The Story Behind the (Slightly) NSFW Trend That’s Suddenly Everywhere
Hope you’re reading this one at home because it’s about to get a little risqué up in here. But for good reason. Lately, designers have been featuring the body—female breasts and butts to be specific—on housewares, art prints, embroidery, and clothing, and it’s not simply in appreciation of those killer curves. But we’ll get to that later.
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It may seem like this trend happened overnight, but I did some digging around, and it’s been a minute since boobs have become a decorative motif. The most OG company I could find in the decorative boob biz is San Francisco-based Gravel & Gold, a female-forward purveyor of handmade items, a custom line of clothing and home goods that’s actually been featured on AT before. “In 2011, when we first put our ‘Boobs’ print on fabric, we had no idea that it would become such a force and a core part of our overall business,” says Tomra Palmer of Gravel & Gold. “It was drawn by one of our founders, Cassie Mcgettigan, during a time when she was living communally in Bolinas, CA. Nudity was commonplace, so Cass was inspired to commemorate those bodies and others. This just sort of naturally morphed into the idea of covering breasts with breasts, playing with the idea of not hiding whatever it is ya got.”
Gravel & Gold’s first “boobs” printed piece was a simple sheer nursing-friendly top. “That was followed by a few iterations of fancy tote bags, and in about 2013, we hit the jackpot with the pillowcase idea,” says Palmer. “What better to rest your head upon?”
Good point. Pillows are now one of the most popular boob-themed items out there, and of course, other makers have gotten in the game, too. The bedroom is a private, intimate space, so this motif is certainly at home there. You can also find throw cushion versions, too, if you think your sofa could benefit from a little side (pillow) boob action.
Why the uptick so suddenly though? Palmer suspects it may have something to do with the current political climate—and the desire to talk about the female body, that is, in praise of self-ownership of it instead of its subjugation. “It wasn’t really until after the print launched and we experienced an overwhelming response to it that we realized the timeliness of it, that it had a message that clearly needed to be set loose, far and wide,” says Palmer. “It turns out people really want to talk about boobs. They want to talk about which ones they have, about which ones you have, breastfeeding, breast cancer survival, sex, bodies, rainbow spectrum modality, #freethenipple, the tides of feminism, etc.”
For Meghan Hopkins Sokorai, owner and founder of And Here We Are, who first created her own “Boob” print in 2015, it’s the unspecificity of the pattern that makes it so universally thought-provoking and inherently connected to the body positivity movement. “All of our body drawings are loose line drawings, lopsided and asymmetrical and imperfect,” she says. “I hope that our products contribute to the idea that all of our bodies are a little weird, and every body is beautiful in its own way.”
In addition, a lack of text with many “Boob” prints (And Here We Are’s included) leaves them open to interpretation. “I don’t think it’s an accident that our ‘Boob’ graphic is simply a line drawing with no text, to which the owner can attach whatever meaning they choose,” she says. Hopkins Sokorai thinks different women (and everyone who identifies as, or with, women) are drawn to her products for different reasons. “For many, it’s simply a celebration of womanhood or to kind of say, ‘I’m proud of my body, and I’m proud to be a woman, and I don’t care if it makes you uncomfortable,'” she says. For others, the shapes are connected to a milestone such as giving birth/breastfeeding, cancer, or surgery. “And honestly, for some, it’s just funny and silly,” she says.
Palmer sees a bit of humor in this motif, too. “‘Boobs'” is a really joyful print that makes people giggle, and sometimes using humor is an effective way to have difficult conversations without alienation,” she says. Gravel & Gold’s latest boob launch is a shower curtain, which is another fitting place to show, well, a little cleave.
Other companies have gotten on this train, too. Even Urban Outfitters sells a boobs shower curtain, and because it’s by Deny Designs, there is an actual female artist behind the artwork, Natalie Catalina.
Changing gears a little bit, the design duo behind Cold Picnic, Phoebe Sung and Peter Buer, made their name in abstract rugs, and in Fall/Winter of 2015, they created a collection called Private Parts, adding boob and torso bath mats to their floor covering offerings. They seem to always be sold out—boobs are popular! But you can find their wares at other retailers, and they even did a special boob bath mat collaboration with ban.do.
Oh, and did I mention butts are happening, too? Because they are. I’m not sure these forms are as politically charged, but again, there’s an implicit appreciation there as well as an unabashed desire to be a little in your face—and a little cheeky, it seems. Gah, I swear these puns are just writing themselves! But you get the point. Our boobs and butts, our bodies, our homes. Perhaps Hopkins Sokorai puts it best: “Ultimately, I do think it’s about empowerment; taking back the imagery of our breasts and our bodies, where previously breasts have largely been considered from the male perspective as purely sexual objects,” she says.
In that same vein, visual artist Meegan Barnes actually creates butt vases. And they’re quite big and striking solo on a bookcase or bedside table, though you could certainly fill them with flowers or greenery. With their $1,000 price tag, yes, they’re an investment, but they’re pretty rad. I also love that Barnes does gilded versions and regular ceramic ones in different skin tones.
Barnes even makes “Squished Butts” that you can hang on the wall. How’s that for some s-ass in a gallery wall arrangement? Looks like the next step for her is neon butt lights.
The only issue Palmer has with this trend is the potential for overexposure and cheapening of the message. “While we’ve definitely been encouraged to expand our ‘Boobs’ offerings over the years, we’ve tried to remain clever and intentional about where we put this righteous print,” she says. “We want it to retain the symbolic weight it’s gained over the last several years and keep it out of the realm of souvenir kitsch.”
Essentially, for Palmer, this print was and is a sort of insignia for people. “I think it communicates (for many) in uncertain times that we aren’t going to let the things that people have fought to get out into the open retreat into the shadows,” she says.
So maybe support your artists and makers and indie designers with this one, folks, and stay away from the mass produced versions of boobs and butts. I don’t know about you, but I look forward to seeing where this one goes next. And if you know of craftspeople who may have been doing the boob thang before 2011, please tell us in the comments. We’d love to know about them!