Pictures of mothers breastfeeding infants are considered distasteful by some. Photos of older children being breastfed cause even more controversy. But before photographers and moms get their nursing bras in a twist over backlash, maybe they should consider that it's the message behind the image that's the problem, not the depiction itself.
Blogger Mama Bean recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about a photo on her Facebook page that created some friction in the comments. The photo was submitted by a reader who had the picture of her and her daughter taken by a professional photographer. Here's the image:
As anyone who's read anything about breastfeeding an older child could predict, the photo received the usual comments- most declared it beautiful, some claimed they were supportive of breastfeeding but felt this child was too old for it, and a few reacted with disgust. Same story, different boobs.
Personally, I don't love the image. It's not because I think it's obscene, or disagree with a parent's choice to breastfeed a child at any age. Nor do I think images like this are child exploitation. Obviously from an artistic point of view, it's a stunning image of two beautiful humans. That's precisely why the picture rubs me the wrong way- because it is an unrealistic and romanticized depiction of what breastfeeding looks like.
If you have breastfed or tried to breastfeed you know how difficult it can be. The uncertainty of how much milk your baby is getting, try to find the right position, getting the correct latch. Dealing with pumps, nipple cream, nursing pads and nipple shields, swelling and raw skin and very little sleep. None of this is even hinted at in images like this one. Heck, give me a Bobby pillow or a nursing cover drifting out to sea on a swell and I'll be happy.
If anything, I would argue photos like this one hurt the future of breastfeeding more than than they help normalize it. For woman who are pregnant and considering breastfeeding or those who aren't parents, but might be one day, this image and others like it make breastfeeding look like an effortless, magical experience and send the message that if it's not like this for you, then you're doing it wrong. This is breastfeeding- the Photoshop edition. I keep envisioning a photo of a mom standing in the ocean feeding her baby a bottle while she looks defiantly at the camera and laughing to myself, because no one does that, it's just not how you feed a baby in real life.
As women we call out companies for using airbrushed and unrealistic images in clothing magazines and on billboards all the time, declaring they are harmful to our self images and self esteem. Yet we applaud these "brave" moms and photographers for these images that share a similar message and can have the same ill effects.
Breastfeeding doesn't have to be depicted as an airbrushed fairy tale to be considered beautiful. If you want to normalize breastfeeding, then show woman feeding their children in a realistic manner.