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Censored Cover Raises Question: Why Are Breasts “Obscene,” But Not Chests?

May 18, 2011 by Lisa Wade · 19 Comments 

The cover of this month’s Dossier Journal magazine has caused a great stir. In a matter of a few hours, I’ve received five emails about it. Here’s what all the fuss is about:

Featured is an androgynous male model named Andrej Pejic, with hair and make-up usually seen only on women, sliding his shirt off his back. Some might say that the image deliberately blurs gender. Are we seeing a chest or small breasts? It is not immediately apparent.

Both Barnes & Noble and Borders “bagged” the magazine, as they do pornographic ones, so that the title of the magazine is visible but the rest of the cover is hidden. Barnes and Noble said that the magazine came that way, representatives for Dossier say that the bookstore “chains” required them to do it.

Non-ambiguously-male chests pepper most magazine racks, but this man’s chest hints at boobs. And so he goes under wraps.

What’s going on?

Explaining why it is legal for men to be shirtless in public but illegal for women to do the same, most Americans would probably say women have breasts and men have chests. Breasts, after all, are…these things. They incite us, disgust us, send us into grabby fits. They’re just so there. They force us to contend with them; they’re bouncy or flat or pointy or pendulous and sometimes they’re plain missing! They demand their individuality! Why won’t they obey some sort of law and order! Much better to contain those babies.

Chests … well they do have those haunting nipple … but they’re just less unruly, right? Not a threat to public order at all.

So, there you have it. Men have chests and women have breasts and that’s why topless women are indecent.

Of course, it’s not that straightforward.

It’s not entirely true that women have breasts and men have chests. Many men have chests that look a bit or even a lot like breasts (there is a thriving cosmetic surgery industry around this fact). Meanwhile, many women are essentially “flat chested,” while the bustiness of others is an illusion created by silicone or salt water. Some women diagnosed with breast cancer have their breasts removed, but they’re still not allowed to go shirtless. So is it really breasts that must be covered?

Clearly not. All women’s bodies are targeted by this law, and men’s bodies are given a pass, breasty or chesty as they may be.


Unless that man’s gender is ambiguous; unless he does just enough femininity to make his body suspect. Indeed, the treatment of the Dossier cover reveals that the social and legal ban on public breasts rests on a jiggly foundation. It’s not simply that breasts are considered pornographic. It’s that we’re afraid of women and femininity and female bodies and, if a man looks feminine enough, he becomes, by default, obscene. 

Answer Question

Asked by BradenIsMySon at 10:29 AM on May. 20, 2011 in Politics & Current Events

Level 33 (59,467 Credits)
Answers (26)
  • "ONe more thought: maybe if women were allowed to show their breasts in public there would be less mystery, and girls would see that breasts come in all shapes and sizes and they wouldn’t feel so insecure about their bodies. THe only breasts that are typically seen iN media are in porn…..and those breasts are rarely natural."

    Comment by BradenIsMySon (original poster) at 10:29 AM on May. 20, 2011

  • confused


    Answer by fun3oo at 10:33 AM on May. 20, 2011

  • I'm wondering a couple of things. If a man had breast implants but stayed a man, would he be able to go shirtless?

    And why is it that fat men who have man boobs aren't obligated to wear a shirt because let me tell you, I've seen guys with boobs that make ME jealous!

    Answer by emmyandlisa at 10:33 AM on May. 20, 2011

  • I think that's a bunch of crap. First of all, he's a male. Second, I don't think female breasts should be considered dirty.

    Answer by CraftingMama at 10:34 AM on May. 20, 2011

  • I have always hated the law about men being allowed to go topless.

    When I was little a large man wearing overalls and no shirt, his BOOBS were bigger than my moms! and hanging out the sides!!!! My mom is a beautiful 34 D. That man made me disgusted and I wondered why he could do that and I couldn't. I am an A cup.

    Answer by Audrice1985 at 10:34 AM on May. 20, 2011

  • OMG, his face is gorgeous! He's got great bone structure.

    As for the bare chest, I don't know why men's chests are okay to show but women's breasts are not. Interesting.


    Answer by QuinnMae at 10:34 AM on May. 20, 2011

  • Personally, I prefer not to see too many people without a shirt. Man boobs are not any more attractive than women with thier taataas hanging out. As for the cover itself, to me it looks like a drag queen getting ready for a show. Yeah, it could be a really flat woman or a really messed up man. But again, there's nothing wrong with everyone keeping their shirts on in my book.

    Answer by scout_mom at 10:35 AM on May. 20, 2011

  • LOL on the fat men comment....yeah, why do they get to show their man boobs in public?

    Answer by Pollymom at 10:35 AM on May. 20, 2011

  • boobs or not, that is the most horrific looking manchest or woman chest I've ever seen and it needs to be covered up regardless. ick

    Answer by jewjewbee at 10:40 AM on May. 20, 2011

  • ok i have quite an opinion on's the thing. it's not actually the "breast" that must be censored. it's the nipple. you can show an entire breast on tv as long as the nipple is blurred. but men have nipples, they look exactly the same as ours. what makes their nipples ok and ours wrong. is it the fact that it's surrounded by a breast? (a breast that doesn't even need to be blurred by the fcc's standards). well in answer to that i'll say that many men have breasts, my husband has boobs, if you're a very muscular man or a very large man then you normally have boobs/cleavage. same with a woman being flat chested, their nipples aren't surrounded by a boob, yet still they must be censored. a mans "boob" is built like ours too internally. they have ducts too but do not lactate because they don't go through pregnancy. so i don't really have an answer as to why. more questions that do answer why it's ridiculous. it's pure

    Answer by momofone725 at 10:40 AM on May. 20, 2011

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