Gisele Bundchen. Miranda Kerr. Jaime King. Natalia Vodianova. All supermodels (or ex- in the case of Ms. King), all beautiful, all breastfeeding, all have shared photos of themselves breastfeeding, and all have faced backlash over said photos. Although many people saw these photos as beautiful or just another way to support breastfeeding, some have seen them as being “too sexual” or even harming the societal push to normalize breastfeeding again (yes, “again,” as there was a time when it’s just what was done, no questions asked).
The most recent picture to raise eyebrows (and get fingers typing) was Natalia Vodianova’s Instagram picture of her nursing her baby in the nude. In the midst of the praise for the beauty of the picture, some have gone so far as to say they are appalled by the image -- just as people were appalled when Gisele shared a shot of her breastfeeding while getting her hair and makeup done for a photo shoot, or trashed Ms. Kerr or Ms. King for sharing their photos because either they “weren’t appropriate” or shouldn’t have been shared.
As Alyssa Ashton wrote for Canadian Living about Natalia Vodianova’s recent photo, “No mum looks like this when she breastfeeds. Her hair and make-up isn’t usually done. She isn’t posing seductively. And she certainly isn’t breastfeeding in the nude. I hate this image because it presents breastfeeding in an inaccurate fashion.”
Ms. Ashton’s comments highlight what has become a minefield for women sharing breastfeeding photos in public in hopes of either normalizing breastfeeding or simply sharing a moment: No matter what the picture is, or who shares it, it’s wrong. These pictures are too sexy. Too formal. Too stiff. Shouldn’t be shared in public. Unfair to mothers who don’t have access to the same resources as these models. Glamorize breastfeeding. Sexualize breastfeeding ... In short, they don’t “look” like breastfeeding is “supposed to look like.” It’s not just celebrities either. Jamie Lynne Grumet from I Am Not the Babysitter was catapulted into the public eye with the infamous Time cover of her nursing her then-3-year-old standing up. People repeatedly stated the image wasn’t a “good representation” of breastfeeding.
What I’d like to know is, what is breastfeeding supposed to look like?
Is it just this lovey-dovey moment between mother and child as they’re curled up on the sofa gazing at each other? That’s a wonderful moment (one I’ve experienced many times), but it’s certainly not the be all and end all of breastfeeding. I can return to what Ms. Ashton wrote and tell you that I have nursed in all the ways she mentions, including the come hither look (you know, the “Hey baby, let me put this baby to sleep so we can have some fun!” look). I also smiled when I saw Ms. Grumet’s cover because, at the time, my daughter regularly stood on things to have a quick drink, and it was nice to know it wasn’t just me. I also have a picture of me nursing while getting my makeup done a la Gisele.
I have nursed in so many different places while doing so many different things and looking so many different ways and I am happy to share any of them because they are all what breastfeeding looks like. Breastfeeding doesn’t look one way because we as nursing mothers aren’t just one thing. We are mothers, but we are also sexual beings and the two are not incompatible. In fact, we do a disservice to women when we are, in essence, telling them that they can’t be sexual whilst breastfeeding, that they have to remain asexual because it’s not true. It’s not just about sexuality though, because we also work, we might enjoy doing our makeup every day (or not), we might prefer to read a book or watch TV while nursing sometimes, or we may not want to stop what we are doing resulting in nursing on the go or while doing something else. We may nurse nude, we may nurse in bed, after a shower, or at the dinner table. Just as no two women are the same, no two nursing experiences are the same between or even within women.
We have to stop this ridiculous and wrong idea that breastfeeding has to look a certain way. People trying to normalize breastfeeding have a hard enough time on their hands with people who feel it’s something that should be kept quiet and out of sight without adding that only certain pictures of breastfeeding are “acceptable.” Just because one person’s nursing experience doesn’t match your own, it doesn’t invalidate their breastfeeding experience, it just highlights how unique and special breastfeeding can be. Isn’t that something worth celebrating instead of shunning?
Images via natasupernova/Instagram; Tracy Cassels