'Fortnite' Breast Physics Error Is a Reminder of the Science of Boob Loving

The creators of Fortnite issued an apologetic tweet Thursday after players pointed out the absurd “breast physics” in the Season 6 update. Post-update, the new Calamity cowgirl skin appears to have especially jiggly boobs when she does the “jubilation” emote. As an owner of boobs, I can confirm they don’t move like that, even when you do the dance! Epic contends it was “unintended,” but the company isn’t fooling anyone. Thousands of years of evolution and the persistence of certain cultural ideas can explain why we have debates over breast physics in the first place.

The breast physics issue — or Easter egg, depending on how you look at it — was first brought to light by Twitter user FaZe Agony, who posted a video of Calamity’s oddly dynamic breasts. To Epic’s credit, the company corrected the error right away. “This is unintended, embarrassing, and it was careless for us to let this ship,” an Epic spokesperson told reporters. “We are working now to fix this as soon as possible.”

Embarrassing, sure, but unintended? Unlikely. There’s a reason humans are attracted to boobs — even unnaturally bouncy ones of their own creation.

Why Do Men Like Boobs?

One leading evolutionary theory explaining why heterosexual dudes are particularly attracted to boobs is that they’re a sign a female is fertile. Long before humans invented internet stalking and Tinder, our species largely relied on visual cues to size up whether a person was worth hooking up with. And breasts — especially large ones — are thought to signal that a female is fertile and healthy and so has a better chance at bearing kids.

Studies suggesting that an “hourglass shape” formed by large hips and large breasts tends to signal fertility to males corroborate this theory. Some freakier theories, like one proposed by leading social neuroscientist Larry Young, Ph.D., argue that males are attracted to female breasts for the same reasons babies are: The hormones released during breastfeeding are actually the same ones that shape long-lasting emotional bonds between humans, and so breasts remain attractive over a male’s lifetime.

But because human behavior is shaped both by our biology and the cultures we’ve created, a simple evolutionary explanation for male boob loving doesn’t suffice.

Correction: Not All Men Like Boobs

As scientists studying males in various cultures have discovered, attraction to breasts, whether big or small, is very much a cultural preference. Over the past century or so, Western sexual preferences have been shaped by influences like pin-up models, Playboy, and Lara Croft (another victim of breast physics), so it makes sense that Westerners would be responsible for creating a character like Calamity.

But as American researchers Clellan S. Ford and Frank A. Beach wrote in their seminal book Patterns of Sexual Behavior in 1951, males in some cultures are just not that into boobs: Of the 190 cultures they examined, breasts were only considered “sexually important” in 13 of them, and breast preferences within those cultures ranged from long, hanging breasts to perky, hemispherical ones. In 1991, cultural anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler wrote in her book Breastfeeding: Bicultural Perspectives that the men she interviewed in Mali could not believe that “men would become sexually aroused by women’s breasts, or that women would find such activities pleasurable.”

Shape, Not Size?

More recent research, published in Evolution and Human Behavior in 2017, has suggested that it’s not breast size but shape that males prefer. As Inverse previously reported, that study suggested breast shape is a better indicator of firmness — and thus of fertility — than breast size.

Breast size, they note, tends to change with age and the number of babies a woman has had, so it could very well be shape — and thereby firmness — that is the better indicator of fertility. They came to this conclusion after literally asking 267 men to rate pictures of different-sized boobs and then analyzing the results. While size preferences fluctuated (most men preferred medium-sized breasts, followed by large ones), preference for firmness stayed roughly consistent. What exactly firmness says about a woman’s health overall remains to be seen.

Probably Intentional, But Understandable

Between human biology and Western culture, there’s no shortage of factors that could have led some Epic developer to create Season 6 Calamity and an entire industry to inspire the term “breast physics.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with indulging what you’re into — and there’s nothing wrong with big, jiggling breasts! — but they can be harmful when they lead to unrealistic expectations of what females should look like and how females should be, especially in relation to males. Epic clearly saw the potential for controversy here, which is an encouraging step in the right direction, especially as sexual politics elsewhere in the world seems to be increasingly, upsettingly bad.

Email the author at: yasmin@inverse.com