Censoring Bodies: The Breast/Chest Conundrum

Just last June I graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Sociology. Apparently my mom always knew that I would like sociology, but it took two years in college and a class with Francesca Guerra for me to figure it out for myself. Many (including, at times, my mom) have tried to suggest that maybe pursuing a graduate degree in something other than Sociology would be more practical, but as someone who has been bit by the Sociology bug I find it practically impossible to imagine going to graduate school in any other concentration. Yes, I am interested in doing a certificate program in documentary studies, but first I would like that M.A. in Sociology thank you.

Ok, so love Sociology. And I’m obsessed with the Sociological Images blog found on the equally intriguing The Society Pages. Oooh if I could spend my life writing for a blog like that! Yesterday author Lisa Wade posted about the “controversial” cover of this month’s Dossier Journal magazine. Later in the day Ms. Magazine posted an abridged version of Wade’s article, and I’ll link to that as well because I love Ms. Magazine and I think you should check it out!

Here’s the magazine cover in question:


Not only is this image sociologically compelling for the mere fact that the model is blurring gender lines, but also for the fact that mega-chain bookstores Barnes & Noble and Borders supposedly “bagged” the magazine. You know, like they do with pornographic magazines so that people going about their daily book-buying business don’t get turned on by boobies.

At first glance it’s hard to tell what exactly you’re seeing. Is it a flat-chested woman? Is it an androgynous man? What’s going on here? The model is in fact gender-bending male model Andrej Pejic. He’s a guy. So then why is this cover censored if men are legally allowed to bare their naked chests on magazines?  Is it because the image is feminine enough to confuse people into thinking they are seeing a naked woman? And if so, why is this considered obscene enough to necessitate a censor? If a woman’s chest is no bigger than a man’s (and in fact, many men have bigger breasts than women) then why can the man show his chest but the woman must hide behind a censor? Oh so many questions! Have I confused you?

Also, why is it ok – in general – for men to be topless but not women? Why are naked female bodies (or in this case, an androgynous male’s) automatically considered pornographic? I urge you to read Ms. Wade’s article on this topic, as she is much more the expert than I. Plus, she is awesome. Her main point of discussion is when exactly does a naked body become obscene, and furthermore, how do notions of femininity effect what is considered unsuitable for the public? Here’s what she says:


        All women’s bodies are targeted by the law, and men’s bodies are given a pass, breasty or chesty as they may be…Unless that man’s gender is ambiguous; unless he does just enough femininity to make his body suspect.  Indeed, the treatment of the Dossier cover reveals that the social and legislative ban on public breasts rests on a jiggly foundation.  It’s not simply that breasts are considered pornographic.  It’s that we’re afraid of women and femininity and female bodies and, if a man looks feminine enough, he becomes, by default, obscene.




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3 responses to “Censoring Bodies: The Breast/Chest Conundrum

  1. Alan

    Although not exactly analogous and probably missing the point, but why do we have separate bathrooms? Why not allow all nudity in public (we would only be displaying the way God dressed us)? Why only allow the latter for small children? Why can we not urinate or defecate in public (assuming the waste is properly disposed – they are natural bodily functions)? Why is it frowned upon for men to where dresses (although not illegal) except in Scotland? I suppose it is simply because it just takes a while to get used to things. Now, where did I leave my panty hose and bra.

    • Alan is reading my blog….yes! It is different topic, but you actually bring up a good point about the bathrooms. Some countries have gender neutral bathrooms to accommodate transgender/transexual/intersex peoples for reasons of safety as well as to accommodate families who want to take their kids to the toilet. Also, Thailand is one of the forerunners of creating “trans” toilets to reduce the risk of harassment and violence in gender-specific bathrooms.

      And I think America is one of the countries with some of the strongest separation of activities/rules for men and women. European countries don’t seem to have a problem with this magazine cover – apparently America is the only place this magazine has been censored.

  2. Pingback: Nightline feature with Andrej Pejic | Projects and Musings by Rachel Ariel Scott

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