Before you get out your pitchforks or start burning things in effigy, let me explain.
This week I watched a television report on the latest cover of Elle magazine which shows a supermodel breastfeeding her daughter. She is beautiful; her hair is blowing ever so slightly in the wind provided by a precisely placed fan, she is in a designer gown and her makeup is impeccable. The reporter talked about how Elle was making strides to #normalizebreastfeeding by showing it on its cover. Doesn’t this just feel like feminism is alive and well?
In all fairness to Elle, they are late to the party; this is (I think) the third or fourth story that I’ve seen about breastfeeding being part of a published photoshoot in the last six months or so. They’ve photographed the breastfeeding Hollywood elite in diners, ‘behind the scenes’ and through enough Instagram selfies to create an entire account related to boob food. I even saw Giselle breastfeeding in a bathrobe while getting her hair blown out and makeup done. It’s not new.
Besides the fact that this is no longer news (hear me G.M.A? No. Longer. News.), these ‘reports’ really drive me crazy and if you are the average breastfeeding momma, they should drive you crazy, too. Here’s why:
Showing a supermodel breastfeeding after hours with her glam squad does NOT #normalizebreastfeeding. Not in the slightest. When these stories come on the television or come out on a magazine cover, my mind wanders back to the not-so-distant days when my kids relied on their momma for nutritional support; I’m pretty sure that with my second daughter, I may have gone four months without wearing pants because all I remember doing was sitting in bed and feeding her, over and over again. Did I wash my hair? I don’t know. Because all that exists of that timeframe is a cloud of hazy breast milk and poor hygiene. I certainly didn’t have a glam squad and the only thing ‘designer’ about my attire was that it was certainly one-of-a-kind (and not in a good way).
I think that if we really want to normalize breastfeeding, you’re going to have to scale it down a notch. Once you photograph a supermodel breastfeeding their baby, it’s over for the rest of us; the expectation is set that that’s how it should always look, right? And now I have to tell my husband why my baby weight won’t just come off like that and that it will be a while before he sees my collarbones again. Ugh. We jump on magazines all the time for portraying unrealistic figures and photoshopping thigh chub/arm flubber and I think that this falls into that category.
If you really want to normalize breastfeeding, start showing pictures of the lady with her hair in a top bun and applesauce on her shirt – or what’s left of her shirt anyway because if it’s hardcore, she’s probably cut out flaps or holes for convenience at home. Take pictures of her half asleep while the baby feeds and of the timer next to her toothbrush, showing how long it’s been since the last time she used it. The last time I saw someone in real life looking pleasantly attractive and comfortable with their boob hanging out of their clothing was, well, never (unless you count Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl in which case, I concede.) Why? Because we aren’t supposed to look like supermodels 30 or even 130 days after having a baby. You have the right to look exhausted and a little less than perfect while you have someone relying on you for nutritional support.
Here’s where things take a turn to the controversial; I haven’t been blogging long enough to have a mass exodus of followers so I feel like now is a great time to make my opinion known on this heated topic. Breastfeeding in public: do it. Kids need to eat, you need to run errands, I get it. The basic math says that being able to breastfeed in public should be as easy and convenient as the drive through at Mickey D’s. I’m on board.
My issue is that not everyone (me included) is on board with seeing a full frontal at the Applebees. I know that there are varying levels of comfort with exposing the sistas while breastfeeding but I think it’s a public courtesy to be discrete when others are around.
Arguments have been/can be made in favor of letting it all hang out, my favorite being that breastfeeding is a natural process, part of life. Here are my thoughts:
There are several inappropriate things that I could also apply the “it’s a natural part of life” statement to which is why I think it carries no weight. But in order to avoid talking about pooping in the aisles at Target, I’ll take a more historical tack:
Women have been breastfeeding since the beginning of time. The have continually had to be a food source for their newborn (and in my favorite cases, three-year-old) children. I get that. And if we were in an aboriginal state, I probably wouldn’t bat an eye if I saw a woman breastfeeding – mostly because she likely wouldn’t be wearing a shirt in the first place.
The issue is that we are a civilized culture, one with clothing standards that must be adhered to before we can even purchase gas. Why? Because nudity makes a good portion of the population uncomfortable (unless it is on the computer on questionable websites; from what I read, most Americans are on board with that?). If you don’t believe me, watch a scantily clad woman walk into a funeral and wait for the whispers; there is a time and a place for everything and most people aren’t comfortable seeing excess skin in settings where it is unexpected, like the grocery store.
We have worked to civilize breastfeeding so much that we now have bras that support discretion, shirts that support discretion and thousands of choices in covers that allow a woman to breastfeed without a slightest hint of impropriety (a lot of these are even free online so cost isn’t an excuse). With all of the convenient advances that would allow a woman to breastfeed in public without heightening the awareness and discomfort of those around her, I’m not sure why this is still a debate. If a guy tried to pull a similar normally-covered-by-underwear-but-now-going-to-bare-it stunt, the police would be called.
If you are getting ready to write me a nasty remark about how I don’t support breastfeeding in public, go back and re-read this (particularly the part where I say that I support breastfeeding in public, I wasn’t kidding). I think that business in general need to be more accommodating to women who need to breastfeed. I believe they will come around just like they did when they realized they needed to be more accommodating about Aunt Flow. It will take time, but it will happen. My real point is this:
Elle magazine didn’t distribute their breastfeeding cover across the nation; they only sent it to those people who actually subscribe to the magazine. To the mass market (grocery stores) that carry the magazine, they sent a toned-down version of the cover with a completely clothed model on the front. When asked why, Elle responded with a statement about how they recognize that the average grocery store customer is not necessarily their audience and that they didn’t deem mass distribution as an appropriate channel. Interesting, huh? They want to normalize breastfeeding and make a statement . . . to a small niche of their regular customers that they deem appropriate.
Their statement provides an excellent parallel to what a lot of people feel about breastfeeding in general: do it, we support it, your kids need to eat and you are a good mom for making that sacrifice. That said, not everyone is an appropriate audience to show the process to. Be discrete when you are in public. Wear a cover or a blanket (or a napkin if you aren’t overly endowed).
I know many moms who say, “Well, if you look, you’re the sicko.” And while I appreciate the ‘he who smelt it, dealt it’ mentality, I just don’t think that’s true. We watch people. We have entire television series dedicated to the weird crap that people do that makes us all uncomfortable (truTV. It’s a real thing. Look it up. )I’m not saying that breastfeeding is weird, but asking people not to look while your boob is out and about is like stopping a train with a rubber band.
I once had a woman come to my house for a meeting of sorts and she had to breastfeed. She is a more ‘comfortable’ type and just pulled her boob out and latched her babe on, no more than twelve inches from someone she never met before. I didn’t know her well nor did I love her apparent assumption that because we were all women (child-bearing women, none-the-less), we could look past the boob and just continue on with our discussion. Wrong. I’m sure I looked like the ultimate creeper because I felt like I my eyes were constantly being drawn to the feeding baby, like a moth to a flame. I tried to avoid it. I tried to distract myself by doing other things but it all came back to the boob. When something so unexpected is happening, asking other people to change their comfort levels for the sake of convenience seems a bit arbitrary. I still think back about that day and hope that I didn’t inadvertently yell “boob” right in the middle of our discussion. Again, foggy breastmilk haze, I tell you. The whole thing is hypnotic. . .
I thank you for your attention and for sticking with me through this long and politically-charged blog. May we all find businesses to be more accommodating and people to be the same. My husband and father thank you for your discretion. (And I thank you for not making me explain to them why your boobs don’t look anything like the one they saw on the magazine cover.)