Animation and illustrated media as a whole are largely based around the intention behind character design and the ways in which these designs may convey different messages. The societal implications behind specific traits have always played a role in what traits are used for storytelling, whether or not they are outright spoken (eg. Snow White’s small frame and fair skin denote innocence; the Evil Queen disguises herself as the witch/hag archetype to convey the opposite). In the sense that humans experiencethe socialized connotations of specific body types and qualities, character design serves as one of the most accessible mediums of storytelling and is innately influenced by how humans view each other based on these preconceptions; one popularly exploited aspect of silhouette in design are the breasts of a female character and what those design choices may be trying to convey.

Contents

  1. The Anatomical Context of Breasts
  2. What Society Attributes to Breasts
  3. Breasts in Character Design—the Connotations and Character Traits

3.1 Small Breasts

3.2 Large Breasts

3.3 Are Breasts Always a Factor? Or: The “In-Between”

  1. Further Reading
  2. Endnotes
  3. The Anatomical Context of Breasts

Breasts are a mammalian phenomenon composed of a system of milk-producing glands and 15-20 lobes surrounded by fat and anchored to the pectoralis major by ligaments. The breasts themselves have no muscle and respond to a number of hormonal influences (eg. during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause) that may cause swelling, further development/expansion, lactation, etc. [1]Biologically, breasts exist for the purpose of lactation and the subsequent nursing of offspring, however humans are the only primates who retain their breasts before, during, and after the needs of children—or lack thereof. [2]

Fig. 1An anatomical representation of a breast.

  1. What Society Attributes to Breasts

In the most primitive sense, full breasts may connote fertility or heightened maternal quality. The persistence of human breasts without biological necessity suggests that they may have mutated over time to align with the preferences of possible mates. Today, people see breasts as symbols of nurturing and motherhood, yet also link them to sensuality and desirability. Distinctly, the curves created by a plump bosom and buttocks are coveted traits in a mate; some believe that this is because a fertile woman tends to not store fat in the abdomen, attributing to this heightened curvature. It is strongly hypothesized that an “hourglass figure” was socialized to be attractive due to ancestral males simply distinguishing them as sexual ornaments, as specific fat deposits created a figure which emphasizes gender differences and makes female humans’ gender more easily discernible. [2]

  1. Breasts in Character Design—the Connotations and Character Traits

The artistic interpretations of humanoid characters are based in real-life qualities or ideals. The above implications that we have attributed to breasts play a role in the way we view breasts in media. In some forms, critics have noted that character’s personality traits may be sacrificed for the sake of creating an attractive character to male consumers, complete with a pleasing silhouette. In regards to females in video game design,—but applicable to multiple mediums—game critic Ayla Arthur claims: “Boobs aren’t treated as organs that can hurt or be hurt: they’re treated as pure, untouchable objects that are meant to be seen, to be glorified.” [3]

3.1 Small Breasts

In animation, smaller breasts are normally reserved for younger characters, or those with more youthful and innocent qualities. They might be quieter and more reserved, but may also prove to be tough, angry, or strong-willed. Small breasts typically connote a more positive view of a character but can also give a more mature character a childish quality. Japanese anime especially boasts the common trope of “A-Cup Angst:” the feelings of a character centered around a complex they may possess over having a flat chest, or even a chest that is smaller in comparison to her peers. [4]She may be mistaken for a child because of her breasts (or lack thereof) or treated as lesser. Examples of characters with purposefully small breasts in media may include Velma Dinkley from the Scooby Doo franchise, Taiga Aisaka from Toradora!, or Jeanne fromBayonetta

Fig. 2Taiga Aisaka from Toradora!, 2006

Small-breasted characters may also be created to appeal to lolicon subculture. “Lolicon” (a portmanteau of the phrase “lolita complex”) refers to the sexual attraction to young girls/women who appear younger than they are (ie. Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita), and is more often than not directly linked to paedophilia. While this terminology is originally based in anime & manga, it has expanded to encompass more forms of media than these. [5]Nowi from Fire Emblem: Awakeningserves as an example of such a character.

3.2 Large Breasts

To contrast from small breasts, large breasts are saved for motherly characters, those whose personalities have a humorous slant, or villains (to name a few instances). Whether they are heroic or not, buxom characters tend to be assertive and confident types who have nothing to fear and nothing to lose. Young lovers or those of pure heart on the other hand are rarely seen with large-busted designs. While in anime, these characters may not always have the same issues raised by “A-Cup Angst,” a similar trope exists for large-breasted characters in which they have great pride over their breast size (or others may see their breasts as a positive trait)–however, it is not unheard of for these characters to also have a negative emotional complex regarding their breast size: “D-Cup Distress.” [6]Such sentiments may include loathing the pain large breasts can induce, feeling they can get in the way, or feeling objectified and upset with the connotation her breasts may carry. She may be sexualized, but not thought of as traditionally “beautiful.” Examples of purposefully large-breasted characters include Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Nozomi Tojo fromLoveLive!, or Ivy Valentine from the Soulcalibur series.

Fig. 3Ivy’s appearance in Soulcalibur VI, 2018

As previously stated, designers and illustrators commonly create imagery meant for the male gaze—comic-book artist Rob Liefeld is notorious for his excessively-beefy men, as well as his women who walk on their toes (as if wearing invisible high-heels), have anatomically impossible waist lines, and, as expected, sizeable breasts. [7]

Fig. 4Rob Liefeld’s cover illustration for Avengelyne / Glory #1, 1995

3.3 Are Breasts Always a Factor? Or: The “In-Between”

It may be arguable that breasts do not always play a role in the conceptualization and execution of character design. Children’s media, for example, can be seen as a relatively unassuming lens through which this topic can be approached; however, in even a more innocent context, breast size may be used simply to denote age.

Fig. 5Dora and her mother from Nick Jr.’s Dora the Explorer, 2000;

Dora, a child, has no breasts, while her mother, an adult, does.

In the case of anthropomorphic characters, the presence of breasts may more explicitly define a character as “female.” Such characters may include Lola Bunny from the Looney Tunes franchise or Gadget Hackwrench from Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers.

Fig. 6Lola Bunny appearing in Space Jam, 1996

Characters may also be given breasts simply for the sake of having them despite no anatomical function; James Cameron’s Avatar, for example, introduces an alien race called the Na’vi. They have no genitals or biological need for breasts, as they are non-mammalian and have no ability to nurse young. Upon questioning why he felt the need for these digitally rendered breasts, James Cameron proclaimed, “Because this is a movie for human people.” In a previous instance over the same topic, he elaborated by telling Playboy magazine, “Right from the beginning I said, ‘[Neytiri’s] got to have tits,’ even though that makes no sense because her race, the Na’vi, aren’t placental mammals.” [8]

Fig. 7Neytiri, a member of the Na’vi race from Avatar, 2009

If a character’s breasts do not particularly lean towards either extreme of a size scale—especially in the presence of characters whose breasts do—it may be a commentary on their average nature or plain demeanor. In more cases, however, this means that their defining character traits are imbued within their personalities or abilities rather than their physique. Examples may include the common silhouette shared among Disney princesses: their breasts tend to fall within the small-to-average range. These characters are usually young (teenage), but more importantly, their character does not revolve around their body type. Disney villains on the other hand are designed with particularly extreme body types in comparison to the heroes and heroines of their movies, including the likes of Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians, Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove, the Queen of Heartsfrom Alice in Wonderland, or Ursula from The Little Mermaid. Conventions of character design—most obviously, silhouette—are used to impart unsavory feelings onto the audience.

Fig. 8Ariel and Ursula from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, 1989.

  1. Further Reading
  1. Endnotes

[1]“Breast Anatomy.” SEER Training: Anatomical Terminology, National Institute of Health – National Cancer Institute, training.seer.cancer.gov/breast/anatomy/. Accessed 18 February 2019.

[2] Jahme, Carole. “Breast Size: a Human Anomaly.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 May 2010, www.theguardian.com/science/2010/may/14/breast-size-evolution. Ibid.

[3] Arthur, Ayla. “On Designing Women in Games – Ayla Arthur – Medium.” Medium.com, Medium, 10 Nov. 2014, medium.com/@FourArmsDemon/on-designing-better-women-in-games-ebe785d8689. Ibid.

[4] “A-Cup Angst.” TV Tropes,tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AcupAngst. Ibid.

[5] “ロリコンの英訳.” 英辞郎on the WEB, eow.alc.co.jp/search?q=ロリコン. Ibid.

[6] “D-Cup Distress.” TV Tropes, TV Tropes, tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DCupDistress. Ibid.

[7] Hanstock, Bill. “The 40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings.” Progressive Boink, Vox Media, 21 Apr. 2012, www.progressiveboink.com/2012/4/21/2960508/worst-rob-liefeld-drawings. Ibid.

[8]“James Cameron Explains Why The Na’vi Have Breasts.” The Huffington Post, Verizon Media, 25 May 2011, www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/24/james-cameron-explains-wh_n_475156.html. Ibid.


Krystal (Krys) Tuzon Gonzalez (she/they) is a junior Theatre Performance major and Women’s Studies minor at Old Dominion University. Krys finds joy in makeup & fashion, video games, writing, drawing, music-ing, theatre-ing, and activities of artsy persuasion, and abides by a lifelong motto of continuously learning and striving towards self-improvement. They hope to pursue a career in theatre alongside cosmetology, and aspire to someday work as a galvanizing force within marginalized communities in the arts. “We’re not pawns of some scripted fate. I believe we’re more. Much more.”