From the Dothraki warriors to the Wildlings to the royals of King’s Landing, the world spawned by Game of Thrones presents an array of human physical forms. So why, then, do all the breasts look the same?
Yes, magically and without reason, all the women who dare to bare on HBO’s hit series have perfect, perky breasts. Regardless of their size—which is never too small or too big, usually between a B and D cup—they all have roughly the same round shape, small areolas, perky nipples, and a supple quality that makes one think, “God I love this show!”
But for a series and a network known for body diversity, extraordinary casting, and great storytelling, one has to wonder: Where are all the non-perfect breasts? The asymmetrical ones with silver dollar areolas and the sagging ones associated with childbirth or old age? Did George R.R. Martin create a world where women are simply well-endowed forever, or has HBO succumbed to what so many other television shows and movies already know—that sex sells?
Turns out it’s the latter. After speaking with casting directors and anthropologists, it just so happens the breasts of Game of Thrones are the breasts heterosexual men are most attracted to.
It's pretty widely known that heterosexual men are physically attracted to youth—and perky and flawless breasts are a measure of youth. “The easiest explanation is that perky breasts and small nipples are indicative of women in the early years of fertility,” said Christopher Ryan, author of Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships.
“Most theorists would say that men are attracted to this because they hope to mate with such a woman over a long period of time and thus dominate her entire reproductive lifespan,” Ryan said. Of course, from a modern-day perspective, the attraction is probably more about our society’s obsession with youth in general, “which relates to our childish avoidance of maturation and death” and also explains why we dye our hair, shave our pubic hair, and electively go under the knife.
On the flip side, sagging breasts, or breasts with large areolas that give the illusion of sagging, are associated with age. These breasts offer a visual cue that women have already given birth, as pregnancy and breastfeeding can stretch the skin, change the shape, or result in stretch marks. Not only that, as women get older they produce less estrogen, causing skin to be less elastic, which causes breasts to become less firm and full. Since this decrease in estrogen happens around menopause, it’s essentially a cue that a woman is no longer fertile.
To sum it all up: “Perky breasts as opposed to sagging breasts are a sign of youth,” said Justin Lehmiller, author of The Psychology of Human Sexuality, and "as such, may be considered more attractive because they are a likely cue to a woman’s fertility status.” Which is why studies have shown that heterosexual men of all ages are more attracted to a notable hip-to-waist ratio (childbearing hips), blonde hair (sign of youth), and generally, women in their 20s.
In other words: Daenerys Targaryen is like sex on a stick for many male fans.
Of course, it's not like heterosexual men only love perky boobs. They tend to love boobs in general. Big boobs, little boobs, different-shaped boobs—so why don’t we see more boob diversity on TV? This is where casting directors come in. It’s not their job to give viewers just any boobs but the best boobs attached to the best bodies—and "best" means the most desirable to the masses.
Research has shown that, like Goldilocks, men prefer medium-sized breasts over barely-there bumps or giant jugs. Casting directors know this, which is why—unless the script calls for a very specific look—the default is to find women with flawless, perky, medium-sized boobs, according to Jeff Olan, a casting director in Los Angeles who has cast for films including From Dusk Till Dawn and Epic Movie and TV shows including Grey’s Anatomy, Medium, and Californication.
“The truth of the matter is, a producer is paying for the most perfect breasts,” Olan told Fusion. “Therefore, they can't have a bunch of birthmarks, stretch marks, or stitches, unless it's actually called for in the script.”
“The standard is the perfect, perky-looking boobs because the question is, ‘What sells?’” he said. “Obviously … across-the-board perfect and perky is what sells.”
And yet, simply having Emily Ratajkowski-level boobs isn’t enough. According to casting directors, personality—specifically confidence—also plays a key role.
“Most importantly, the person cast must seem extremely confident and happy while nude,” said Jane Bacon, another casting director in Los Angeles. “Self-consciousness is uncomfortable to watch, unless that's part of the story.”
Olan echoed this sentiment, saying that while a lot of women think they can get naked in a casting room, it’s a whole different game on set when hundreds of people are watching. “You want someone who has a great personality, that will feel so comfortable enough around the crew and the extras to take their top off and not give a rat's ass about everybody seeing them."
All that confidence comes with a nice paycheck. Depending on the scene and nudity, a female extra can get paid $250 to $1,500 for a day with no lines.
Of course, it's entirely possible that women with “perfect” breasts are generally more confident being naked to begin with. Emily Ratajkowski built an entire career after appearing topless in the video for Blurred Lines. A combination of great boobs and comfort on camera made her an instant star—but she was probably comfortable because, let's face it, she's a knockout.
Before everyone goes nuts (we love Game of Thrones, too!), let me be clear: We understand that movies and television are a fantasy, not reflective of the real world. But just as porn makes some women feel bad about their non-tanned, non-waxed, not-so-limber bodies, viewing perfect breasts on TV as the “standard” makes us lose sight of the average. Breast augmentation is still the number-one plastic surgery in America, so women clearly aren’t pleased with average, instead striving for society's view of perfection.
And so, given that Game of Thrones has done a stellar job showcasing an array of body types—why not show uneven, saggy, or old breasts, which surely existed in a Medieval setting? Like vaginas, boobs come in all shapes and sizes (Warning: link is NSFW.)
Because with Game of Thrones, as Olan put it, “they are more about prettier and perkier.” End of story. Alas, we haven't heard anyone complaining, and you can bet your ass that every time the "N" for nudity fails to appear before an episode hearts break everywhere.
Despite many, many requests for interviews, HBO refused to comment on their nude casting choices for this story.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.