Here we go again, America. Another magazine has put a breastfeeding mom on its cover, only to face controversy. Hip Mama magazine opted to feature a self-portrait by Barcelona-based artist Ana Alvarez-Errecalde on the cover of its May issue. In the photo, Alvarez-Errecalde is seen with a Spider-Man mask on her face, breastfeeding her 4-year-old, who is also clad in Spider-Man garb.
Cute mother and son shot? Hip Mama editor Ariel Gore thought it was gorgeous, and she posted the cover to Facebook to let readers know the issue would hit newsstands next month. That’s when the trouble started. Vendors told Gore not to send the magazine; they wouldn’t put it on newsstands. Then Facebook banned the image.
So what’s a magazine about motherhood to do when vendors have a problem with moms? The Stir asked Gore how Hip Mama is handling the controversy.
According to Gore, her daughter and Hip Mama’s art director, Maia Swift, found Ana Alvarez-Errecalde and “reached out to her so we could feature her in Hip Mama as an artist who is doing beautiful work in terms of self-directed and radical images of motherhood.” The photo seemed appropriate for an issue on motherhood and creativity, and it’s paired with an interview with Ana inside the magazine:
Putting the photo on Facebook just made sense, Gore said.
“It's an amazing issue on motherhood and creativity and I just wanted people to know about it. Of course I think the cover photo is gorgeous, too, so I wanted to show that off. It honestly didn't occur to me that it would be a problem for anyone,” she explained. “I know what Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus look like naked -- and I know they're adult women with every right to represent themselves as they please -- but I think of them as children and it bugs me a little to see them naked, but I mind my own business. It doesn't bug me at all to see another mother breastfeeding her child in a self-directed image that isn't exploiting anyone. It didn't occur to me that anyone would raise an eyebrow. I figured that if anyone didn't like breasts, they would, as I do when I see images I don't care for, mind their own business.”
But people didn’t mind their own business. Hip Mama’s distributor said they wouldn’t be able to distribute the magazine to half of their customers unless they changed their cover. Gore had to make a choice -- stand firm or bow to the breastfeeding censors. It wasn’t an easy one to make.
“My first reaction was -- who needs vendors who can't handle a breastfeeding image?” she explains. “But after talking to the artist, Ana, and our other contributors -- people wanted the issue out there. Many of our contributors are young moms, moms of color, queer moms; they're marginalized and it means a lot to them that their work gets out to a wide audience in Hip Mama.”
It was the artist, Alvarez-Errecalde, who suggested highlighting the censorship on the cover. She suggested a dot to cover the “offending” breasts, moving their cover line “No Supermoms Here” onto the dot to draw attention to the message.
“I thought that was witty, but I didn't want to censor subscriber copies,” Gore said. “So we decided to use the censorship dot just on the newsstand copies of the magazine. I have no idea if the concerned vendors will carry the magazine with the censorship dot, but I wasn't willing to go so far as to replace the cover.
"Truly sexist marketing images of naked women are all over the place and marketers don't seem the least bit concerned about what the children will think. We've all seen extremely young celebrities naked and sexualized. So why are the breasts suddenly an issue in a self-directed self-portrait of a mother lovingly feeding her child?”
Whether vendors carry the new image (above) or not, Gore said she’s buoyed by the support Hip Mama has gotten after the censorship of the breastfeeding mother has gone public.
“When I mentioned the vendor controversy, again on my Facebook page, people went ballistic. The image was shared over 100 times,” she said. “That's when Facebook decided to censor it, too, and pulled the cover from many people's timelines. I understand that breastfeeding images are supposed to be allowed on Facebook, but they didn't pull a 1976 Cosmo cover showing nipple that I had posted for a comparison, so I am left to understand that it is the open breastfeeding, and not the nudity, that Facebook is taking issue with.”
Hip Mama has updated its own story with Ana to reflect the controversy too, and it’s Ana who Gore said really got to the heart of this:
“As Ana points out in the updated interview in the magazine, right now this is about an image of an artist breastfeeding on the cover of a magazine, but moms face this every day when they try to feed their children in restaurants or on airplanes or in other public places -- they are asked to go into seclusion to feed their kids. This, again, while truly offensive images are in our face daily in the name of 'sex sells.'"
What do you think of Hip Mama's magazine cover? Would you be "offended" to see it on newsstands?
Images via Hip Mama