At the Sports Illustrated fashion show this week in Miami, attendees were treated, not just to a bevy of beautiful women donning swimwear, but to an infant suckling at the breast of one of the models as she strutted down the runway.
Mara Martin, a model and new mama, hit the runway while breastfeeding her five-month-old daughter Aria. As a mother who breastfed my kids, I applaud nursing, particularly in public—everyone has to eat, right? However, this seems like more of a publicity stunt rather than a move to normalize breastfeeding in public.
The photo of Martin walking down the runway with baby Aria attached to her open breast has made headlines. It was a Twitter “moment,” featured on “Good Morning America,” in USA Today, and more.
Martin is a gorgeous woman, to be sure. Just the fact that Martin was strutting anywhere in the gold and glittery swimsuit she wore, looking as fabulous as she did five months after giving birth, would have been noteworthy enough. But Martin wanted to make a statement about breastfeeding.
On her Instagram, the model said, “I’m so grateful to be able to share this message and hopefully normalize breastfeeding and also show others that women CAN DO IT ALL!” Again, as a nursing mother, I understand how women feel like they must do it all and, when they do, it’s a feat. Like many nursing Mamas, I’ve talked on the phone, answered the door, written articles, cooked, and parented my other children, all while breastfeeding.
So you feed your baby with a bottle or with your breast. Congratulations, you’re a stable adult. I’m not a fan of shaming women who are nursing in public, but I’m also not a fan of exposing your bare breast at a restaurant in the name of “feeding time,” then giving anyone who happens to notice a dirty look.
Here’s the thing with some modern women: After squashing their natural desires to have babies during the 1960s in favor of pursuing their careers, many have now come full circle and are trying to be so pro-motherhood, they’re using their kids as publicity stunts. It’s like they feel they have to overcompensate for being given negative messages about motherhood.
This should not be confused with being a proud mother, posting photos of children on their first day of school, or tweeting about conversations with kids that are hilarious or insightful. It’s different. It’s unlikely Martin’s baby had to eat right then, but this is what it looks like when you turn something precious into a prop.
In Martin’s Instagram post, she eschews the idea that she used her baby as a publicity stunt. She claims she shouldn’t have gotten attention for doing something completely out of the norm for a fashion show: “the real reason I can’t believe it is a headline is because it shouldn’t be a headline!!!”
This directly contradicts the portion where she insists she’s trying to “normalize” something that has been normal for centuries. What’s not normal is deliberately diverting attention from the fashion at, you know, a fashion show, to one person’s desire for personal validation.
One time on her show, Oprah said something that struck me: “Women can have it all. Just not at the same time.” Even for Oprah, that was salient, timeless advice. One of the challenges women always face, and one of the things women do really well, is juggle motherhood and work. But there’s been an emerging trend among women, not just to juggle but combine the two.
This might have been possible in earlier times and in different cultures, when a woman’s work truly was primarily in the home—cooking, tending to animals, or farming. But in today’s modern age, this is not only often impossible, but not a very effective or efficient way to either parent or work.
Case in point: Martin wasn’t the only one juggling her career and her baby on the catwalk. Other women performing at the fashion show were also noteworthy. On her Instagram, Martin mentioned that one woman who walked down the runway that night is heading to boot camp soon, another is a cancer survivor, and still another has had a mastectomy.
While she tagged several of these women on her page, they didn’t make the news and yet are just as worthy of applause for performing their own balancing acts. They just demonstrated more modesty about their challenges and private lives. Certainly plenty of other models also have children but chose to focus on work while working. This is just a fact of life, but instead Martin’s actions pretended she was singularly different from all these women and singularly deserving of attention.
Motherhood is a beautiful adventure. One of life’s greatest blessings and challenges is to raise babies into adults. While not all women are able to nurse their babies, it’s certainly a healthy, good, natural thing to do. It shouldn’t be stigmatized any more than it should be glorified. I hope Martin continues to balance motherhood and modeling, while embracing nursing as an extension of her relationship with her child, rather than as a publicity stunt.