Sunday, July 30, 2006

Magazine Cover Furor

Apparently the recent cover of babytalk magazine has a bunch of folks in an uproar:

If the link is no longer functioning, it leads to an article showing the cover of babytalk, which features an infant nursing. Basically, half the cover is the baby's face and the other half is a naked breast (skin only, no nipple/ areola/ etc.). The first line of the linked article reads, "I was SHOCKED to see a giant breast on the cover of your magazine!"

If that person was shocked, my poor sons were probably terrified beyond belief when the monster-engorged-breasts I was using to feed them the first few days of their lives approached their relatively tiny heads. Oish.

Yanno, I can kind of see where some people are stunned. Here in the United States, breastfeeding is slowly gaining popularity as the health benefits to people, both the mother and child, both in now and in their future lives, become more widely known. Unfortunately, in our appearance-obsessed culture, breasts are most often seen as sexual rather than functional. The first function of female breasts is to provide nourishment for the young of the species. In humans, the secondary function of the female breast is as a source of sexual attraction; but breasts are still first and foremost a source of food.

I am amazed at how many posts I've read over the past couple days saying that breastfeeding is gross, disgusting, pornographic, etc. I've even read a couple posts that go so far as to say that God gave us cows for milk, so we should follow God's plan and bottle feed our babies. ACK! God gave cows teats to feed baby cows. We humans have made use of the productivity levels of our bovine friends, but when it comes down to it, humans have no need for cow milk, and in fact, humans are the only species that regularly ingests another species' milk or milk products.

And as for the pornographic comments? Give me a break. There is absolutely nothing sexual about a mother nursing her baby. In fact, while nursing my children I believe I can safely say I felt the least sexual (or sexy, for that matter) of any time in my life. There I was, perched on the couch, not-so-lovely nursing bra on, flaps down, small child simultaneously nursing and pooing (what goes in must come out -- apparently rather quickly at that), and let's not forget the copious spit-up stains that my second child decided must decorate every top I owned. Oh yes, very sexy.

This particular magazine cover has also spawned a number of posts regarding nursing in public. There seems to be some disconnect out there between those who are accustomed to nursing in public in a discreet manner, and those who believe "all" nursing mothers just "flip it out" and let the boobs fall where they may. For the most part, women who nurse in public places tend to be discreet. For me, it was difficult to tell if I was nursing or just holding my child. That said, I did nurse less in public once my children reached about four or five months of age as that's when they started to play Let's Flash Mommy with anyone who happened to be within eyeshot. This was the point where I tracked down every shop with comfortable dressing rooms and friendly staff. Because I'm not into nursing to make a point, I'm in it to feed my child, and frankly, feeding my child doesn't mean I need to play peek-a-boobie with random passers-by.

One poster I read about asked, "But have you ever seen a nurse-in? It's appalling! All those women seem to be DETERMINED to let you know EXACTLY what they are doing!" Uhm, well, ma'am, that's kind of the point of a nurse-in, and a nurse-in by its very activism is going to draw all types of activists, including those who rightly, although not in line with our culture' s standards, believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with nursing a child regardless of what is showing or who may be nearby. In a perfect world, this would be the case, and I do believe it is to be expected behavior at a nurse-in. Personally, I believe both methods have their benefits and drawbacks. The discreet nursing mother is more likely to go unnoticed, and therefore is less likely to show how easy it can be to nurse even in the middle of a mall (or in front of the elephant exhibit as I once did) without attracting undue attention. When people do notice, though, they're more likely to be supportive and approving. Note, though, I said "more likely." One time I was on an airplane nursing my three-month-old under an airline blanket. Nothing was showing. Zero, zip, nadda. But of course, this older woman across the aisle just kept glaring and "tsk-tsk"ing the entire time. On the plus side to that experience, as we disembarked from the plane I had numerous people stop by my row and mention how amazed they were that a baby had been sitting so near them as he hadn't made a peep of noise. Well, the reason the dear boy was so silent is that he was attached to me for the entire three hour flight. Hey, it worked, and it saved many eardrums aboard that flight. I considered it a public service, tsk-ing lady's injured sensibilities notwithstanding.

The more "out there" public nursers, who are most commonly seen at demonstrations such as nurse-ins, do a service by showing just how many women are breastfeeding now. And to be clear, not every mother at a nurse-in is there to flash as much boobage as possible. In fact, I don't believe flashing is the point at all. It's simply that some women are more comfortable with less coverage while feeding their children, and as this is a natural part of feeding our young, they feel it should not be anything worth noticing. Again, in our culture this is not yet the societal standard, but if it were not for these mothers there might never be a time when nursing publicly is viewed as simply normal, not as exhibitionistic behavior.

For me, though? I'll take my baby blanket and dressing room. Thanks.

Finally, to the actual topic of the cover of the magazine, is it appropriate? Well, yes and no. Yes, in that there was nothing obscene about the picture. It's a baby magazine. Babies nurse. One might actually expect to run into a picture of a nursing baby in a -- hold your breath -- baby magazine. However, the editors of that magazine are being disingenuous if they declare any degree of shock over the reaction to the cover. This is the U. S. of A., folks, land of the free, home of the repressed. This cover was bound to spark talk... and perhaps that's what the editors were going for. It's like the "out there" vs. "discreet" nursing issue. Whereas some people might not take issue with the picture being inside the magazine (although some surely would), those same people might take issue with displaying the magazine on their coffee table, or having it openly displayed in their store.

Time will tell which tactics, or which combination thereof, are more effective in raising the breastfeeding rate in this country. I'm not holding my breath for the results.

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