Crazy Breast Laws Throughout History

There are many written references to breasts in early human history and many references might be different than we think today!

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Each week on TestTubePlus, we pick one topic and cover it from multiple angles. This week's topic is breasts. During the course of this five-part series, hosts Trace Dominguez and Amy Shira Teitel will be diving deep into the science, history and more of boobs. So far, Trace and Amy have discussed what breasts are for and why (most) humans only have two nipples, the importance of breastfeeding, what your favorite breast size may say about you, and why is breast cancer so prevalent. For this last episode of the series, they talk about where cultural taboos around breasts came from as well as some crazy boob laws throughout history.

The ancient Roman historian Tacitus provides us with one of the earliest written reference to the breast in Germania from around 98 BCE. In it, he mentioned that neither male nor female German wore shirts, unless they were in battle. So, boobs were no big deal until recently? Not quite: In the Viking Saga The People of Laxardal, believed to have been written between 900-1000 CE, it says that mean exposing their nipples were perceived as feminine, and it was legitimate grounds for divorce at the time. It was common practice for court ladies and royalty to expose a single breast in portraits in 17th century England. Historian Angela McShane Jones from the University of Warwick found that during this time, " was fairly commonplace for women to bare their breasts in public. The fashions were initiated by court members and Queens, then replicated by ordinary women, and common prostitutes".

In Victorian England, breasts were okay to be displayed, but only by lower class women. The upper class didn't show their breasts; they'd often hire a wet nurse as it wasn't considered "acceptable" to breastfeed their own children. Today, exposing breasts is public taboo in most cultures. Nobody really knows for sure when the crossover happened, but many agree that it probably is a hold-over from the sexually conservative Victorian era. Today, this may finally be coming to an end as many people are calling to "free the nipple" and people are learning to celebrate the human body as it is.

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Learn More:

Our Complicated Relationship with Breasts (TheWire)
"In America, we have what you might call a "problem" with boobs. See, the thing is, we don't know how to feel about them, exactly. On the one hand, we're surrounded by hyper-sexualized images of women, chests heaving in décolletage-revealing attire, or, more titillating (yes, I said it), covered by nothing at all."

Preferred female body proportions among child-free men (NCBI)
"Based on conceptual extrapolations from sociobiological models concerning the significance of secondary sex characteristics as markers of a female's capacity to produce and nurture offspring, we reasoned that men's greater unwillingness to reproduce would be linked to preference for a female body type characterized by the relative absence of such markers."

The Cleavage Countdown: 8 Facts About Breasts (
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Men Vs. Women: Our Key Physical Differences Explained (LiveScience)
"Sexual dimorphism" is the scientific term for physical differences between males and females of a species. Many extreme examples exist: Peacocks far outclass peahens, for instance, while female anglerfish both outsize and outwit their tiny, rudimentary, parasitic male counterparts."

Breasts are barrier to exercise (University of Portsmouth)
"Nearly one in five women say their breasts stop them from participating in physical activity, new research reveals. The research also found that physical activity levels weren't influenced by breast size, which suggests the breast could be a barrier to exercise for women across all bra sizes."