NBC's 'Today' Wonders Why Americans Are 'Obsessed' With Breasts, Then Shows Breasts 54 Times

Monday's NBC Today decided to devote a six-minute segment in the 8 a.m. ET hour to America's "obsession" with breasts, with co-host Ann Curry declaring: "...they have become an object of sort of undue fascination." As the report was teased throughout the broadcast and during the segment itself, 54 pairs of breasts appeared on screen, with some images repeated.

Update:  It turns out that in the 9 a.m. ET hour, the show also featured a fashion segment with several female models displaying different types of bras.

The irony of doing a segment filled with images of breasts while asking why people were obsessed with them seemed to be lost on NBC reporters and pundits as they decried the amount of attention given to that part of the female anatomy. Fill-in co-host Lester Holt referred to it as a "tempest in a C cup." Correspondent Amy Robach reported: "Just how much are breasts on the human mind? A quick Google for them, paired with 'boobs' and the slang word starting with a 'T,' turns up almost a billion hits."

Following Robach's report, Curry discussed the topic with a panel women and wondered if the fascination was unique to America: "Are they a bigger obsession in this country than they are in other countries?" Anthropologist Natalia Reagan argued: "I think they are for a few reasons. One of them, obviously, there's a lot of rules restricting what can be shown on television and what can even be said on television about breasts."

Curry interjected: "So the conservative, kind of maybe almost...puritanical nature." Reagan replied: "Yes." Glamour magazine editor-in-chief Cindy Levi agreed with that observation: "I do think that that's probably true. You know, that the more conservative society, probably the more, sort of, obsessed we become about those things."

In her report, Robach noted recent incidents in which women were criticized for being too revealing: "For all of our cartoonish emphasis on the breast, showing too much of one is no laughing matter in some quarters." Mentions included Janet Jackson exposing a single breast during the Super Bowl halftime show and the controversy surrounding a low-cut dress worn by Katy Perry during a Sesame Street appearance.  


Here is a full transcript of the July 18 segment:

8:19AM ET

CURRY: This morning we're kicking up a special series, 'Breast Obsessed in America.' Guy or girl, a lot of people are thinking about them more than they are probably willing to admit. Well today, national correspondent Amy Robach has the story. Amy, good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Obsessed in America; Why Are We So Fascinated With Breast?]

AMY ROBACH: Ann, good morning to you. Billions of dollars are dedicated to bras, lifts and augmentations, all in pursuit of an ambiguous ideal. How did we work ourselves into this state of obsession? Well, take a look. In our first days, few body parts are more important than the breast. Initially, a means of survival, our developing minds turn breasts into something very different.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The human animal is unique in that the breasts have become sexualized. You don't see male chimpanzees going for the female who has bigger breasts.

ROBACH: Just how much are breasts on the human mind? A quick Google for them, paired with 'boobs' and the slang word starting with a 'T,' turns up almost a billion hits, more than 4 times the yield for a search on the brain. At New York's Museum of Sex, curator Sarah Forbes explains that Americans are easily identifiable by their bedroom appetites.

SARAH FORBES: Throughout the world, we have different body parts that we think as the ultimate sexual object. In some places, it's more of the hips and the curves of the body. Here it's the breasts.

ROBACH: While always an attraction in American culture, breasts and breast size, seem to take on new prominence after World War II.

ANDREW TREES [AUTHOR, "DECODING LOVE"]: The '50s was a boom time, consumer culture was exploding, people were affluent, they were getting richer, they felt really good. You could probably correlate breast size with prosperity.        

ROBACH: While it would be easy to characterize the American breast obsession as a male-driven phenomenon, that's simply not the case. Women have been just as responsible at keeping the focus at chest level.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN B: These things are power!

FORBES: Women are seeing busty images and they're wanting to emulate that. So we're kind of perpetuating this idea of what the perfect breast is. Even though chemically, biologically, we're not taught to think that only large breasts are what's attractive.

ROBACH: In pursuit of perfection, breast augmentation has become a booming industry in the U.S. Over a quarter of a million women a year undergo the surgery. One that is not without complications.

LAURA BERMAN [SEX THERAPIST]: Little girls that are growing up in our society are watching us do this to ourselves. And what is that doing to the way they feel about their own bodies?

ROBACH: For all of our cartoonish emphasis on the breast, showing too much of one is no laughing matter in some quarters.

TREES: We've drawn this arbitrary line where suddenly when you expose the nipple, all hell breaks loose, and you know, that's a desecration of, I guess, the Super Bowl halftime show and it's appalling.

ROBACH: Recently, Sesame Street pulled a guest appearance by Katy Perry. Many felt she showed too much cleavage for such a young audience, the very people that might have the most uncomplicated relationship with breasts in the first place. And with clothing styles becoming tighter and more revealing, as Katy Perry found out, showing too much cleavage can be an easy mistake, but it's difficult to undo the impression it can leave on others. Ann.

CURRY: Alright, Amy Robach, thank you so much. Natalia Reagan is an anthropologist, psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz is a Today contributor, and Cindy Levi is editor in chief of Glamour magazine and Today's women's lifestyle contributor. Good morning to all of you.

NATALIA REAGAN: Good morning.

GAIL SALTZ: Good morning.

CINDY LEVI: Good morning.

CURRY: There are so many words for these, ta-tas, bujunkas, puppies, the rack, girls. We could go – got anymore you want to add?

LEVI: Twins.

CURRY: The twins, we go on and on about this. Beyond the biological reasons, which Amy talked about, I'm fascinated to think that – with this information that it's possible that during tough times, we – we are more likely or that the country might be more obsessed with larger breasts. Now what accounts for that?

NATALIA REAGAN: Well, there's an idea that basically in times of economic downturn, you would be more apt to like a woman that has a little bit more meat on her bones, perhaps breasts being an indicator of better fat reserves. So that woman is going to survive a famine. 'I want that woman on my team.' You know, she's going to be able to take care of the kids when things don't go right. And so basically you can see, you know, after – during the Great Depression, you've got Mae West, you've got Marlin Monroe, you've got Jane Mansfield, coming out of the war times, and then in the '60s, you've got Twiggy and so on, in fashion, I believe.

CURRY: Is that backed up by your experience?

LEVI: Yeah, we're coming out of, you know, probably 15 years where it really was sort of about the waif, right? These straight up and down boyish figures, which some women have naturally, but many women don't. And now the last couple of years, there's been a return to this sort of quote unquote, 'Mad Men' silhouette, which is more of an hour glass shape, curvier. You've seen a lot of celebrities, Katy Perry was in that video, but Sofia Vergara, Christina Hendricks from Mad Men, Kim Kardashian, you know, who have a little bit more 'va va voom' on top.

CURRY: It's so confusing for women, because, you know, if your body type is not the trend of the moment, it is a sobering experience. I mean, the psychological impact of this on women and girls has got to be deep.

SALTZ: Women measure themselves against these icons, and it does have a big impact. And it filters down from women to their daughters. And they try to be whatever they think is the best. Because we all – we all want to be powerful. We all want to be desired. We all want to feel we're the most. And these are the – so breasts are actually a big example of that. They represent power to women.

CURRY: But do they become – are they a bigger obsession in this country than they are in other countries? Natalia, what do you think?

REAGAN: I think they are for a few reasons. One of them, obviously, there's a lot of rules restricting what can be shown on television and what can even be said on television about breasts.

CURRY: So the conservative, kind of maybe almost-

REAGAN: That puritanical-

CURRY: Puritanical nature.

REAGAN: Yes. I think definitely that makes – I don't know about you, but I tried to catch a skin-o-max movie at night when I was a kid, just because I was curious. I had no idea what to expect. You know, and so-

CURRY: Thanks for revealing that on national television. What about you? What do you think?

LEVI: I don't watch skin-o-max. Thank you, thanks for asking. I do think that that's probably true. You know, that the more conservative society, probably the more, sort of, obsessed we become about those things. And fashion plays a role. And I think, you know, what you said hits it on the head. Our bodies shouldn't be fads, right? I mean, it's great to be able to, you know, buy the bras with the flying buttresses or whatever it is that you need in order to feel confident. But once you get into breast enhancement surgery, which is up 300% over the last 14 years, you have to start thinking, you know, let's call it a day here.

CURRY: It's a good thing that we are thinking and talking about this. Thank you so much, all three of you, for joining us this morning.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC