IF YOU’VE EVER seen an episode of “Real Sex” on HBO, “Nip/Tuck” on FX or “Dr. 90210” on E!, then you’ve basically seen “Boobs: An American Obsession.”
In a lot of ways, the documentary on our cultural obsession with breasts isn’t really that surprising: If you have breasts, you know how you feel about them — and if you don’t, you know why you like them.
It’s just that simple.
But “Boobs: An American Obsession” tries to go deeper than that.
Interviews with actors, models, scholars and men and women on the street attempt to paint a more thorough picture of why American society places such an emphasis on the size, shape, movement and even presence of breasts, and most of it seems like a rehashing of what we already know.
But watchers of “Real Sex,” which takes the same approach of narrative-plus-interviews, and “Dr. 90210,” which shows actual consultations between patients and plastic surgeons, already know the many reasons why women either want breast implants or reductions, and the fascination “Nip/Tuck” has with adult film stars and models has made viewers aware of that world, too.
Yet while “Boobs” is definitely repetitive, it does have moments of frank realism that still manage to resonate with viewers.
The documentary is divided into various segments that focus on different aspects of breasts — from surgeries to their impact on women’s lives — and it starts off with an initiation into their various nicknames (words like “boulders,” “bongos,” “ta-tas,” “moneymakers” and “tits” are all thrown out by various people) and the argument of whether real or fake breasts are more preferred by men. According to actor Tom Arnold, “A real breast that just sort of is … flowing; nobody can keep their eyes off of them,” while another man, Andrew Garber, talks about how he’s used women’s breasts and men’s fascination with them to build an online empire.
As the owner of the Web site JJ1Club.com, Garber videotapes topless or naked women doing jumping jacks, punching, kicking or any other kind of random physical activity, then posts the clips online; for a fee, men can join the club and access the videos. “It started as a joke while watching ‘Baywatch,'” Garber explains. “The main point of it was to see the women running in and out of the water in slow motion. … Why don’t they have a channel that gives us that?” Now, he’s making tons of money by tapping into the creepiness of men everywhere.
But while Garber’s entrepreneurial spirit is somewhat interesting, the documentary really hits its stride when it interviews women who have already gone under the knife or plan to. Sure, the interviews with journalist Carolyn Latteier, author of “Breasts: The Women’s Perspective on an American Obsession,” and Stanford senior scholar Marilyn Yalon are interesting, even if their insights that breasts are “a visible symbol of femininity” and the emphasis on them is “culturally created” are a little obvious.
They’re overshadowed, though, by stripper Melonie Charm, whose breasts are “50-inch[es], triple J, double M, whatever I am now”; a woman named Linda, who after support (urging, really) from her husband is going from a C to a triple D in order to encourage her to lose weight; actresses Mamie Van Doren and Julie Strain, whose breast implants have led to their success as sex symbols; and mom-and-daughter team Sunnie and Ricki, who want to get breast implants in order to make more money as topless dancers.
All of the women see breasts as a way to get ahead in life, and that kind of blunt honesty about the importance of a physical body part is certainly impactful. When Sunnie abruptly volunteers “I want to get out of debt” as her reason for the surgery, and Linda’s husband smarmily says, “Linda has a little self-esteem problem with the way she looks,” the documentary suddenly becomes saddeningly real, a little reminder that breasts can be seen as an unfortunate route to a better — and certainly more superficial — life.
Those interviews, then, are certainly the best part of “Boobs,” rising far above either its lengthy surgery scenes — which are graphically detailed and certainly nauseating — or its interviews with men. Except for segments with Norm Zada, the anti-breast-implant publisher of “Perfect 10” magazine, which only features natural-breasted women, the documentary just fills itself with clips of men who talk about why they find breasts so much fun to look at.
And though the special features — like deleted scenes involving more background information on some of the patients and the two featured plastic surgeons — are somewhat interesting, the documentary’s greatest strength is the desperation of the women interviewed.
“Boobs: An American Obsession”? More like an American depression.
Written by Express contributor Roxana Hadadi