Am I staring at women's breasts?
November 28, 2012 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Am I staring at women's breasts?

I find that when I talk to women, sometimes they adjust their clothing, seemingly to better cover theirs breasts/chests while we are talking, and it makes me wonder, "Was I looking at her breasts?"

This is really puzzling to me because I don't think (at least in most cases) I was doing any such thing, yet their act of adjusting their clothing makes me wonder if they were feeling uncomfortable, and if so, was it because of anything I did.

When women do that, it actually makes ME feel uncomfortable because it makes me feel like they think I'm some kind of lascivious neanderthal who was doing something that made them uncomfortable.

Do some women do this out of habit when talking to men because they feel self-conscious regardless of anything the man did?

Do other men have this same experience with women?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of workplace and social environment are you in? Do women around you mostly wear t-shirts? Or blouses and jackets? Some types of women's clothing require more adjustment than others.
posted by latkes at 6:59 AM on November 28, 2012

There's really no way to know just from reading your question if you are looking. If I were you and was worried about this, I would try to remain really aware of where I am looking when speaking to women for a while. (And, yes, sometimes people do adjust their clothing out of habit, but I have done this because the person I was talking to was looking at my body).
posted by marimeko at 7:02 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm female - sometimes I'll be wearing something a little low cut that has the potential to shift and expose bra or something if I reach funny, put a bag on my shoulder that tugs at the shirt, etc. I sometimes forget to check that my shirt is in place until I'm talking to someone and then I get this self-conscious moment because someone is paying direct attention to me and maybe I'll tug at the shirt then. It has nothing to do with the person I'm talking to looking at my boobs (I would do this around hetero females as well).
posted by slow graffiti at 7:06 AM on November 28, 2012 [26 favorites]

We can't really know where you were looking. There's tons of reasons why a woman might adjust her clothing. Maybe you were staring, maybe they think you were when you weren't, maybe their clothing is uncomfortable, maybe they just prefer to have their chest covered when talking to somone. Seriously, the possibilities are endless. If you think you might be staring, I would just focus really strongly on making eye contact and otherwise about people adjusting their clothing because you can't really know why they're doing it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:07 AM on November 28, 2012

I'm a guy. Yeah, I've had a similar experience. I don't know what to do about it. I hate when it happens - I hate the fact that I might be inadvertently making someone uncomfortable - so I make a conscious effort to watch where I'm looking.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:07 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am female. I adjust my clothes all the fricking time (it's so annoying!) but I don't think men are looking at my boobs. It's just a thing that women's clothes aren't designed to stay in place like men's are. I don't wear belts, so I have to pull my pants up from time to time. My tank tops ride up. My sweaters bunch up when I'm sitting. My tank tops slip down a bit and have to be pulled up. My bra straps fall down. My sweater (cardigan style) sleeves slip down. I play with my hair. Sorry I'm making you uncomfortable :)
posted by DoubleLune at 7:08 AM on November 28, 2012 [31 favorites]

Do you have any female friends that you'd be comfortable just asking outright?
posted by zombieflanders at 7:08 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree with the posters above, and also - being a bit on the busty side, I tend to adjust as a politeness thing because I don't want to be distracting. I don't automatically feel uncomfortable if someone's gaze flits below eye-level, I'm more likely (usually) to quickly do a neckline-check to avoid making the other person feel uncomfortable. And this is a gender/sexuality-free thing - people look. It happens.

It only makes me feel uncomfortable if the person is staring or not making any effort to look away (or repeatedly looks during a short time span), and I'm fairly sure you'd be aware of that, if you were doing it.
posted by pammeke at 7:09 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a couple counter-questions for you to consider - do you have trouble meeting people's eyes, and are you tall?

There is a reason for my questions - a friend of mine does often have trouble looking people in the eye when he first is getting to know them, so when he's talking to them he'll sort of look into the middle distance towards their face; he's not really "seeing" them, but he's looking in their general direction. However, he's also very tall - so if you're a woman he's talking to, it does indeed look a bit disconcertingly like he's trying to look down your shirt. We actually met via a blind date, and there was some immediate chemistry, so I chalked that up to "wow, THIS date is going well" and didn't mind it; but when I teased him about it later, he explained that no, he actually wasn't trying to look down my shirt at all, and explained that that was what was actually going on.

I wonder if the same may be going on with you - you may not be intentionally looking at women's breasts, but you may also be sort of looking at them in an unfocused way, but at an inconvenient angle. Try checking where you are looking, or even if you're looking anywhere intentionally instead of just sort of "towards" them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:09 AM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

For what it's worth, I work in a place that is all women (hundreds) except for a few males (20, maybe). Whenever I talk to women, they do the same thing, and I know I am not looking at their breasts.

I used to have the same concerns, so I started observing them talking with other women, and they do the same thing while talking to other women, too.

I used to feel really crappy about it, too! I would think that I was doing something wrong or sending the wrong signals to them, but I finally realized that it's similar, if not exactly, what slow graffiti said.
posted by TinWhistle at 7:10 AM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

If the OP and I are experiencing (or causing) the same behaviour, I would say that it's pretty apparent that it happens enough that the woman feels uncomfortable for some reason. It's more than just adjusting clothing.

On the other hand, it may just be a fidgity thing. I'm definitely not staring and staring. I'm slightly shy, so I sometimes look away from someone's face.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:10 AM on November 28, 2012

Do you make eye contact when you talk to people? I have a bad habit of avoiding eye contact, so sometimes I end up looking in the direction of the person but down, or at their lapels, or something. I could see how this might come across as checking someone out.

Also, I agree with the others who say this is probably a preventative measure rather than the women thinking you're ogling them. I sometimes adjust my clothes in situations like this; I'm not even thinking about the other person looking at me, I just think "uh-oh, I feel a little overexposed." Doesn't matter if I'm with men or women.

At any rate, it wouldn't hurt to work on making eye contact if you don't already do so.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:18 AM on November 28, 2012

I have a very large bust and I work in a mostly all male environment and I make sure that my tops are covering everything as a matter of courtesy. I'm sure there are more than a few guys that would be cool with seeing a wardrobe malfunction but I do not want to offend anyone with a shirt that is pulled down a little low or caught under something. For men that are known creepers, I carry a folder or a pad with me and hold it against my chest when I have to have a face to face conversation with them. So it could just be something these women do as a matter of habit, not you making them feel uncomfortable.
posted by crankylex at 7:22 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's just a matter of course that unless a woman's clothes are tailor made, they're not going to fit just right and they're going to need adjusting. It's annoying, and most likely involuntary. I'm a busty woman, and I adjust my clothes all the frigging time to cover the girls unless I'm wearing a turtleneck because everything else my size seems to be low cut these days and there's no getting around it. /rant

Anyway, you're probably not staring. It's just a fact of life that women who buy off the rack don't wear clothes that fit just right.
posted by patheral at 7:33 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sometimes breasts need adjusting. Sometimes we do it without thinking, or because we suddenly realize something's exposed that shouldn't be. I sincerely doubt it's about you. When I actually notice someone staring at my chest, my reaction is usually to call them out on it, rather than adjust myself to their view.
posted by picklesthezombie at 7:50 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Which comes first, the look or the adjusting. If I sense someone looking at some part of me I might check to make sure my clothes don't need adjusting.

I've noticed a lot of (middle-aged professional) men who adjust their crotches in public, even my boss, and I am definitely not looking at their crotches. If we're in the middle of a conversation and they do that I do my best to act like I didn't notice.
posted by mareli at 7:51 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think we all, as animals, make observations on the sexual characteristics of our fellow animal humans. It is hard-wired. The secret is to discreetly catch yourself and discreetly look away.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:54 AM on November 28, 2012

As another eye-contact-avoider who tends to focus downward when talking to people, the best advice I've received is to focus on people's eyebrows. With women, there's no chance that you look like you're staring at their chest, and to the other person it looks like you're making eye contact.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 7:54 AM on November 28, 2012

nthing what Slow Graffiti said.

This is a behavior that my wife and I call "futzing" (e.g. "Women are always futzing with their clothes," she will say). I see women doing it when they're talking to other women, so I don't think it's always necessarily a response to creepy behavior.
posted by DWRoelands at 8:07 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, I'm an eye-contact avoider too, whose eyes tend to wander around as a result. I should try the eyebrows trick.
posted by carter at 8:08 AM on November 28, 2012

I have actually considered posting this exact question! What has helped me a little in my majority female workplace is to have conversations while both parties are seated. (I am pretty tall.) I may experiment with eye contact after reading these answers, but I'm not sure I can do it without being creepy. Also, a lot of conversations around here happen with one person walking into another's office and remaining standing while the person whose office it is sits at her desk. Eye contact in that situation is not really distinguishable from breast contact.

I do not recommend asking the clothing adjuster if you are making her uncomfortable. It's like telling someone not to think of a pink elephant.
posted by Sock Ray Blue at 8:09 AM on November 28, 2012

Sometimes when I'm talking with someone I suddenly realize my shirt is a little lower than I prefer and I have to make an adjustment. It has nothing to do with anything they're doing, but because their proximity makes me more aware of my own body.
posted by apricot at 8:26 AM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I stand to be corrected, but if you're aware that this could be the problem, it's probably not the problem. It's the guys who aren't aware of it being a problem that are the problem -- if indeed that's the problem.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:26 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a woman. I have big boobs. EVERYTHING on me looks low cut. I work in an office environment and well, having the fun bags hanging out isn't exactly appropriate. I am very often adjusting my clothes and hauling stuff up because my cleavage has gone from tasteful to wolf-whistle, and as others have said often a conversation makes me self-conscious enough to be all "Oh crap, my boobs are out!" so I tug things about to conceal things. I also have lost a fair bit of weight so things are often loose and don't fall right, so I have to tug them back in to place relatively regularly.

It likely isn't you.
A lot of women just fuss with their clothes a lot.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:35 AM on November 28, 2012

Sometimes when I'm talking with someone I suddenly realize my shirt is a little lower than I prefer and I have to make an adjustment. It has nothing to do with anything they're doing, but because their proximity makes me more aware of my own body.

This, exactly.

I did this just this top-shifting this morning, actually, because I was sitting in a meeting and kind of leaning forward. I remembered as I was leaning forward that I had remarked in the mirror this morning that you could see my bra when I leaned forward, so I adjusted my top so that you couldn't see down it. This was partially because there was a guy across the table from me who COULD see down my top, if he even just glanced, but not because I noticed him looking or anything; I just became more aware of it because of my proximity to him.
posted by urbanlenny at 8:38 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had the damnedest time finding clothes for work that didn't reveal cleavage. I suspect that unless women's clothing changes, you will continue to see this happen.

FWIW, I am female but I have mild bisexual tendencies. The only time I typically notice that about myself is when some woman has her cleavage all framed out like she wants you to look. I have difficulty not looking, which annoys the hell out of me because, no, I probably wouldn't hit that (for all intents and purposes, I have been a "practicing heterosexual" for more than three decades and I am not looking to change that). Women whose cleavage I have stared at were incredibly unforgiving. Hell could freeze over, I would still be in the dog house.

So I am going to suggest that if you were actually being offensive you would probably be getting more signals than clothing adjustment and you would probably be asking a rather different question about the issue. I think you can stop worrying about it unless/until all the women at work start arranging to have a folder or the like in front of their chest before talking to you (a la the tactic crankylex cited as her go to for dealing with "known creepers").
posted by Michele in California at 9:13 AM on November 28, 2012

I've very seldom thought anyone was checking out my breasts, and when I do think that I tend to do other things besides adjusting my clothing: crossing my arms in front of me, holding a pad of paper in front of me, or just giving the guy a cold, meaning stare. So I wouldn't worry about clothing adjustment, which probably just means the woman feels exposed or uncomfortable in some way, or is just fidgeting.
posted by orange swan at 9:17 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Alright, there is no good way to say this - boob check.

I've worked extensively in video production, and that often involves audience shots for performances, sports events, etc. One constant across all crowds is that you see women consciously or unconsciously adjusting their tops. Sometimes it is a little tug at the corner, sometimes it is a woman literally looking down at her chest to make sure everything is in place. We (running the cameras) have to pay attention, because you don't want to put a woman on screen who is in the middle of doing this.
posted by shinynewnick at 9:19 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm a woman and I am rarely pulling at and adjusting my clothing in public (unless it's a really short skirt, but I try not to wear those to work) so I don't really get that.

But, like has been said upthread, if I am noticing someone looking at my breasts, I do more direct things like stop talking and stare at the person. or I'll look at my breasts too and the person gets the hint I'm noticing what they're doing.
posted by sweetkid at 11:58 AM on November 28, 2012

I'm female and have a fair amount of clothing, particularly older clothing which has stretched, which often moves around and doesn't completely cover my cleavage and/or bra to a level I'm happy with. It might also be more of a problem for shorter women - tshirt cleavage as always is made to the 'average' women. Which might be lower if you're short.

I often readjust my clothing, because women's clothing is like that - it has to be readjusted - and interacting with another person reminds me that I might want to do that. Particularly because if the other person did look in that direction, they might see more than I'd want them to - regardless of if they're currently looking that way. It has nothing to do with where you're looking.

In the very rare occasion I actually catch a guy looking that way (who isn't my boyfriend) I'll do more obvious things like actually get annoyed at them.
posted by Ashlyth at 1:16 PM on November 28, 2012

Almost all women's clothing is designed to show A Certain Amount of chest. Unfortunately, as the day goes on, many factors, listed above, can make you show A Different Amount of chest. This is most problematic when talking to someone face to face, so this is when we adjust.

Imagine that each of your shirts had a large hole an inch above your belly button, but that you really didn't want anyone to see your belly button, especially at work. Wouldn't you check and adjust your shirt when you spoke to someone, just to make sure? That's all we're doing.
posted by that's how you get ants at 1:30 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I hate making eye contact with people, so I look at their foreheads.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:20 PM on November 28, 2012

I'm glad I'm not the only guy who has felt this way. I'm also glad to read all of the responses!
posted by tacodave at 2:58 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I notice women walking down the street will often block the view to their breasts by raising an arm, or turning slightly. I don't even notice it's a woman many times until she does this. I write it off as reflex.
posted by telstar at 3:36 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Clothes are scratchy and punchy and really annoying partly because boobs are hard to tailor around, bras can pinch actually mine is pinching now, now I think about it. I'm sure it's not about you. If I thought someone was talking to my tits I'd end the conversation rapidly. Only if that is also happening would I look at your own behavior
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 2:19 AM on November 29, 2012

« Older It's not right, but is it ok?   |   Help me say sewer, but not sewer, en espaƱol por... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.