Publisher’s Weekly “Best Books”
Novelist and screenwriter Lehr (Wife Goes On) blends memoir, history, and cultural criticism in this witty and incisive look at American attitudes toward women’s breasts. She tracks the evolution of her feelings about her own breasts from pubescence to flat-chested young adulthood, breastfeeding, plastic surgery (aiming for a B cup, she ended up size 32D), and surviving breast cancer. Lehr’s appealing sense of humor runs throughout, as does her sharp analysis of broader social issues such as the messages girls receive about being smart versus being pretty, the “bro culture and tribe mentality” of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the marketing techniques of lingerie brands, and the censorship of women’s breasts in movies and on social media platforms. Digressions on her father’s collection of Playboy magazines, the history of the Hooters restaurant chain, and the popularity of breast augmentation surgery in the U.S. mingle with frank details about Lehr’s battle with breast cancer and the stresses in women’s lives that contribute to the disease, which, she notes, kills more than 42,000 American women every year. Lehr’s engrossing and empathetic account will appeal to women of all ages.
Lehr’s book contains just about everything you would want to know about breasts. Pardon the pun, but it’s not about titillation—though plenty of insight can be gleaned from her cultural history. The book is about fixation and awareness, the many ways in which life shuffles women a raw deal, and why we continue to fail to rectify the inequities. The author also examines marriage, motherhood, the writing life, and conflicting emotions. “As far back as I can remember,” writes Lehr, “everywhere I’ve lived, breasts have been the Holy Grail, the quest for female perfection. I’m beginning to think breasts are more than a body part. They might be the whole game.” That game, she demonstrates, has often held women back. Lehr is a smooth, eminently likable guide, and she elicits no small measure of sympathy for the trials she has endured, including her bout with breast cancer. She is thoughtful and honest about the push-pull of acculturation and candid about her own complicity in how societal attitudes often narrow women’s status. The text also includes a variety of sidebars including “Bra Basics,” a timeline of American beauty pageants (1998: “Forty of the fifty-one Miss USA contestants have breast implants”), and a list of American women who have appeared in Playboy, divided by decade. A serious and provocative book with enough lightness to keep the pages turning. Our verdict: GET IT
More to come!