Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ohmigosh, Put That Away!

Happy Breastfeeding Awareness month! You might not be seeing that on any Hallmark cards this month, but there it is. Are you aware?

I came across this article online the other day and it really got me thinking. The Reader's Digest recap is this: A small parenting magazine printed a picture of a baby breastfeeding on their cover and lots of people, including mothers of small children, freaked out.

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It's no secret that breastfeeding is a complicated issue in this country. Americans have a pretty strong puritanical streak and we get all weirded out about anything involving sex. We can watch all kinds of gun fights and implied rape scenes on TV, but please, for the love of god, keep the sex on the Playboy channel!

Personally, I look at this photo and I think it's beautiful. I can only imagine the feeling of holding your baby close to you, of being that connected to another living being. That's probably really romantic, but hey, I've never had a newborn baby to try and raise. Would I want to whip out a breast and partake of that closeness in the food court at the local mall? It might not be my first choice, but with a nursing bra and a light blankie to drape over myself, I don't see why not. I certainly wouldn't want to banish myself to the smelly, not-so-clean, crowded bathroom to feed my hungry baby. Talk about insulting and unsanitary.

Like so many other things about a woman's body, breasts are more than their outward appearance. They are symbolic. Whether you need a sturdy amount of under-wire or can go braless while jogging, those mammaries have meaning. Are they just a sexual object for men to oogle? Do we celebrate their biological purpose in relation to our kids? What happens when the symbolic, sexualized meaning we are so obsessed with clashes with the practical reality of them?

One mother who didn't like the cover explains she was concerned about her 13-year-old son seeing it. "I shredded it," said Gayle Ash, of Belton, Texas, in a telephone interview. "A breast is a breast, it's a sexual thing. He didn't need to see that."

Wow, I had no idea my boobs were so dangerous.

"I was SHOCKED to see a giant breast on the cover of your magazine," one person wrote. "I immediately turned the magazine face down," wrote another. "Gross," said a third.

Gross. Really? What about these?

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Somehow I doubt that Maxim or Sports Illustrated gets quite the amount of outraged letters that this baby magazine received. As a matter of fact, I think it is safe to say that both publications have made quite a healthy profit based on their titillating covers month after month. It's not just men's magazines either. Women don't seem to have a problem buying magazines with covers like these:

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National Geographic hasn't lost circulation because of photos like this one of African tribeswomen .

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And who could forget this Vanity Fair cover of a pregnant Demi Moore? This was one of their best selling issues ever.

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It seems that breasts are ok. Nipples, clearly are not. (just ask Janet Jackson). The sexualized pictures of scantily clad models are perfectly fine to put by the checkout stand at the supermarket where any 13 year old boy may see them. The nonsexual pictures of "exotic" women from an anthropological study are ok to publish. It seems that once we add a baby though, all goodness-gracious breaks loose.

Whether or not to breast feed is obviously a very personal decision. I certainly don't think that women who choose not to should be labeled as "bad mothers" either, as some recent ad campaigns and government guidelines are doing. The more I read about it, the more I see yet another situation where we are damned if we do and damned if we don't. If you choose to breast feed, my god don't do it in public because it's indecent. If you choose to bottle feed, you are a terrible parent who isn't providing the best for your baby. WTF?!

There are certainly benefits and drawbacks to either plan of action. Call me a "lactavist" , but I think people could calm down a bit on this issue. I would much rather my kid (if I had one) see a woman breastfeeding her baby, than the cover of Maxim any day.


Ms. S said...

Our society relishes on sexuality. It's a shame that people are so consumed by the mere thought of anything that resembles "sex" and "protect" their children from the horrors of sex. Rather than take this as an opportunity to redirect their children's view points, they shun them. Yep, this will help give the young'ems a healthy vision of the female body.

Onetallmomma said...

Ohh, You hit one of my hot buttons!

Several years ago Mothering Magazine published a cover photo similar to the one on Babytalk. It was for sale in our local Wild Oats. A mother complained that it traumatized her son so the store pulled the issue from the selves. Our community freaked out. There was a nurse-in. Wild Oats apologized and put the issue back.

When a culture views the human breast solely as a means of sexual attraction women who breastfeed in public are statistically more likely to be harassed in public.

This is not the root cause for the U.S.'s low breastfeeding rates but it does contribute. Even in Afghanistan, where women have to wear the full burka, a nursing mother can expose her breast in public to feed her child.

And we are so quick to speak of a womans right to choose. But what about the child. Do you think if you were able to ask an infant whether she would choose that she would hesitate to choose the option that would make her smarter and healthier over the course of her lifetime?

I wrote about this on June 16th if you're interested.

Great post!

Marz said...

WTF! I think the photo is beautiful. And there is no areola (sp?) so what's the biggie? Each woman should make the choice that they feel is best for them and their child. Our friend HV, wanted to keep brestfeeding her first son but her milk dried up, she was forced to switch to formula. You do what you need to. All I know is that if I ever have kids, I'll pop my boob out where ever and when ever my child needs to eat. I'll try the blanket cover thing but I had a baby cousin who would pull the blanket off her head everytime so mom had to give up. Anyhoo...

Good blog, as usual.

KleoPatra said...

Meesh! Thank you SO much for visiting my blog and for the cool comment you left. I have been perusing your blog as well (and will do more at a more 'normal' time, as it is after midnight at the moment) and i love it!

We seem to be much on the same wavelength. I find that so interesting. I am a journalist just a few hundred miles south of you. If you want to talk (write) about career changes, journalism issues and/or whatever else, feel free to e-mail me (kbperes@hotmail.com) anytime.

Hope you come back to pisces place. I intend on putting your blog down as a link on my blog so i can link to you faster, if you don't mind.

There are so many things you have written about on your blog here that i have seen in just a short perusal that i want to comment about...

Very cool to "meet" you.

(a woman proud of her body, including her breasts, imperfectly beautiful as they are, in a world of imperfectly beautiful body parts on all of us...)

galeforcewind said...

There was a "Charmed" episode where Piper (one of the main characters) was breastfeeding her son and got scolded for it (maybe even kicked out). Her sister later goes riding through the town naked, a la Lady Godiva, in support of women's freedom. There's an 11th century demonic baron that feed off of repressed human emotions, too.

Not especially thought provoking, but topical . . .

Urban Vegan said...

hahahahahah! Too funny.

Thorny said...

What I find intriguing is the media response. I've seen far too many articles that make it sound like the overwhelming majority of the mail BabyTalk received about this cover was negative. However, the last numbers I saw was that out of about 5000 letters? Only 25% had something negative to say. The rest obviously were either neutral or in support. So how come the media keeps presenting it as if all the response was negative?

For example, in the article you linked, they can't seem to find a single person in support of the cover until the EIGHTH paragraph. And they do all they can to a) mark that reader as a "freak" by mentioning that she's still breastfeeding her 3-year-old (which is controversial even among people who are pro-breastfeeding - personally I think it's fine, for the record), and b) even she says that she doesn't often nurse in public because "men are very visual".

In fact, it takes them until the 20th (TWENTIETH!) paragraph to find someone who is unequivocally in favor of the cover. And while they give her two paragraphs of coverage, they lead it off by saying it's "highly personal" and follow it up with an immediate rebuttal, as if the rest of the article wasn't rebuttal enough.

No wonder people don't support public breastfeeding, if this is the kind of "balanced" reporting on the issue we can expect. (And sadly? I've read a bunch of articles about this, and this is not at all the worst offender with this.)

meesh said...

Thorny, Y'know, that's a very good point! They really do blow the whole thing out of proportion as far as the hard numbers go. (Did I get this article from Fox News?)

Thanks for your very thoughtful comment. I am always blown away by how biased the suposedly objective news media is. We really do have to be careful and make sure we are forming opinions based on our own ideas and not the ones forced on us by the mainstream media.