Sunday, February 11, 2007

An Abundance of Breasts*

* with a nod to John Green, author of the award-winning young adult novel An Abundance of Katherines

Although the Carnevale (car-neh-VAH-leh) season won't officially begin until later this week, Italians are already gearing up with decorations and a few costume parties for kids.

Can you guess where this photo was taken? No, not outside a cabaret. No, not at a night club. I took this photo outside the bar right down the street from my daughters' school. (Bars here aren't like bars in the U.S.--they're more like cafès where the beverage of choice is always coffee.)

You may notice that the writing in the center is in French--strange, since the Italians aren't France's biggest fans.

And you may notice the writing on either side of the women, announcing the upcoming Carnevale festivities in Italian on the left and in Slovenian on the right (this village is about 3 miles from the border with Solvenia).

But apart from that, what stands out most to you? I know the photo is a bit grainy, but look closely. What's peeking out above the blue and red boas?

Yup. Breasts.

I was the only one who did a double-take when I saw this display while drinking my coffee. The rest of the crowd--men, women and children--didn't pay any attention.

Breasts are just not a big deal in Italy. Newsstands openly display magazine covers with breasts. Female newscasters wear lowcut shirts that barely contain their breasts. Walk into a pharmacy, and you'll see advertisements for skin care products that showcase--you guessed it--more breasts. Even one of my daughter's preschool teachers always wears outfits that reveal her cleavage. And no one thinks anything of it.

In the summer, women of all shapes, ages, and sizes let everything hang out (literally) at the beach. Men and women meet and greet each other, drink coffee, play cards--and not one top in sight.

I'll admit, I just can't do this. I know this "breasts-are-no-big-deal" attitude is probably much healthier than our puritanical American view of breasts. But the thought of running into someone I know and carrying on a conversation while half-naked? I can't imagine. I try to take the "When in Rome..." attitude with most things in Italy. But even the Romans wore breast-concealing togas, didn't they??


Ghost Girl said...

Natalie, it's great to see your adventures in Italy. I trotted over here from the blue boards to peek at your blog. I lived in Ireland in the 80s, and spend some holiday time on the continent, including Italy. I know what you mean--breasts are everywhere! It's just a very different attitude there--even more so in places like Amsterdam.

My fantasy is when this book get published, I can take my hubby to Ireland and show him all my old haunts, which undoubtly have changed dramatically. But sheep will still block the roadway and Smithwicks, Guinness, and Harp will still flow freely at the pub. (But no breasts!)

I'll have to read through your blog a little more--I'm curious about what took you to Italy and how long you plan to be there. How is grocery shopping? Very different, isn't it?

Have a great time and good luck with your book!

Alison Ashley Formento said...

Ooh, la, la! I have a bevy of tight fitting tanks (a great sale at the Gap) perfect for summer, right? They sit, gathering dust in the closet because of the deep V cut neckline. I feel shy when I put one and and alway change before leaving the house. Perhaps I should summer in Italy. Ah, what a dream!

TinaFerraro said...

This is another one of my favorite Italian/American subjects, Natalie!

And what really struck me as odd, at least in the '90s when I had my babies, was that while Italian women thought nothing of walking the beaches topless, very, very few breastfed their babies. One woman actually told me I shouldn't because it wasn't "clean" for the baby.

I do believe this attitude has eased up in recent years...well, maybe you could tell us?


Dana said...

Natalie, I'll never forget standing knee deep in water at a student's birthday party talking to another student's mother as she stood next to me enjoying the lapping of the water ... with hair perfectly coifed, full make up, unshaved legs and underarms, tiny bikini bottom, full breasts, and a cigarette in her hand. All the while, the rest of the students were frolicking and splashing. I kept thinking, "I've just got to remember this. No teacher friends back home would ever believe it." The amazing thing was that by that time, I was more surprised by her smoking while in the water at the beach than the fact that she was bare-breasted while talking to her child's teacher.

Another thought that came to mind about the whole Italian breast topic is that while bare breasts on the beach or magazine covers cause no stir, many women dress very provocatively (exposing just enough but not too much) when going out for the evening. In those cases, the suggestion of getting an entire glimpse is ever-so-tantalizing.

Natalie said...

Hi Ghost Girl,
Thanks for stopping by! Ireland sounds beautiful...I've yet to make there. Best of luck with getting your book published and your husband to Ireland! And yes, grocery shopping will have to be a whole other set of's quite an adventure. :-)

Hi Alison!
Bring those tank tops on'll fit right in! It's interesting, though, that Italians cover themselves in church (no bare arms, legs, breasts...) but the minute they step outside, it's a different story!

Ciao Tina!
I find that lots of women do breastfeed here, so maybe things have changed in the last decade. The one difference is that American women will lift their shirts so the baby's head and mom's shirt is basically covering everything, while Italian women unbutton their shirts from the top so the whole breast is outside of the's hard to describe this without a visual ;-). After my daughter's preschool Christmas show, a mom was nursing her 2-month-old in the middle of the classroom during the snack/drink reception afterwards, with parents, grandparents and kids milling about...and her breast was right out there for all to see. And again, no one paid a bit of attention!

Hi Dana!
Yes, I remember that story...and remember when I had my Kindergarten students take turns as "Student of the Week," and they could bring in photos from home to display on a bulletin board for the week? One student brought in pictures from his summer birthday party at the beach, and there he was blowing out the candles with topless moms inthe background! When he gave the photo for me to put up on the board, I thought: No WAY can I put this up! But then some of the moms (from the photo)came in and saw it...I thought they'd be mortified, but all they said were things like: "Oh, right...I remember that day!" or "What a fun party that was--beautiful weather!" So up it went. !!

TinaFerraro said...

Natalie, thanks for that update on breastfeeding! Someone once told me that Italy was about 10 years behind the U.S. in certain customs, and that would fit here, wouldn't it?