Pretty But Dead
Pretty But Dead – Why Breastplate Doesn’t Include Breasts
So this weekend there was apparently a marathon of bad children’s movies. One that happened to catch my attention was Percy Jackson And The Butchered Greek Mythology. I was intrigued by it partly by my sister’s mention that she had attempted the books and partly because Heather is an avid fan. How bad could it be, I wondered.
Well, pretty bad. But that’s not what I want to discuss today. Instead, I’d rather talk about a very specific, nit-picky detail that has farther reaching cultural infiltration. Specifically, when Percy arrived at the awkwardly titled Camp Half Blood there was a greater crime committed than horribly mangling the most culturally saturated mythology in the Western Hemisphere. I am, of course, speaking of Alexandra Daddario.
Though, to be fair to the young actress, it wasn’t her rather lackluster performance but more the costume she was squeezed into. Despite the impracticality of traditional sword warfare in a modern world riddled with guns, for some bizarre reason every single girl at this camp had been issued a custom fitted leather cuirass complete with delightful boob pouches. Granted, this design for women’s armour wasn’t a unique creation of the Percy Jackson movies. In fact, this type of armour design is rather ubiquitous in modern times.
I mentioned how ludicrous this armour was which prompted a rather curious response from my family. “Women aren’t men!” they proclaimed, “and they can’t wear men’s armour. That would be uncomfortable.”
Well, of course it would be uncomfortable. Armour has always been uncomfortable. There was a kid in my high school who was really into the Medieval Ages and had a hobby of creating chain mail shirts. He was kind enough to lend me a finished one that he had fashioned for the day and I walked around school with it on. And I can tell you, the thing was heavy, cumbersome and restricting. But had I got into a knife fight, it probably would have spared my life or at the very least a few extra knife holes.
See, the sole function of armour is to deflect blows and edges from striking and piercing your fleshy bits. It’s not designed to be comfortable or a fashion statement. They’re basically giant metal shells that people wore if their lord valued their life over the handful of arrows that the enemy would drop you with. Having two large mounds in the middle of your chest is going to do the exact opposite of that. Those big pretty hills are going to be directing blows right into your chest instead of away thus increasing the likelihood that an attack pierces the metal and kills you.
As such, function has always trumped form. In fact, the concept that a woman’s shapely bits would even need special pounded pouches in the outer metal plates is rather ludicrous when you consider traditionally what was worn underneath. Warriors didn’t just throw a naked brigandine over their body. They wore a rather large padded jacket called a gambeson in order to cushion the body against the metal, absorb some of the kinetic energy of a blow and to reduce chaffing. Straight from wikipedia: “It was very insulatory and thus uncomfortable, but its protection was vital for the soldier.”
Over this, you would then wear the aforementioned chain mail shirt. Then you would finally wear your breastplate, cuirass, brigandine or what have you. If a woman managed to keep her shape through all that then surely she would make even the Venus of Willendorf jealous. Even more worrisome, if a woman fell over in one of these metal bodices, the pressure of the impact, increased by the weight of the armour itself, could very well crack her sternum which could lead to damaging your heart and lungs. These breasted plates are less protective shells and more metal death traps.
To give the misguided designers a bit of credit, however, I can only assume that they were inspired by the classic Grecian muscle cuirass commonly depicted in Roman and Greek art. Here we have finely articulated pieces included nipples, navels, abs and defined pectorals. Surely if the Ancient Greeks wore these then they must have been real. Except, archaeological finds of relatively unadorned cuirasses suggest otherwise. Considering the muscle cuirasses were typically depicted on generals and emperors suggests that these were strictly ornamental pieces used to display the idealized physique than actual armour suited for combat.
Unless, of course, ancient smiths were secretly trying to off the management during combat with faulty design. Which, if ancient bosses were anything like modern ones, might not be too far fetched.
This, of course, isn’t to say that you can’t take the unique physiological differences between men and women into consideration when crafting and creating armour for either sexes. It just depends how much you care about them being fitted and alive over pretty and dead.