Naked Models Don’t Normalize Breastfeeding

Naked Models Don’t Normalize Breastfeeding

Glamming ladies up to pose breastfeeding perpetuates the oversexualization that destroys the ability of women to peacefully nurse in public.
Bethany Mandel
By

I’ve breastfed everywhere, or so it feels like. I do it every few hours the first seven or eight months of my kids’ lives, and less frequently after they start eating solid foods until well into toddlerhood (I’m still nursing my 19-month old daughter). I breastfed my kid in Hawaii on the side of the Road to Hana, in my living room countless times, and recently, in a courtroom while my rabbi was being sentenced to voyeurism for installing a secret camera to tape me (and 150 other women) naked in a bathroom in a ritual bath in Washington.

There’s a movement among mommy bloggers and activists to normalize breastfeeding. It’s a movement I wholeheartedly support and seek to advance every time I breastfeed in public. I nurse my children with and without (but mostly without) a cover.

I only use a cover when my breast would be totally exposed. Otherwise, I dress so I can breastfeed modestly, without any part of my breast exposed to the unsuspecting public. Often, people don’t even realize I’m nursing when I am. They just think I’m gingerly holding my child, looking down at her face every few minutes (when, in fact, I’m checking and adjusting her latch, which using a cover would make more difficult). Every time someone sees this normal biological act, I hope it makes breastfeeding in public easier on women who choose to feed their babies this way.

Women Should Be Not Seen and Babies Not Heard

We’ve heard the stories of women kicked out of restaurants, gyms, and planes for breastfeeding, even when they are doing so modestly. People tell them to use the bathroom, because isn’t that where you would want to have lunch? People tell them to use a cover, because they are unaware how difficult and hot that can be for both babies and mommies. People tell them to stay at home, which would mean women can’t leave the house with their babies for more than three hours at a time for the first year of each child’s life. All of these societal messages discourage women from breastfeeding in public, which leads them to become recluses or supplement with formula while out, lest they become the target.

All of these societal messages discourage women from breastfeeding in public, which leads them to become recluses or supplement with formula while out.

I felt safe nursing my son in that courtroom, as I feel safe and comfortable nursing him everywhere, because what I am doing isn’t sexual. It isn’t grotesque. Some people even compare nursing to urinating, claiming we wouldn’t do the latter in public, so why do women fight to be able to do the former?

Breastmilk is called “liquid gold” and is essential for my son’s survival. It can save the life of a premature baby. Heck, I could even sell it to a body builder for a hefty profit. We should celebrate breastfeeding and celebrate the sacred act of a mother caring for her child (which is accomplished any time they are fed, in any manner).

Nicole Trunfio Sets Back Breastfeeding

As part of this normalizing breastfeeding movement, celebrities often post pictures of themselves nursing, using their notoriety for good. Nicole Trunfio, a model on the recent cover of Elle Magazine, recently became one of these celebrity moms. While I’m all for the selfies Alyssa Milano takes in bed nursing her babe, which are a realistic depiction of what life is like with a breastfeeding infant, Trunfio’s cover image set back the “normalize breastfeeding” movement.

Trunfio advanced the sexual nature of this body part by posing in a manner totally divorced of how normal women breastfeed their babies every day.

The issue of Elle which graces newsstands depicts Trunfio standing in a black designer dress, makeup perfectly applied, while holding her naked son Zion (who, let me just point out, is used as a prop without his permission). Subscribers are treated to a different cover image, that of Trunfio still holding her naked son with perfect makeup, but this time, with a brown jacket opened over her naked front while nursing Zion.

Trunfio shared the image on Instagram with the caption: “Let us #normalizebreastfeeding. There is nothing worse than a mother that is judged for feeding her hungry child in public. #weareonlyhuman I’m so proud of this cover and for what it’s stands for.”

We are only human, we are only mammals, which is why normalizing breastfeeding is so important. We are forced to do so because breasts have been made into solely sexual parts of a woman’s body. On the cover of Elle, Trunfio advanced the sexual nature of this body part by posing in a manner totally divorced of how normal women breastfeed their babies every day. I have never—not once—put on designer clothes, had my makeup professionally applied and stood half-naked, holding a naked baby to nurse. As Kanye West discovered in another magazine photoshoot with daughter North, naked babies are a source of trouble.

The Point Is to Not Sexualize Breastfeeding

Trunfio isn’t even original in posing for this shoot; actress Olivia Wilde recently did it for Glamour magazine. Wilde mocked the outrage that photoshoot caused, saying “I was shocked that there were still people who find it inappropriate because they think it’s a sexual thing. I think that says a lot about them.” Wilde’s confusion over the critiques of her shoot smack of hypocrisy. Wilde and Trunfio contributed to the sexualization of breastfeeding which they (and I) decry. They did everything possible to sexualize their photoshoots, getting glammed up and exposing as much of themselves as possible while nursing.

This isn’t how the average woman chooses to breastfeed in public, but because this is the media image of what breastfeeding outside the home looks like, the sexualized image of breastfeeding in public is perpetuated. While I might have issues with some of the other ways Mayim Bialik uses her fame to advance her notion of optimal parenting (even though I’m also into attachment parenting), on this, we are in full agreement. Bialik wanted to show what it looks like to nurse in public (with a toddler, to boot!) and did so in a totally unsexualized manner, while sitting on the subway, fully covered.

If celebrities (and the average woman) want to normalize breastfeeding, put a tank top under your cardigan, pull the cardigan up and the tank top down, slip your boob out, put your kid on it and continue on with your day.

Bethany Mandel is a stay-at-home mother of three children under four and a writer on politics and culture. She is a columnist for the Jewish Daily Forward, and a contributor at Acculturated. She lives with her husband, Seth, in New Jersey. You can follow her on Twitter @BethanyShondark.

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