Portrayals of Breasts and Breastfeeding in Literature

Portrayals of Breasts and Breastfeeding in Literature

By B.J. Epstein

‘Portrayals of Breasts and Breastfeeding in Literature’ analyses what the depiction of female bodies in literature tells us about how women are perceived in our society and why this matters.

PDF, 250 Pages

ISBN:9781785274015

March 2022

£25.00, $40.00

EPUB, 250 Pages

ISBN:9781785274022

March 2022

£25.00, $40.00

  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
  • Series
  • Table of Contents
  • Links

About This Book

How are breasts and breastfeeding shown in literature? Why does the depiction of breasts and breastfeeding in literature matter? What messages do we get from literature about the feeding of infants and children and about women’s bodies? Is this different in different cultures? What causes cultural and historical differences and what can we learn from them?

In the cross-cultural study ‘Portrayals of Breasts and Breastfeeding in Literature’ B. J. Epstein analyses images and descriptions of breasts and breastfeeding in children’s books and literature for adults, in both English and Swedish. She explores how breasts are depicted in literature in the two languages and discusses why there are differences in the cultures. She uses literary, feminist, anthropological, sociological, historical and cultural research to support her analysis and to suggest explanations for the differing depictions. For example, Epstein discuss the concepts of women being nude versus women being naked; nakedness, she argues, is more acceptable in Swedish literature and society, whereas a naked female is immediately perceived as nude in English-speaking cultures, and nudity is always sexualised. This means that she discusses the male gaze and challenges ways of seeing women’s bodies in literature; a question here is whether women can see their bodies without being influenced by the pervasiveness of the male gaze. Another example of a difference between the two cultures is the rise of formula-feeding and supposedly scientific ways of understanding and managing bodies in many Western countries, including English-speaking ones. This in turn influences decreasing familiarity and comfort with seeing breasts and breastfeeding in literature, whereas the rates of breastfeeding are still high in Scandinavia, which suggests more understanding, acceptance and support of natural bodily functions.

While this intercultural exploration of breasts and breastfeeding in literature is academic and relies on extensive research, Epstein suggests that it reflects popular culture today. Given the rise of the #MeToo movement and the new awareness of people’s rights to their own bodies and to consent, it is important to explore depictions in the media of women’s bodies and encourage positive representations. Avoiding naked females in literature or primarily showing them in sexualised contexts suggests a sense of shame and fear about female bodies, or emphasises the idea that women are to be objectified. 

‘Portrayals of Breasts and Breastfeeding in Literature’ thus focuses on a topic not yet seen in any depth in academic research and raises fresh awareness of the power of literature to influence how readers see their own and other people’s bodies. It also illuminates cultural and historical differences that affect what writers describe and illustrators depict in literature when it comes to breasts and breastfeeding. Epstein challenges the currently prevailing ways of depicting female bodies in literature and discusses how societal norms influence the writing and illustrating of literature.

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Author Information

B. J. Epstein is a senior lecturer in literature and translation at the University of East Anglia, UK, as well as a writer, editor and Swedish-to-English translator.

Series

No series for this title.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction; 2. Background on Breasts and Breastfeeding; 3. Children’s Literature in English; 4. Children’s Literature in Swedish; 5. Literature for Adults in English; 6. Literature for Adults in Swedish; 7. Analysis of Literary, Cultural, Historical and Political Differences; 8. Conclusion; 9. List of Literary Texts that Feature Positive Images of Breasts and Breastfeeding; Index.

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