Great Moments in Breast History
Every woman has a milestone moment when thinking about her breasts. Perhaps buying your first bra. Nursing a baby for the first time. Deciding they were fine just as they are, or deciding to make a change. Or the day you discovered you had breast cancer, or were declared cancer-free.
There have also been a lot of breast-related moments when breasts took center stage—figuratively and literally.
According to the American Cancer Society, the oldest surviving description of cancer comes from roughly 3000 BC, and appears in an ancient Egyptian textbook on surgery that includes descriptions of eight cases of breast tumors or ulcers that were treated, rather horrifyingly, via cauterization with a tool known as the “fire drill.”
The first female and male ever shown on film nude appeared between 1884 and 1887, as part of film-pioneer Eadweard Muybridge’s series of men and women walking up and downstairs. It wasn’t until 1915, however, that a leading actress was shown, nude, in a mainstream film. Jayne Mansfield is perhaps thought of as most as being the true “pioneer” in going topless on film: In 1963’s “Promises! Promises!” she was the first woman in American feature sound film to bare her breasts and bum.
The first person to patent a brassiere was a woman named Marie Tucek, who in 1914 created a device with separate “pockets” for the breasts, straps for the shoulders and a hook-and-eye closure, but the design failed to catch on. Credit for the creation of the first “modern” bra goes to Mary Phelps Jacob, who took two silk handkerchiefs and some ribbon and made her own.
According to Grammarphobia, the first recorded use of the word “boob” to refer to a woman’s breasts (well, “boobies,” to be exact) appeared in Henry Miller’s 1934 “Tropic of Cancer.” The Random House dictionary says the word “booby” (in its use as slang for breast, not referring to the seabird or to a dunce) had its origins in the 1930s.
Frederick Mellinger, the man behind the eponymous lingerie company Frederick’s of Hollywood, is credited with inventing the push-up bra in 1948.
In 1956, at a time when breastfeeding rates in the U.S. had dipped to roughly 20 percent, the first-ever meeting of La Leche League was held at the home of Mary White, a mother of six who was pregnant with her seventh child.
The first silicone breast implants were invented by two plastic surgeons from Texas and in 1962, then 29-year-old Timmie Jean Lindsey, became the first person to receive them. She’d gone in to have tattoos removed from her breasts, and was told she’d be a perfect candidate for the procedure.
According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, in 2012 there were more than 1.7 million cosmetic procedures performed in the U.S. and breast augmentation (any procedure to change the size or shape of breasts) was at the top of the list.
In 1968, a small crowd of women gathered to protest the Miss America pageant. They may have intended to burn their bras, but did not do so because of concerns over fire safety (the protest took place on the wood boardwalk in Atlantic City.) The women threw bras, girdle, mops and copies of Playboy magazine into trash cans, but a New York Post article mentioned bra burning, and thus an enduring symbol of “angry” feminism was born.
Healthcare providers have been performing breast X-rays for decades, but modern film mammography has only existed since 1969 — the first year that X-ray units designed to be used specifically for breast imaging were invented.
The first Victoria’s Secret was opened in 1977 by Roy Ramond in the Stanford Shopping Center in California, with a $40,000 bank loan and $40,000 he borrowed from relatives. Today, Victoria’s Secret has more than 1,000 stores across the U.S.
When Madonna went on tour for her 1990 Blonde Ambition tour, she brought with her a garment that will go down in pop-culture history: The Jean-Paul-Gaultier-designed cone bra and corset. The pink silk costume (she’s since worn newer iterations) sold in a Christie’s auction for $52,000, Billboard reports.
In 1994, geneticist Mary-Claire King discovered the BRCA1 gene. Harmful mutations to that gene can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The second so-called breast cancer gene — BRCA2 — was discovered by scientists in England one year later.
In February 2004 Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson’s nipple during a Superbowl halftime performance. The singers maintain it was an accident — a wardrobe malfunction.