by Marjorie Ingall

Talk! We might call this essay "The Breast as Locus of Identity in Starfleet." Luckily, we won't. But here's the theory: The original series was a total breastfest, with nipples poking their little faces everywhere. The all-star nipples were, of course, Kirk's. On the rare occasion when he wasn't shirtless, showing off his tire as he wrestled some huge monster in an amphitheater, his wee coins were jutting teasingly through the polyester fabric of his tunic. Beam down to any given planet and you'd find hordes of alien bimbettes and meatboys in slutty overdesigned outfits. (There were the shirtless titty overalls on the Android babe in "What Are Little Girls Made of," the hipster Debra Marquit-like silvery bra and panty combo on the saucer-eyed slave gal in "The Gamesters of Triskelion," any number of buff dudes in togas, little loincloths and artfully draped bits of animal skin...and don't even get me started on the "'Kiss'? What is...'kiss'?" girls.)

But breasts on women crew members were downplayed. Their uniforms kept them totally covered up, breastwise—the leg was the focus of sexualization. The "bridge bunnies," as the show's staff called them back then, wore outfits with a sculpted scoop neck top, perhaps anchored on the collarbone by a Jackie-esque insignia pin. But their long, luscious legs were on display for all the world to see. Perhaps this reflected some cake-having/cake-eating on the part of Gene Roddenberry et al; breastal emphasis would too obviously point out that the women's roles were secondary and ornamental. By covering their breasts, he could make it seem (particularly in closeup shots) that the women were serious crew members, not merely decorative objects. Yet he always had the option of pulling back and showing some tasty space gam. Breasts were too resonant of home and hearth; uncovering leg was a "safe," yet still sexy, way to spice up a work wardrobe.

When The Next Generation debuted in 1987, it made some real attempts to rectify the past wrongs of sexism. The Enterprise would go where NO ONE had gone before. Women would hold more positions of GENUINE AUTHORITY! The ship's doctor would be a WOMAN. She would wear a LAB COAT. Male and female crew members would sport NEARLY IDENTICAL PANTSUITS. Indigo Girls would be piped in to the holodeck. (OK, I made that up.)

So why was ship's counselor Deanna Troi such a throwback? On the first episode of TNG, she wore that familiar high necked top and mini with go-go boots. As producer Rick Berman noted in People, she looked like "a cross between a cheerleader and a waitress at Denny's." Soon she found herself a pair of pants, but her cleavage began to plunge. Her hair, too, got more ornate, curlier, filled with combs and ornaments. Big hair, big cleave. Meet the therapist from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

All the shifting costume changes, with a cumulative emphasis on hair and boobs, seemed to show some directorial unsureness about the counselor's look. As Troi herself would say, "I sense ambivalence." But clearly Troi represents all that is chicklike. She practices the womanly "soft science" of psychology. Half-Betazoid, Troi is an empath, which makes her brand of psychology genetic, an intuition thing, not all rigorous, academic and Guy. Betazoid racial identity itself seems inherently chick, consisting entirely of a need to meddle in the affairs of others and dress like an oversexed 65-year-old woman named Sadie in Boca Raton. Ergo, boobage. Come to mama. Put your head right here, pumpkin. For the male characters and audience, Troi's a sexy mother substitute, bringing them back to a time of security, when their needs were anticipated (the empathic Betazoid half) and met (the breast-feeding human half). Troi is a reassuring-to-fanboy counterpoint to Beverly Crusher, who is older and practices male "hard science" (as it were), and who has a non-flashy professional hairstyle to boot. Troi also stands in contrast to the other first season female character in authority, Tasha Yar, the short-haired hardass security officer who caused damp spots on Barcaloungers of lesbians across America.

Not until December '92, five years into the series, did Troi finally wear a standard uniform. And only after being ordered to do so by a substitute captain (conveniently saving Picard from the wrath of the tittywatchers). My colleague Richard Kadrey theorizes that the impetus for her costume change was the death of Gene Roddenberry in '91. Even in his dotage, he demanded that certain conventions be respected: Starfleet had to be morally irreproachable, the Enterprise had to be racially and philosophically harmonious, and there had to be some hot girl flesh on display. Roddenberry kicks it, and before you know it, Deanna covers up and Voyager's devoting plotlines to corruption in Starfleet command. Evolution, you know.    </end>

animation by bigtwin

Photo of Counselor Troi © 1996 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

MARJORIE INGALL is a former Senior Writer for Sassy Magazine. Her book, The Field Guide to North American Males, will be out in January, unless Dionne Warwick says otherwise.