There is something in particular that bothers me about people who insult or shame women (usually, mercifully(?), behind their backs) about shirts that show cleavage. It’s been something I’ve seen a lot more of since I started working retail – I’m working with a lot of generally perfectly lovely, but not exactly social justice-oriented, people. And it’s Toronto summer, so our customers aren’t always wearing whole lot of clothes. And sometimes slut-shaming happens.

And I mean, for starters, I’m bothered by the fact that I am apparently expected to be complicit in my coworkers’ “complaints”. Because, you know, it’s not like *I* dress that way, clearly. Most of the time at work, I’m wearing men’s jeans and loose t-shirts. But there’s another thing that really, really bothers me.

Without fail, if I look at the woman who’s being shamed about her cleavage, I know for a fact that if I wore the exact same shirt as her, I would not be met with the same judgement. I simply don’t have much of a chest; I’m quite possibly incapable of showing an inappropriate amount of cleavage. Which is another way of saying that I don’t *have* an inappropriate amount of cleavage, while some women just plain do. In some cases, it won’t even matter what they wear; women with large breasts who dare to be seen in public are almost by definition sexually inappropriate in our society.

“Oh, but what about just having some decency and enough self-respect to cover yourself up?” you might say. As I just finished explaining, it’s not about coverage. If it was about coverage, the same shirt would be considered inappropriate on me, and it’s not. It’s about women’s bodies. And no, I don’t think it’s ok to insist that women who have done nothing more than have large breasts should be held to some higher standard of “modesty” than everyone else on the planet. This isn’t a case of some natural challenge caused by genetics. Women with large breasts shouldn’t have to suffer more in hot weather simply because awful people insist on sexualizing their bodies. That’s not the women’s problem. It’s a problem with every person who is incapable of looking at a woman without evaluating her as a sexual object.

Seriously, though, when people shame women about their cleavage, it’s really, really not the shirt that they have a problem with. It’s the presence of large breasts that they just can’t handle. And nothing about that is ok.


  1. Huh, I had never thought of it quite like that. And that’s said as one with a large pair. I kinda thought it was just an issue of coverage, albeit one where I’m disadvantaged by a fashion industry that seems incapable of making tops that will accommodate anything above a C cup.

    However, even if it were possible to purchase a strappy vest top that was cut maybe an inch or two higher in the front, it still wouldn’t be okay. I’d still have cleavage without even trying and the size of my boobs would be even more noticeable because there’s more fabric covering them. It’s also one of those situations where you just can’t win. If you go around in tops that show no cleavage at all, you get accused of being frumpy, matronly or prudish, or of being incapable of dressing in a fashionable manner.

    So yeah, it’s definitely not about coverage and everything about people associating larger breast sizes with sexually promiscuity.

  2. Oh man, I have SO MANY FEELS regarding this topic.

    I’m a very large busted woman, to the point that you have to be in a major city to find an physical store location that carries my size (32G), and even then you’re down to a handful of expensive specialty shops. Thank GOD for the internet, otherwise I’d probably just be resorting to strapping them down with ace bandages. I can’t wear tailored shirts off-the-rack from anywhere… basically anything at all fitted must have some stretch to be wearable, and even then I sometimes struggle with either awkward puckering at the armpits or a shirt that fits in the bust but hangs several inches away from my ribs, making me appear to not have a waist. I have to get past all of that just to get a shirt that fits, is comfortable, and looks decent.

    And THEN we get to the perceptions of my cleavage.

    I have so many awful stories about my stupid boobs. I was sent to the office multiple times by an administrator at my high school for showing cleavage… because she would walk by me while I was sitting down leaning against a wall between classes, and she could see down my shirt. Most of those times, I was wearing a sports bra and a fitted t-shirt. The WORST I ever wore was a fairly conservative v-neck (still with a sports bra). I wasn’t trying to show off, but fuck, if you’re looking down on me from above or if I’m leaning over, the only way you’re NOT seeing my tits is if I am wearing a high-necked unisex/mens t-shirt or a fucking turtleneck. Thankfully I never got in real trouble because my principal disagreed with the woman who kept escorting me to the office, but I did miss the first 10-15 minutes of class a good half dozen times for this shit.

    My boobs were also a major issue when I was applying to/interviewing at grad schools. I was looking to go into science, and even in a fairly woman-friendly field (biology) the interview-dress issue is a minefield for any woman. You can’t be too attractive, and certainly not sexy, or you won’t be taken seriously. At the same time, if you don’t dress professionally and somewhat attractively, you fall in the “unattractive/frumpy female scientist” bin and some people don’t like that either. My boobs made things so much worse. I can’t tell you how many fucking times I had conversations with professors/mentors about preparing for interviews… and they ended up spending several minutes or more discussing how I needed to make sure I was “covered up” so that I wasn’t “inappropriate” or “distracting”. A few even flat-out told me to expect that one or two male professors would likely stare at my chest during the interview… and they weren’t wrong either.

    I’m so absurdly over-sensitive to uncomfortable bras and the pain of all the goddamn bouncing if I don’t wear them that I’d PROBABLY dislike being large-chested regardless, but the social implications certainly don’t help. :-/

    1. Jeebus. I’ve never really had to consider all of the implications of this kind of thing, since it’s not a form of shame I’ve ever had to deal with, but seriously what you’ve described is really awful.

      Jedi hugs?

    2. Owie, that is far worse than my experiences. :-(

      It sucks all the more because a) you can’t do anything about the physical size of them UNLESS you can afford and be approved for a breast reduction, which you may not even want because it *is* major surgery with serious consequences if it goes wrong, and b) because you’re damned if you and damned if you don’t! You can’t please everyone and the “acceptable” range is so narrow that your chances of staying within it for more than five minutes are slim.

      And shit, the number of people who think it’s okay to look down your shirt and THEN COMMENT on it is way, way too high! I can’t help how my boobs are, and yes, you’re a foot taller than me, or I’m leaning on the bar, so yes, you can see my cleavage. No, you do not get to voice your opinion on the matter. Grrrr!

      1. Like I said, those are my worst examples. To be fair, I always was good at pissing adults off for subtle reasons that they couldn’t actually get me in trouble for, and it’s possible the school admin example may have been someone trying to get back at me for being generally irritating.

        Second, I’m so with you on the “look down your shirt and THEN comment thing”. Like, fuck, what can I do? From the right angle, yes, you can see down my shirt. It isn’t my fault if you happen to be in a location that makes that really easy (except when it is, of course, but then it would be on purpose and appropriate and consensual and no one would be complaining).

    3. I feel your pain completely! I really want to male a shirt for you, a beautifully tailored one. I’m still perfecting my skills so I need a few months lol but yeah you’re on my list :) x

    4. I totally agree!! I was a large breasted woman (same size as you) until I got a breast reduction. I had 20 years of neck, shoulder and back pain to persuade me about the 5-hour surgery, plus I breastfed my two babies so add to that stretchmarks on stretchmarks. After the surgery I was a C cup, with the most amazing valley between my boobs! I loved it! They softened to a D cup and now I am a DD, which suits me just fine. They do get bigger if you put on even a little weight, as I have. I thought a lot about the shame I’d grown up with, the sexism and harassment because of being big breasted, and the way they defined my body image – at first in a bad way, but when I was faced with losing them, I saw them more fondly. I have loved being able to fit in clothes properly (although at DD that’s not exactly small), and having breasts that don’t dominate my small frame so much. This is a deep and loaded topic. Thanks for raising!

  3. I totally agree with this!

    The worst person for cleavage shaming me is my mother though. If my top has naturally fallen down a little or my bra starts peeking out or she just thinks it’s too much, I get a look and instructed to pull up my top – even if it looks silly!

  4. As some one with 36G boobs who was literally told I was “inappropriate” by a CUSTOMER when I worked in a library, I am fully with all of this article.

    I’m also interested by those commenters who mention people who have a downward angle – as I stand at only 4’10, most people have a view right down any top I wear anyway, so I’m lose-lose!

  5. I got a lot of grief even when I was smaller-chested in high school, mostly from my parents and religious leaders. I had (it’s been corrected mostly by surgery) a concave chest, so any top I wore that wasn’t skin tight had to be a turtleneck otherwise anybody could see straight down to my belly. Especially if I was bending over. Finding tops that fit a broad-shouldered tall person is still hard, but it was even harder when I had to find necklines that were at or above my collarbones. For the longest time, I just wore terrible tight t-shirts under EVERYTHING so that people couldn’t look down my shirt. Luckily, at 5’10” a good percentage of people don’t see straight down my tops, so I don’t have that problem.

  6. YES. Thank you. I just googled cleavage shaming to find an article to link to, after a female acquaintance of mine made (not for the first time) made a snide comment about my cleavage. I am really fed up of being made to feel like I’ve dressed inappropriately when in fact, the only thing inappropriate is her comments towards me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s