[I’ve posted an update to this original piece since it went live. Scroll to the bottom to read it!]
Can we talk about all these breastfeeding pictures?
I’m sure you have seen the pictures that have jumped onto the social media scene. Regular, everyday moms posting pictures of themselves to the general public while breastfeeding.
But can we talk about this just for a minute? Can I be honest here? Is this a safe place to dialogue and ask questions and voice my thoughts? I’m hoping so ….
Let me start by saying this: America has a complicated relationship with women’s bodies. Therefore we have a complicated relationship with childbirth and breastfeeding.
Women’s bodies for so long have been viewed by culture as sexual objects. Beautiful long legs, gorgeous thick hair, healthy breasts with cleavage. Women’s bodies sell products. Let me change that: Idealized, photo shopped bodies sell products. It’s a cheap way to turn someone’s head.
But I think this conversation is starting to change. I think we are all starting to realize that those highly photo shopped images belong in a museum and not on commercials and magazines. That this unrealistic portrayal of beauty is giving us all a complex about our thigh gap and our tiny imperfections.
Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign is perhaps worth crediting with this shift. The campaign, which is now older than a decade, was the first of its kind to show women in a more realistic light. Normal looking breasts. Not so many thigh gaps.
Frankly, I’m relieved things are moving in this direction. If there weren’t resistance, the bar for women’s appearance would only continue to rise. And as I’m heading towards 30, I am just realizing, there are so many other valuable things we can spend our time on other than obsessing about our appearance.
The truth is we all know and have seen real beauty. Real beauty that isn’t on a face. Real beauty is truly captivating and magnetic. That’s the kind of beauty I want culture to recognize. But you can’t always capture that in a photograph. So society goes for the cheaper, easier route by portraying an outward beauty.
It is only natural that as our attitudes about women’s bodies shift, our feelings about breastfeeding have come to light as well.
And do you mind if I just take some liberties now? I’m going to try to sum up what the general public thinks about breastfeeding ... ahem …
“Like it’s good and all but just do it in private.”
There’s something incredibly flawed with this thinking. Women’s breasts are okay when they are in a low-cut shirt but not okay when they are used for the purpose God created them? Not okay when we use them to feed our children? Oh, it’s okay, you just don’t want to see that? You just want us to hide out in the bathroom?
THIS IS NOT OKAY.
Women should not have to nurse their babies in the backseats of cars or while standing in a dirty bathroom stall. We should not have to huddle under a blanket on a summer day to quiet a fussy baby. We should have the freedom to use our breasts for the purpose of God’s intention: Feeding hungry babies.
All that said, can I be vulnerable for moment?
All of these pictures on social media of bare-breasted moms feeding their children are really throwing me for a loop. I have been a breastfeeding mom and I know the pressure placed on moms to cover up and hide while nursing is a real threat to a mother’s convenience and to a baby’s happiness.
But still, do we have to show so much breast publicly?
Do I sound like a prude? Sorry, I’m not sorry.
I’m an American. I’m not a sophisticated French woman who spent my childhoods at the beach seeing women frolic topless. I make it a point to keep cleavage at bay personally. I realize modesty is 100% a cultural norm. It is not the cultural norm in America for women to walk around with exposed breast. If we lived in another part of the world like the Amazon jungle, perhaps it would be totally acceptable and normal for women to wear skirts only.
I just can’t ever imagine myself posting a picture of my exposed breast while nursing my child. Why? Because I would never post a picture of that much breast anyway. I realize breastfeeding is utilitarian and not sexual. But breasts have this dual-reputation of utility and sexual appeal. And this idea is HARD for Americans to fathom. We have such binary thinking about breasts. Either. Or. How can they be both?
The truth is, if these pictures were of my best friends, I would not show them to my husband. Why? Because he does not need to see 75% of my friend’s breast. Even though she is doing it for the utilitarian purpose of feeding her child. Even though she isn’t doing it to be sexual, and I know that. Still we can’t ignore the twisted attitudes our culture has about breasts.
I definitely don’t think we should shame these mothers and call them disgusting as some have done. I know they are trying to desensitize and de-stigmatize breastfeeding in public. Any time I see a mother breastfeeding without a cover I give her a mental fist bump.
What I’ve never seen is a mother breastfeeding in public and exposing a great deal of her breast.
I don’t think this is typical.
I don’t think women WANT to show their engorged breasts to the general public while they try to soothe their hungry baby.
But these pictures that keep popping up on my social media feeds and across media outlets show MUCH more breast than I’ve ever seen a mother showing—even in the privacy of my home while she nurses her baby. I am all aboard the campaign to normal breastfeeding. It is necessary and important for culture to realize that breasts have a purpose and THIS is it.
The questions I’m asking are this: Is it wrong for me to squirm at these pictures when I fully support what they are doing? Am I part of the problem because I want women to be modest when breastfeeding?
So I’m asking … and I genuinely want to know. What do you think?
UPDATE: Some people have taken this post as a “Yeah, cover up already!!” type of post. But that was NOT my intention at all. In fact, if you read the post, you will see I’m in favor of women NOT having to cover themselves. To quote a wise woman on my Instagram, “We should seek to normalize breastfeeding but not sensationalize it.” We should be able to hold these two thoughts equally that breasts are BOTH useful and sexy. And it’s our job to teach this to our daughters and sons. It’s not our job to judge other women and their decision how or when they feed their babies. My goal with this post was to express my personal feelings and start a meaningful discussion about breastfeeding, which is happening–and I could not be more thrilled.