Monday, May 24, 2010

I've Got Two Boobs...One...Two...

They can help baby eat. Perhaps if Elmo added this to his cute, little song, people would be reminded that breasts are a part of a female's anatomy that serve a real purpose. Instead we've become uniquely hung up on the issue in America. It's strange to me that women have to think about where to breastfeed or plan breastfeeding in advance by wearing certain outfits or bringing along special covers and blankets. Where did this hang-up come from anyway? And how is it that we are desensitized to the covers of magazines and Hooters billboards, but the site of a woman breastfeeding can still stop some people in their tracks?

If you watched the story about the woman in Tampa I linked to earlier than you might have noticed words like "discretion," "modesty," and "agenda" thrown around. The teacher from the school actually says "she doesn't have the right to impose her agenda on other people's children." Ok, I hate to break it to everyone but 99.9% of the time, breastfeeding moms are just trying to feed their child. The other 1% of the time, moms are participating in nurse-in's (not an actual fact, but sounds about right). So why are we hearing such harsh, judgmental, and often condescending language from those opposed to nursing in public?

I have a theory (warning: here be some religion discussion). I once sat in a high school English class observing a particularly cool teacher. I cannot for the life of me recall the book they were discussing; however, I remember a particular point. The teacher was trying to express how sexually hung-up Americans are. One of his students was a European foreign exchange student. He asked the student about beaches in his country and what people wore. The young male answered nonchalantly, something about swimwear, sometimes nude or topless. When the teacher informed him that women were always expected to wear a swimsuit, the student exclaimed, "Even the top?" To him the idea was ludicrous, because to him there was nothing shameful or dirty about it. It was just a fact. Women might or might not wear a top at the beach. It made no difference to him. Being forced to wear one to him was strange. The teacher than noted that America was founded by the Pilgrams. Our first ancestors over her were conservative protestants. It's a little humorous that in history class our founders are sold as being progressive for pursuing religious freedom, when their ideals have left a lasting conservative impression on this nation.

Because here's the thing. Breasts are beautiful and no amount of shame or forced modesty can change that. They're so beautiful that an entire industry has sprung up to sell them to us. Another industry exists to make them perkier, fuller, and better looking under an unbuttoned blouse. There's even an entire campaign to save them. We love boobs in this country. So where's the disconnect? Why are women expected to cower in a corner while nursing their child?

Somewhere along the line breasts became equated with sex, and sex has become the enemy of family values (explaining the irony behind that is another blog post). It is therefore okay to see breasts in a sexual setting (a woman dressed in a low-cut top on a date, an actress in a revealing top on the cover of Cosmo, a Hooters girl). However, an infant belongs solely to the realm of family values and therefore can't have anything to do with sex (once again, hard to ignore the hypocrisy here). So breastfeeding is a private experience because breasts belong to sex and sex is a private experience. We should therefore cover up or stay home or go to the bathroom, according to a now retracted part of an article from Better Homes and Gardens:

Yes, I have seen table-side breast feeding at a four-star restaurant. If at all possible, take it to the ladies room. (Note: most upscale restaurants have really nice restrooms!"

Why was that article's thoughts on breastfeeding retracted? Because in less than a week of its appearance, over 1000 people, men and women, joined a group to boycott the magazine on Facebook. Today Better Homes and Gardens issued an apology, calling the section "patently inappropriate." But the point remains. The real advice it conveyed to breastfeeding moms? There are still people out there who see breastfeeding as disgusting or sexual, and don't kid yourself people like that think sexual = disgusting. And that's why it is so important that we keep nursing in public, "forcing our agenda."

Because our agenda is one of purity. I want my son's first exposure to breasts to be from a breastfeeding mom, whether myself or another mother. I want my daughter to nurse her dolls. I want to divorce breasts from dirtiness. It's our first step in divorcing sex from the taboo and therefore allowing ourselves to accept our bodies with love and admiration. And if that doesn't sell you, imagine never going swimsuit shopping again - wouldn't that be nice?

Part of the Big Deal about Boobs blog hop!


Mere said... [Reply to comment]

Body image is definitely one of the areas where Americans could learn from Europeans. Along the lines of loving your body, it's not only the skinny, beautiful girls that get to wear bikinis/go topless at the beaches and parks here. It doesn't matter how imperfect your body is, no one seems to even notice. This is one of the things I'll miss.

Dionna said... [Reply to comment]

"I want my son's first exposure to breasts to be from a breastfeeding mom, whether myself or another mother. I want my daughter to nurse her dolls. I want to divorce breasts from dirtiness."

LOVE this. I feel the exact same way. (And hey - my son "breastfeeds" his dolls too ;)) Every time we nurse in public we are normalizing it for the mothers to come.

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