Of cleavages and cameras
The word ‘cleavage’ does tend to cleave opinion. Absorbed into daily chatter if used in known social settings, in writing it has all the potential to turn sexist.
The word ‘cleavage’ does tend to cleave opinion. Absorbed into daily chatter if used in known social settings, in writing it has all the potential to turn sexist. A word gathered into the bosom of, well, bosoms, ‘cleavage’ has undergone many reputations through many eras to be a restful generic term in any of its outings. What some consider a physical reference may sound overfamiliar and offensive to others. Despite the fashionable or faintly pornographic use of it visually, the word itself straddles both the colloquial and vulgar.
Etymology sets ‘cleavage’ in year 1805 across geology in reference to rocks and gems, with ‘cleave’ starting to mean the ‘action or state of cleaving or being cleft’ as of 1867. ‘Cleft between a woman’s breasts in low-cut clothing’ first made an appearance in 1946. From here this particular cleft, compared to that in chins, rose right to the top as per visual appeal. Proudly displayed by Page 3 models in papers owned by men, and ogled by the paying public, again—no surprise—men, cleavages depend on perspective for survival.
Some cleavages are born, some are created. Cleavages can be manufactured with underwire and deep breathing, and yet be nonexistent enough to have a who-am-I moment. Low-cut tops or deep necklines have percolated from catwalks to casualwear. A décolleté rising from a bodice is a discreet advertisement of voluptuousness, a weapon of seduction or power play, a feminist statement. Also, aesthetics demand keeping up with trends.
Modest by bolder standards, immodest to demure viewers, plunging necklines have held their own in history. People are still talking about the V-neck gown Princess Nofret wore in Egypt one summer evening of 2600 BC. The buxom look was all the rage in Minoan circles in 1500 BC. Around the same time Greek women took to wearing kathema, necklaces with pendants that called attention to where they nestled. In some parts of India, the cleavage was not much of an issue long ago when an upper garment was not part of a woman’s wardrobe.
Currently, however, there is no ambiguity: a cleavage is the cleavage-owner’s business. Women, and even men, can flash a cleavage in their own timeline. Doubts arise only when men write about women or depict women on screen. The spotlight then falls squarely on the cleavage—was the shot or description essential or exploitative, voluntary or vulnerable?
At least two episodes of the latest Lust Stories 2 on Netflix, a series exploring love and lust, limited its titillation aspect mainly to close-ups of cleavages, some disturbingly mobile. Herein comes the urgent question: was this germane to the plot? When anatomy is flaunted in the name of art, there springs up instantly a jury on contexts.