight and tall and strike a pose like my ladies of the cinema, and be grateful that I am not wearing a bra and panty girdle from 1959.