Big naturals are more than just a body part. They’re an energy, a culture, a lens through which we consume and create the world around us. And while big-breastedness may be both spiritual and bodily, there is a material world and timeline of events that document how this culture came to be. As MEL’s resident boob culture writer and a woman of breast-experience, I’ll be analyzing these objects and happenings, telling the stories of their origins and their impact on society. This is Big Moments in Big Naturals.
Before we can thank Dolly Parton for her gaudy contributions to aesthetics, music and culture, there’s someone else we must thank first. She doesn’t have a name, or any identifying features at all, really. All we know is that she was a sex worker in Dolly’s hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee. Wedged at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains, it was home to a mysterious woman who walked the street wearing high heels and red lips. To a young Parton, who grew up there in the 1950s, she looked a lot like a movie star.
“We didn’t get to go to the movies, and we lived way back, so my look was inspired by the town tramp,” Dolly said of the woman in 2012. “I thought she was absolutely beautiful. And people used to think it was a joke. I would say how beautiful she was, and everybody would say she is just trash. And I thought that is what I am going to grow up to be — trash.”
And so, it’s this glitzy, anonymous sex worker of a rural mountain town of Tennessee who unknowingly gave us the Dolly Parton we know today. That includes, of course, her famously gargantuan 40DD breasts, and all of the rumors surrounding them. Throughout the decades that Parton’s been in the public eye, a number of myths (and even some truths) about the mysteries of her chest have continuously proliferated, with some even becoming as much of a legend as the woman herself.
Beyond the silly, obviously fictional legends like Afroman’s lyrical claim that Parton’s breasts are filled with Hennessy, by far the most fun among the actually plausible rumors is the one that her boobs are blanketed in tattoos. As Jezebel explained back in 2014, Parton never wears clothes that reveal much of her arms or chest, save for the top of her cleavage. But slight glimpses of ink from outfits that shifted just slightly off-kilter suggest that she does, at minimum, have a few tattoos. She’s confirmed that much herself, too.
However, the rumor doesn’t simply imply that she has a couple small areas of ink — it’s that she’s absolutely coated in tattoos on her arms and breasts. British actress Jennifer Saunders wrote in her memoir — and further reiterated in interviews — that she once met Parton in a restaurant where, for whatever reason, Parton decided to show off her breasts. Saunders describes them as being home to “the most beautiful angels and beautiful butterflies and baskets of flowers in pastel-colored tattoos.” “She’s got all these awesome tattoos all over her body,” she writes. “No black or blue lines, all pastel gorgeous bows all over everything.”
Again, this might just be an exaggeration of the reality that Parton does have some tattoos, maybe even on her boobs. As some fans allege, the tattoos are placed to cover up scars from the numerous breast augmentations Parton has undergone, which seems plausible. It’s somewhat more fun, however, to imagine that Parton is secretly tatted like the Lizard Man from the neck down.
Some of the other rumors about her breasts seem like more of a burden for Parton. In 2017, Radar reported that a source close to Parton said that she was in “agony” over her fake boobs, which were becoming far too heavy for her small frame. The idea that her implants cause her pain wasn’t new either. Back in 1992, the tabloids stated that she nearly died from leaks in her silicone implants, which she refuted — at the time, Parton maintained that she didn’t even have implants.
Since then, of course, Parton has come clean about her fake boobs, though she remains firm in her stance that they haven’t caused her any major physical problems. As she told People in 2020: “It shows up about every three years in the tabloids, where I’m bedridden because my boobs are so heavy that I’m crippled for life on my back. I just laugh.”
Another oft-repeated Parton breast rumor is that she’s spent some godforsaken sum to create her breasts, or pays an equally egregious amount to insure them. The former assertion, however, is true — Parton has openly stated in recent years that she’s spent $1 million on her breasts. “I’ve slapped a few people who didn’t stare at them!” she told PopSugar in 2011. “This kind of money, they’d better be looking at them.”
A common refrain to both the Parton’s-boobs-are-killing-her myth and the money she’s spent on them is the idea that Parton actually wants her implants out, but fears doing so will damage her career and the iconic image she’s built for herself. Again, there’s certainly a kernel of truth to the relationship between Parton’s implants and her overall persona: That million dollars was a careful investment into the construction of who she is. Given that she’s now worth an estimated $350 million, the costs of the implants seems worthwhile. As she once told Ladies Home Journal, she views them as “like public property, in a way,” claiming to have previously paused any business meetings she was involved in for one minute so that everyone could get a good stare at them.
Parton certainly isn’t the first or last woman to make her breasts a strategic part of her identity, but she may be among the most successful to do so. Case in point: Just having big fake boobs contributed significantly to the fame of Pamela Anderson and Anna Nicole Smith. Meanwhile, contemporary models and sex workers like Foxy Menagerie Verre continue to make a name for themselves predominately on breast size alone.
Parton, however, isn’t famous just for her breasts and how they contribute to her overall beauty (not that there’s anything wrong with being famous for one’s breasts); it’s the ways in which her outsized breasts pair with her outsized musical talent that’s truly wowed the world. She didn’t need to have such an extreme look, but the fact that she does is part of what makes her a legend.
“My breasts have served me well. I don’t know if I’m supporting them or they’re supporting me,” she has famously said. “They’re part of the persona. It always takes a bit of pressure off me.”