My first exposure to, and subsequent interest in, breasts was at the impressionable age of nine, fastened to the vinyl waiting room chairs of the local doctor. A kindly old chap with more hair protruding from his ears than sprouting from his head. I was there because swallowing felt like drinking a cup of marbles, broken Weet-Bix and Sao biscuits topped with a covering of sand.
In a measure to keep the idle from making mischief, and in the hope of expanding my educational perspective, my mother handed me a dog-eared copy of National Geographic dated around the time of my birth. Boredom is the birthplace of genius yet the prospect of a bored nine year old frightens adults. To appease my mother’s insecurities more than anything else I flicked through the pages enraptured by sumptuous photography of urban landscapes, scientific phenomena and pastoral idylls.
Within the pages a tribe of African women stood with their hair matted by ochre the colour of dried blood. I was fascinated by this first glimpse of human nudity, unsullied by sexuality. The glossy brown of their naked chests was bedecked in beads of bold reds, summery yellow and horizon blue cresting above the rising and falling curvature of their breasts. I saw in their mammary tissue the topography of life: full, taut and shapely to wrinkled and deflated like a week old balloon, sagging without shape or form.
My attention was transfixed on the shape and form but lest I be caught staring intently at something that my brain believed was wrong but my groin said was right, I flipped the page, keeping a finger lodged between the appropriate sections.
Called into the doctor’s office, my attention wavered, concocting a plan to liberate the copy of National Geographic from the waiting room and into my possession. Inside the doctor’s office I opened my mouth and recited the mantra, answered the official petitions and let my mother accept the diagnosis of tonsillitis.
Returning to the waiting room I approached the receptionist’s desk, a bold request forming on my lips. “May I please have the copy of National Geographic for a school assignment?”
The receptionist nodded and I scurried to claim my prize and followed in the wake of my mother to visit the chemist for medicine. Seconded to bed rest for a couple of school days I took the opportunity to develop an understanding of my initial discovery with the benefit of the encyclopedia and a dictionary.
Perusing the article again I was drawn to the mathematical artistry and beauty of their curvature and form in space, the tone colouring of the areola and the cylindrical form of the nipple.
Upon my return to school the copy of National Geographic came with me. I thought nothing of it in terms of it containing pictures of naked breasts. At recess I was thumbing through the pages, rereading an article on spelunking. The breeze rustled the pages and opened them to the focal point of the magazine.
“Check out the tits,” said Jude Templeton over my shoulder.
I was initially non-plussed, unfamiliar with the vulgar colloquial vernacular. My ignorance made knowledge by Jude stabbing his finger at the page before flicking the pages back and forth. A small crowd flocked around, aghast and intrigued by the display of the naked female form.
I was lord of the Lunchbox, King of the Canteen. For twenty-four glorious hours I had stature and kudos but its presence was ephemeral. Until Jude Templeton smuggled his older brother’s copy of Playboy to school. A few too many leering eyes caused a commotion, whereby our teacher upon discovery, promptly confiscated it as Jude attempted to stow it under his desk.
Aiming to deflect his guilt Jude pointed in my direction, “He has one, too, Miss.”
She raised her eyebrows, folded her arms and I gambled. Withdrawing the magazine from under my desk, I held up my National Geographic. She turned and faced Jude.
“That is not a Playboy,” she said, holding her hand towards Jude for his magazine.
“But…” He was cut off by a snap of her fingers. The magazine was handed over, a guilty baton. Miss hurriedly rolled the magazine and stuffed it into her desk drawer. “I will be speaking with your parents,” she said to Jude.
I imagined the male staff sitting around the lunch table, cups of tea and coffee in hand, turning the pages, tut-tutting at the indiscretion of youth while having a good gander.
At lunch Jude tried to convince me to show him the pages again but I refused. However, I convinced him “areolas” was the name of a Spanish goalkeeper.
In the following years of developing adolescence when my friends mined the seam of hormones laid down by puberty they moved on from the simplicity of nudity to secret collections and surreptitious glances. The embarrassed indignity of being caught with masturbatory material did nothing to quell their enthusiasm. Conversations used thirty-two synonyms for genitals, male and female, with salacious intent. They snorted at vintage adult magazines, at the variation of shape and form against the homogenous shapes they ogled in contemporary glossy pages.
If I wanted nudes, I didn’t go to the magazines my friends pored over, nor to the sewerage pipeline of the internet in this modern age. I went to art galleries and studied the Reubenesque women of art books, the voluptuousness of the Renaissance, modern abstracts, Titian, Whitely, Picasso, the sculptures of the ancient world and of Rodin’s sensuality.
I pursued another learning and became a collector of National Geographic, browsing second hand bookstores, scrounging copies from relatives on the pretext of research for school assignments, random doctors’ surgeries, looking for issues from a bygone era of a different censorship. My interest in breasts was cultural, sociological, anthropological, medical, scientific, artistic, more so than simply sexual.
Even now I have an extensive collection. If you’ll excuse me, I think I hear the postman, and with him I hope, the next edition of National Geographic.