Cleavage (breasts)

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This article is about the part of a woman's anatomy revealed by a wide neckline. For the neckline itself, see Décolletage.
A woman's cleavage

Cleavage, anatomically known as the intermammary cleft or the intermammary sulcus (sulcus intermammarius), is the space between a woman's breasts, lying over the sternum. It is often considered as aesthetic or erotic, and is often associated with garments with low necklines that expose or highlight cleavage, such as ball gowns, evening gowns, lingerie, and swimwear.


Cleavage, or the intermammary suculus, is the space between the breasts. Cleavage is delineated by where the fatty portions of each breast sits in relationship by the sternum, or breastbone.[1] It divides the two mammary complexes that consist of two bodies of fatty pads, glandular tissues of mammary glands, connective tissues, and skin, as well as two duct systems (lactiferous duct of lymphatic vessel) and lobule alveoli emanating from two nipples.[2][3] Lymph vessels can ventrally extend as far as the intermammary sulcus.[4]

The International Federation of Associations of Anatomists (IFAA) uses the terms "intermammary sulcus" or "intermammary cleft" when referring to the area of cleavage between the breasts not including the breasts. For legal purposes it was noted by the United States federal courts that "anal cleft or cleavage" and "cleavage of the female breast" are so imprecise as to provide no guidance in defining them.[5] Medically, the "width" of a woman's cleavage is determined by the attachment points of her breast tissue to the periosteal tissue covering her breast bone. and is also defined somewhat by the medial attachments of the pectoralis major muscle when implants are in the sub-muscular position.[6]

Plastic surgeon Alan Matarasso said, "Ergonomically speaking, cleavage equals the position of the breasts on the chest wall."[7] The skin of the cleavage area is frailer than the skin of the face as it has fewer oil glands, and may show loss of elasticity sooner.[7] Rabbi Aha b. Raba (circa 5th century) and Nathan the Babylonian (circa 2nd century) measured the appropriate size of the cleavage as "of one hand-breadth between a woman's breasts".[8]


Cleavage terms
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Décolletage (/dɪˈkɒlətɑːʒ/) or décolleté is a French word derived from decolleter, meaning to reveal the neck or, more literally, "without a collar".[9] In current French) it denotes the upper part of a woman's torso, between her waist and neck, comprising her neck, shoulders, back and chest, that is exposed by the neckline of her clothing. However, the term is most commonly applied to a neckline that reveals or emphasizes cleavage.[10] In strict usage, décolletage is the neckline extending about two handbreadths from the base of the neck down, front and back.[11] The term was first used in English in 1894.[12]

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Side cleavage
When the lateral aspects of the breasts are uncovered, it is known as side cleavage, sidewinders or sideboob.[13][14] In early 2010s side cleavage was identified as a fashion trend. Gabriele Hackworthy, fashion director at Harper's Bazaar, said, "The look is unlikely to fade fast, with Yves Saint Laurent and Roberto Cavalli both pushing the silhouette next season."[15][16]

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Exposure of the underside of the breast, such as below an extremely short crop top, is known as neathage (a blend of underneath and cleavage), Australian cleavage, bottom cleavage (also used to mean "buttock cleavage"), reverse cleavage or underboob.[13][14] Armand Limnander wrote in New York Times (2008) that it was "a newly fetishized anatomical zone where the lower part of the breast meets the torso, popularized by 80s rock chicks in cutoff tank tops; recently rediscovered by girls-gone-wild devotees".[17]

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A type of voyeurism devoted to watching female breasts looking down her dress.[18] With the advent of camera phones, covert photography of cleavage became popular with entire websites dedicated to such photos.[19][20] A number of American and Australian states and Germany has specific statutes that prohibit such photography.[21][22]

Hasidic Judaism emphasized the joy that accompanies the worship of Lord and dvekut (breast cleavage) to him. The Lord is also known as el shaddai, which in Hebrew may mean either the "God of the Mountains" or "God of the Breasts".[23] Many people in Western culture, both male and female, consider breasts an important aspect of femininity and many women use cleavage to enhance their physical and sexual attractiveness and to improve their sense of femininity. Display of cleavage is often regarded as a form of feminine flirting or seduction, as much as for its aesthetic or erotic effect. Most men derive erotic pleasure from seeing a woman's cleavage,[24] and some people derive pleasure in their female partner exposing cleavage. Many women regard breasts as an important female secondary sex characteristic,[25] and a factor in their sexual attractiveness. When cleavage is enhanced with a push-up bra or exposed by a low neckline it draws considerable attention.[1][26] During adolescence, some girls become obsessed with breast shape and cleavage.[27] In South Africa, Wonderbra sponsors a National Cleavage Day during which women are encouraged to display their cleavage.[28]

In Western and some other societies, there are differences of opinion as to how much cleavage exposure is acceptable in public.[29] In contemporary Western society, the extent to which a woman may expose her breasts depends on social and cultural context. Displaying cleavage or any part of female breast may be considered inappropriate or even prohibited by dress codes in some settings, such as workplaces, churches, and schools, while in some spaces showing as much cleavage as possible can be permissible or even even encouraged. showing the nipples or areolae is almost always considered immodest and in some instances is viewed as lewd or indecent behavior.[30] Art historian James Laver argued that the changing standards of revealing the cleavage is more prominent in the evening dress than the day dress of women in the Western world.[31]

The obsession about breast and cleavage is not universal to all people. When breasts begin to grow, some girls try to resist the change by binding down their breasts or wearing loose clothes that disguise them.[27] Gymnophobics, may feel uncomfortable with the sight of a woman's cleavage or object to low-cut clothing for modesty or other reasons. Journalist Carolyn Latteier commented in Berman & Berman's TV program All about breasts, "I interviewed a young anthropologist working with women in Mali, a country in Africa where women go around with bare breasts. They're always feeding their babies. And when she told them that in our culture men are fascinated with breasts there was an instant of shock. The women burst out laughing. They laughed so hard, they fell on the floor. They said, 'You mean, men act like babies?'"[32]

There is also historical evidence that some cultures strongly discouraged the cleavage or any hint of it.[33] Early English Puritans used a tight bodice to flatten breasts completely, while seventeenth-century Spaniards put lead plates across the chests of young girls to prevent their bosoms from developing.[33] In Quran, the holy book of Islam it is explicitly stated, "Let them draw their Khimar (shawl/head veil) over their juyub (breast-line/cleavage)" An-Nur:Ayat 31 The ayat refers to the women's clothes worn, parted in the front to expose the breasts, at the time when it was cited.[34][35][36][37] It was later interpreted as total covering of a woman's body.[35][38][39] In early 21st century Muslim world there are differences in legal implementation. In Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, women are required to cover their body and face completely,[40] Iranian law requires a chador (over-cloak) and a hijab (head scarf).[41] In Egyptian media cleavage exposure is considered as nudity.[42]

See also: Dress code


The cleavage area between the breasts is perhaps the epicentre and stimulation of interest. Breast and buttock cleavages, sharing a similarity between their appearances, are considered to be very sexual.[43] British zoologist and ethologist Desmond Morris theorizes that cleavage is a sexual signal that imitates the image of the cleft between the buttocks.[44] Swelling of the anterior is a sign of mating-readiness in ape species. Among humans the female genitalia is regressed and the upright posture reduces visibility of the buttocks, but the breasts are significantly enlarged. Theorists hypothesize that with these evolutionary change measure of mating-readiness and attractiveness in females has shifted from swagging buttocks to the pendulous shape of breasts and cleavage.[45] The same evolutionary trait explains the attarctiveness of other pendulous shapes (i.e. ear lobes) and other cleavages (i.e. toe cleavage).[46]

Evolutionary psychologists theorize that humans' permanently enlarged breasts, in contrast to other primates' breasts, which only enlarge during ovulation, allowed females to "solicit male attention and investment even when they are not really fertile",[47] though Morris notes that in recent years there has been a trend toward reversing breast augmentations.[48][49] According to social historian David Kunzle, waist confinement and décolletage are the primary sexualization devices of Western costume.[50] By the turn of the 21st century, some of the attention given to cleavage and breasts started to shift to buttocks, especially in the media.[51][52]



In 2600 BCE, princess Nofret of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt was depicted in a V-neck grown with a plunging neckline that exposed ample cleavage. In 1600 BCE, Snake Goddess figurines were sculpted in Minos with open dress-fronts, revealing entire breasts.[53] In the earliest times there was no consideration for supporting the breasts to enhance cleavage. A bra prototype started emerging in Ancient Greece in around 2500 BCE.[54] Ancient Greek goddess Hera wore an early version of a push-up bra, described in the Iliad as festooned with "brooches of gold" and "a hundred tassels", to increase her cleavage to divert Zeus from the Trojan War.[7]

Age of acceptability[edit]

Frans Hals. Gypsy Girl. 1628-30. Oil on wood, 58 x 52 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris
François Boucher. Young Woman with Flowers in Her Hair. circa 1734. Oil on canvas, 56.8 × 46 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In Europe during the Middle Ages, when women wore shapeless clothing, art frequently portrayed women with one or more of their breasts exposed to signify fertility rather than sexuality.[55] Décolletage was often a feature of the dress of the late Middle Ages. This continued through the Victorian period. Gowns that exposed a woman's neck and top of her chest were very common and uncontroversial in Europe from at least the 11th century until the Victorian period in the 19th century. Ball or evening gowns especially featured low square décolletage designed to display and emphasize cleavage.[56][57]

In the 14th century, necklines were lowered, clothes were tightened and breasts were once again flaunted. It was during the Renaissance period that the corset was born. Breasts were pushed up, pushed together and molded into firm protruding decorations that emphasized breasts to the maximum.[55] In 1450, Agnès Sorel, mistress to Charles VII of France, is credited with starting a fashion when she wore deep low square décolleté gowns with fully bared breasts in the French court.[58] Other aristocratic women of the time who were painted with breasts exposed included Simonetta Vespucci, whose portrait with exposed breasts was painted by Piero di Cosimo in c.1480. The Ottoman Empire decreed that "all gowns should open at the neck to allow robing and disrobing", and a trype of @fashion police was engaged to apprehend and fine designers and tailors who failed to make such gowns.[54]

In many European societies between the Renaissance and the 19th century, wearing low-cut dresses that exposed breasts was more acceptable than today; with a woman's bared legs, ankles, or shoulders being considered to be more risqué than exposed breasts.[59] In aristocratic and upper-class circles the display of breasts was at times regarded as a status symbol, as a sign of beauty, wealth or social position.[60] The bared breast even invoked associations with nude sculptures of classical Greece that were exerting an influence on art, sculpture, and architecture of the period.[61] After the French Revolution décolletage become larger in the front and less in the back.[62]

During the 16th century, women's fashions with exposed breasts were common in society, from queens to common prostitutes, and emulated by all classes.[63] Anne of Brittany has also been painted wearing a dress with a square neckline. Low square décolleté styles were popular in England in the 17th century and even Queen Mary II and Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I of England, were depicted with fully bared breasts; and architect Inigo Jones designed a masque costume for Henrietta Maria that fully revealed both of her breasts.[61][63] During the fashions of the period 1795–1820, many women wore dresses that bared necks, bosoms and shoulders. Anne of Austria was known for wearing, along with female members of her court, very tight bodice and corsets that forced breasts together to make deeper cleavages, very low necklines that exposed breasts visible almost in entirety above the aereola and pendants lying on the cleavage to highlight it.[53]

The wearing of low-cut dresses that exposed breasts was considered more acceptable than it is today—with a woman's bared legs, ankles, or shoulders being considered to be more risqué than exposed breasts.[64] Low cut dresses that exposed a woman’s neck and top of her chest were very common across Europe until the Victorian period, though a woman’s bared legs, ankles and shoulders were considered more risqué.[65]

Age of controversy[edit]

Adam Gottlob Moltke. Portrait of Sophie Hedvig Raben. 1760/61. Oil on canvass, 77 × 60.5 cm. Frederiksborg Palace, Hillerød
Alice Joyce portrayed in the Flapper look, 1926

During the Victorian period, social attitudes required women to cover their bosom in public. For ordinary wear, high collars were the norm. Towards the end of the Victorian period (end 19th century) the full collar was the fashion, though some décolleté dresses were worn on formal occasions (see 1880s in fashion). The Gallican Church mandated that the cleavage and the opening of a woman's bodice must be laced and declared the cleavage as "the gate of hell".[66]

During the French Enlightenment, there was a debate as to whether a woman's breasts were merely a sensual enticement or rather a natural gift to be offered from mother to child. In Alexandre Guillaume Mouslier de Moissy's 1771 play The True Mother (La Vraie Mère), the title character rebukes her husband for treating her as merely an object for his sexual gratification: "Are your senses so gross as to look on these breasts – the respectable treasures of nature – as merely an embellishment, destined to ornament the chest of women?"[67] Nearly a century later, also in France, a man from the provinces who attended a Court ball at the Tuilleries in Paris in 1855 was deeply shocked by the décolleté dresses and is said to have exclaimed in disgust: "I haven't seen anything like that since I was weaned!"[68]

In 1884, a portrait painting by John Singer Sargent of American-born Paris socialite, Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, was criticized[69] for depicting her in a sleek black dress displaying what was considered scandalous cleavage and her right shoulder strap fallen off her shoulder. The controversy was so great that he reworked the painting to move the shoulder strap from her upper arm to her shoulder, and Sargent left Paris for London in 1884 his reputation in tatters. The painting was named "Portrait of Madame X".[70][71] In 1908, a single pad made of rubber or a "bust form" was advertised that was to be worn inside the front of the bodice to make cleavage virtually undetectable.[72]

Clergymen all over the world became shocked when dresses to be worn with modest round or V-shaped necklines became fashionable around 1913. In the German Empire, for example, all Roman Catholic bishops joined in issuing a pastoral letter attacking the new fashions.[73] Fashions became more restrained in terms of décolletage, while exposure of the leg became more accepted in Western societies, during World War I and remained so for nearly half a century.[74]

See also: Dress code

Age of reintroduction[edit]

In 1953, Hollywood film The French Line was found objectionable under the Hays Code because of Jane Russell's "breast shots in bathtub, cleavage and breast exposure" while some of her décollete gowns were thought "...intentionally designed to give a bosom peep-show effect beyond even extreme decolletage."[75] But other actresses defied the then standards. For example, Gina Lollobrigida raised eyebrows with her famous low-cut dress in 1960, and other celebrities, performers and models followed suit, and the public was not far behind. Low-cut styles of various depths are now common in many situations. During the 1950s, Hollywood and the fashion industry successfully promoted large cloven bustlines (and falsies). In the late 1960s, erogenous attention began to shift from the large bust to the trim lower torso, reasserting the need to diet, especially as new clothing fashions—brief, sheer, and close fitting- prohibited heavy reliance on foundation lingerie. Legs were relatively less emphasized as elements of beauty.[76]

From the 1960s onward, however, changes in fashions were towards increasing displays of cleavage in films and television, with Jane Russell and Elizabeth Taylor being the biggest stars who led the fashion,[77] and in everyday life low-cut dress styles became very common, even for casual wear.[78] During a short period in 1964, "topless" dress designs appeared at fashion shows, but those who wore the dresses in public found themselves arrested on indecency charges.[79] Display of cleavage can still be controversial. In the United States, in two separate incidents in 2007, Southwest Airlines crews asked travelers to modify their clothing, to wear sweaters, or to leave the plane because the crew did not consider the amount of cleavage displayed acceptable.[80] In Langley, British Columbia, a young woman was sent home from her high school for wearing a top that her principal deemed inappropriate because “it showed too much cleavage”.[81][82][83]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel created controversy when she wore a low-cut evening gown to the opening of the Oslo Opera House in 2008,[84][85] U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton and British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith drew attention for wearing low-cut blouses that revealed a small amount of cleavage, resulting in comments in the Washington Post and the New York Times.[84][86] Vera Lengsfeld, the Conservative Christian Democratic Union candidate for Berlin's Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, used pictures of herself and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in low-cut dresses during her political campaign. Facing a tough campaign, she posted 750 provocative campaign posters accompanied by the slogan "We Have More to Offer." In a tough campaign, she wanted to draw attention to "serious election issues." The posters had a positive impact.[87]

Cleavage enhancement[edit]

Main article: Cleavage enhancement

Various methods have been used by women in history to accentuate breasts.


Corset, circa 1808
Wonderbra, circa 1975

Corsets that enhanced cleavage were introduced in the mid-16th century.[88] By the late 18th century cleavage-enhancing corsets grew more dramatic in pushing the breasts upwards.[89] The tight lacing of corsets worn in the 19th and early 20th centuries emphasized both cleavage and the size of the bust and hips. Ball or evening gowns especially were designed to display and emphasize the décolletage.[56][57]

When corsets became unfashionable, brassieres and padding helped to project, display and emphasize the breasts. Several brassiere manufacturers, among them Wonderbra and Victoria's Secret, produce push-up and other types of bras that enhance cleavage.

  • Push-up bra: A push-up bra is usually a demi-cup bra.[90] Wonderbra was the first push-up bra made. A push-up bra creates the appearance of increased cleavage. These use angled cups containing padding that pushes the breasts inwards and upwards, towards the center of the chest. Frederick's of Hollywood introduced a design called Hollywood Extreme Cleavage Bra that helped give the impression of a spherical cleavage like augmented breasts that was popularized by stars like Pamela Anderson.[91]
  • Plunge bra: A plunge bra, Designed with angled cups and an open and lowered central panel, allows for increased décolletage.[92] Unlike push-up bras, these are not generally as heavily padded.[90]
  • Padded bra: Actree Julia Roberts was required to wear a custom made silcone gel filled bra for the movie Erin Brockovich in order to increase her her cleavage.[93][94][95]
  • Wired bra: Aviator and Film Maker Howard Hughes designed a prototype for an aerodynamic underwire bra for Jane Russell when filming The Outlaw in 1941. Heenumerated Russell's vital statistics as "the length of the actual cleavage is five inches and one-quarter".[7]
  • Modern corset: In 1985, designer Vivienne Westwood influenced the re-emergence of the corset as a trendy way to enhance cleavage.[96]


Many women, including beauty pageant participants and cross-genders, create glamorous cleavage by using duct tape painfully underneath and across their breast, bending forward, tightly pulling them together and up.[97][98][99] Types of tape used include surgical micropore tape and athletic tape. Some also use a strip of moleskin across under the breasts with tape at the ends to hold it in place. Use of the wrong techniques or tape with too strong an adhesive can cause injuries such as rashes, blisters, and skin being torn off.[98][99]


Main article: falsies
Cotton and silk bust Improver, circa 1990

Falsies are small pads similar to the removable pads sold with some push-up bras. Falsies made from silicone gel are also sometimes referred to colloquially as "chicken fillets".[100] Hollywood actress Helen Talbot said that she was expected to war falsies while shooting in 1940s.[101] Falsies evolved from the bosom pads of 17th century, often made of stiff rubber.[102][103]

By mid 1800s, the Victorian era, "bust improver"s were being made out of soft fabric pads of cotton and wool or inflatable rubber.[103][104] In 1896, celluloid falsies were advertised, and in 20th century soft foam rubber pads became available.[104] Young women, some as young as 15 years old, were expected to wear them to fill out their bodices.[105]


Main article: Breast augmentation
Cleavage enhanced by surgery

Bigger breasts are easier to push together to accent the hollow between them.[1] Some flat-chested women feel self-conscious about their small breasts and want to improve their sexual attractiveness by seeking breast augmentation.[106] Plastic surgeon Gerard H. Pitman says, "you can't have cleavage with an A cup. You have to be at least a B or a C."[7]

Implants do not by themselves make a woman's cleavage wider unless the physician overextended or stretched the lateral dissection from the contraction of the pectoralis major muscle.[6] If a surgeon tries to increase cleavage by loosening the inside borders of the breast, it could end up with symmastia, a confluence of the breast tissue of both breasts across the midline anterior to the sternum.[107][108]


Main article: Upper body exercise
Push-ups are best beginners breast development exercise
Machine fly helps create a robust bust-line

Regular exercise of the muscles and fibres of the pectoral complex, which lies just under the fatty tissues of the breast, helps prevent droopiness, creates the illusion of larger and firmer breasts, and enhances cleavage.[109][110][111] Exercises like incline chest press and chest fly are the most effective in developing breasts and getting a better cleavage.[112][113] Weight training, nautilus machines, push ups and chest presses are particularly helpful, as well as s number of other exercises, including rowing and basketball.[109]

For beginners flat chest dumbbell pullovers and dumbbell flyers on incline bench is recommended, while the advanced exercisers may include bench press movements, flyers, pullovers, exercise of the pec deck and push-ups at least twice a week.[114] Cleavage enhancing exercises can be grouped into four parts:[115][116]

  • An incline exercise accentuates the upper chest and declines stresses the lower region. It helps augment proportions and symmetry.
  • Properly developed upper pectoral region, with help from incline exercises, give an appearance of a firm, elevated chest.
  • The lower pectoral region is the easiest to develop, and, unless it is a specific weak spot, does not need occasional decline exercises.
  • Push-ups are great complimentary exercise, sometimes also as an alternative to chest presses.

In some form of exercise, breasts unsupported by a sports bra is exposed to greater risk of droopiness.[117][118]

Make up[edit]

Making cleavage appear deeper and the breasts look fuller alongside the cleavage with makeup is achieved using shading effects. The middle of the cleavage is made to look deeper by using a darker makeup colour than the base colour of the skin, while the most prominent areas of the breasts (either side of the cleavage) are made to look larger or more protruding by the use of a paler colour.[119][120] Inenhancing cleavge the use of airbrush makeup is recommended.[121]

Photo retouching[edit]

In 2006, British actress Keira Knightley wore a revealing Gucci dress at the European premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest that displayed her skinny body and flat chest.[122] Her breasts were digitally enlarged on the U.S. theatrical version of the poster for both that movie and for the movie King Arthur. This practice angered Knightley, who said that it "comes from market research that clearly shows that other women refuse to look at famous actresses and stars with small breasts." Later in 2006, Knightley claimed she is "not allowed to be on a magazine cover in the US without at least a C cup because it 'turns people off'."[123]


Dermatoheliosis (photo aging), symptomised by hyperpigmentation, leathery texture, roughness, wrinkles, lentigines (age spots), actinic elastosis, and telangiectasias (spider veins), is a common problem for the skin of the breast cleavage. It happens because of long term exposure to UV radiation (sunlight) of the affected area and aging.[124]

Poikiloderma of Civatte, symptomised by hypopigmentation, hyperpigmentation, telangiectasias and superficial skin atrophy (occasional itching is reported), is another condition caused by long exposure to sunlight.[125][126] This condition of dilated blood vessels and red to red-brown spots commonly affects fair skinned middle-aged to elderly women and is common to upper part of the cleavage, especially for those who wear sports bras or push-up bras for prolonged periods.[7][127]

Cleavage wrinkles are deep, vertical creases caused by hours spent sleeping on one’s side, where gravity forces the top breast to bend farther past the body's midline than it should. The lines can also be caused by sports bras and push-up bras, which smash the breasts together and are often worn for hours. Once the collagen in skin breaks down from age and sun exposure, those wrinkles tend to linger. The generously endowed, naturally or surgically, tend to be more afflicted.[128]

Intermammary cleft can get attacked by plaque type psoriasis, which can in turn can cause erythematosus.[129]


Poikiloderma and Dermatoheliosis are treated by desquamation (skin peeling).[7][125] Cleavage wrinkles are treated by botox.[7][128] Use of strong sunscreen on the cleavage area is also recommended.[7]

See also[edit]



  • Gernsheim, Alison. Victorian and Edwardian Fashion. A Photographic Survey. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1981. Reprint of 1963 edition. ISBN 0-486-24205-6
  • Morris, Desmond. Manwatching. A Field Guide to Human Behavior. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1977. ISBN 0-8109-1310-0
  • Morris, Desmond The Naked Woman. A Study of the Female Body. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2004. ISBN 0-312-33853-8


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