When a photo of a model breastfeeding her baby appears on the front cover of a fashion magazine, it not only grabs global attention, but it also sparks widespread controversy.
If the same model had posed without her baby in a low-cut dress exposing her cleavage, there would be no headline, no viral sharing of that image, and no debates.
Breastfeeding in public is a big deal because women’s breasts — and even breastfeeding — has become sexualised.
As a result, countless breastfeeding mothers around the world are forced to deal with the anxiety and challenges of nurturing and nourishing their babies outside of the safety and privacy of their own homes on a daily basis.
Why and how did this happen?
What has caused the sexualisation of breasts?
Here are some insights into what’s behind the sexualisation of breasts and ideas on how we can normalize breastfeeding:
Breasts are big business because sex sells. We see women’s breasts everywhere. On television, at the movies, in magazines, on billboards, etc. Yes, breasts have become a sexualised commodity, and profit-hungry companies will use them for all they are worth.
The problem with porn
The addictive and harmful nature of porn is likely another reason why women’s breasts have become sexualised in our society. Porn addicts tend to see others as sexual objects. Unfortunately, cases of addiction are exploding due to readily accessible technology. What kind of a world are we bringing our children up in? How do we shelter them from all this? See BellyBelly’s article on the talk you MUST have with your children about porn, here.
Why women have breasts
What is the true purpose of breasts? Why do women have them? To lure the opposite sex? To sell magazines? To entice men to get their car washed at a certain carwash?
Some might want to touch them or fondle them, but this is not why women have breasts. The true biological importance of women’s breasts is to feed human babies. When it comes to breastfeeding a child, there’s absolutely nothing sexual about that.
A mother breastfeeds her child, not to flaunt her breasts, not because she’s an exhibitionist, and not to try to turn the male species on. How many breastfeeding mothers have you seen walking around topless, flashing the general public or shaking their lactating breasts in the faces of onlookers? None.
A mother breastfeeds simply to nourish and nurture her baby. Nothing more, nothing less.
Breastfeeding indiscreetly doesn’t exist
Some are of the opinion that breastfeeding has to be done ‘discreetly’ in public because they seem to confuse breastfeeding with sex.
What exactly does ‘discreet’ mean? Should a mother cover her whole chest, arms, and baby with a blanket? Would you like to eat this way? Have you ever even tried to cover a baby while he or she is feeding? It’s impossible fighting against their flailing little arms. They want to see what’s around them, just as you would! Should a breastfeeding mother leave the public place to go to her car or to a public toilet to breastfeed? Would you like to eat in these places when in public?
It’s commonplace in our society for women to wear skimpy clothing and low-cut tops and to see exposed and semi-exposed breasts on beaches, in movies, and in advertising, etc. It, therefore, seems strange that breastfeeding in public may ever be perceived as being scandalous or ‘indiscreet’.
What messages are we sending to girls and young women when we talk about having to breastfeed discreetly? We’re telling them that feeding their baby is something that has to be shut away or at least covered up. That the natural God-given act of breastfeeding is something that others shouldn’t see. Why the heck not? It’s just feeding a baby!
In some parts of the world, it’s not uncommon to see a fully-veiled mother baring her breast to breastfeed her baby in public with no one taking any notice, except perhaps a foreigner.
Breastfeeding mothers have varying levels of comfort in what they expose when breastfeeding in public. Some are okay with taking their breast out uncovered. Others prefer to use a cover of some description. It’s up to the mother and the mother only, as to what she prefers to do. If you don’t like it, then don’t look. It’s really that simple. A certain individual’s offense overseeing a breastfeeding baby should never get priority overfeeding a baby the way nature intended.
There is no such thing as indiscreet breastfeeding. End of story.
Appropriate role-modeling is important
Children need good role models to grow up around. Girls and young women need to be able to see women breastfeeding, at cafes, restaurants, on public transport, at football matches, on aeroplanes — everywhere. They are the mothers of the future. We want them to feel comfortable and confident in their own skin. We want them to feel proud of their own bodies and what their own bodies can do.
Breastfeeding and norms
Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed babies. Yet, biologically normal doesn’t always mean culturally normal. Our society still has a way to go for breastfeeding to be seen as the cultural norm and we all have a role to play in this.
Make your opinion count – but make sure it’s an informed one
People are entitled to their own opinions. However, there is a big difference between an informed one and one based on ignorance. Think about it.
Read what BellyBelly, has to say about breastfeeding in public: Women Should Cover Up When They’re Breastfeeding!