Why All the Anger Over a Breast-Feeding Photo?


When breasts are propped high in Victoria’s Secret ads or the pages of King magazine, or an A-list star wears a dress cut to her navel or maybe a R-related movie shows women flashing them freely, few people seem to have a problem. Maybe some advocacy groups for teenage girls and their self-esteem, maybe some feminists. But overall, there’s rarely a peep about a set being flashed across a TV or movie screen or in a magazine ad. As a culture, we consider breasts tantalizing, alluring and sexy, and they are shown constantly in varying degrees of modesty to none at all.

But attracting attention, turning people on or serving as a backdrop to shilling products that rarely have anything to do with bras is not the primary function of boobs. A quick refresher: The biological purpose of breasts is to feed babies. That some find those same breasts alluring does not negate their primary purpose.

So why am I telling you this?

Because last week, a picture that was posted on Instagram by Ashley Nicole, a new mother and girlfriend of Miami Dolphins’ Phillip Wheeler, went viral. Nicole, a svelte model, posed for a picture with her baby latched to her nipple, breast-feeding. What was exposed of her breast was akin to what we’ve all seen in a lingerie ad. The caption read, “Was on the way out the door but then mommy duty called ...  Everything stops for him! #breastisbest #natureisbeautiful."

It was a sweet mother-child bonding moment and a nice endorsement for breast-feeding to black moms and would-be moms, especially when black mothers are underrepresented when it comes to breast-feeding. Research finds that just 54 percent of black mothers attempt breast-feeding, while the national average is 73 percent. Experts say that one of the reasons black women fall behind in breast-feeding is that women just don’t see women who look like them doing it.

“You don’t desire something you don’t see,” Micky Jones of La Leche League, an organization that encourages moms to breast-feed, told USA Today. “In the black community, you don’t see a lot of black women breast-feeding.”

Nicole, whether she intended to or not, could have been making a statement and a difference. But many found the picture “vulgar,” “attention-whoring,” “inappropriate” or “disgusting.” The backlash for the picture got so bad that Wheeler came to his girlfriend’s defense, telling TMZ, “I wish everybody would just leave it alone.”

He also noted how the reaction to his girlfriend’s picture was much different from the praise heaped on supermodel and NFL wife Gisele Bündchen when she posted a picture of herself breast-feeding her daughter as her glam squad pampered her. Wheeler didn’t understand why his girlfriend wasn’t receiving the same love.

To be fair, Mrs. Tom Brady did get her fair share of criticism. However, much of the negative feedback Bündchen received was about the lack or realism depicted in the photo—I mean, how many working mothers have a glam squad to make them more beautiful?—than the appropriateness of the image. Nicole’s criticism seems to be largely about decorum or the lack thereof.


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There's More to Boobs Than Meets the Eye

photoSee those boobs above? They belong to video model Esther Baxter and Katy Perry, who is on the most recent GQ. Baxter has appeared in multiple videos and landed the cover of King magazine because many men (and women) find her boobs to be aesthetically pleasing. Perry is, well, an international pop star, as known for her boobs as she is for her music.

Many people find both sets of boobs nice to look at. But that is not their primary function of boobs. It seems people should know this. So a quick refresher:

The primary purpose of breasts is to feed babies. That some find those same breasts alluring does not negate the primary purpose of breasts.

So why am I telling you this?

Because there's a story on Today.com about a mom, Ashley Clawson,  who was shopping in Victoria's Secret with her 4-month old son when the child became hungry. She asked a saleswoman if she could breastfeed in a changing room. The saleswoman told her to take it to the alley (?!) outside the store where no one would see her.

"You would think a place like Victoria's Secret wouldn't be offended by the presence of a partially exposed breast", a woman wrote on my Facebook page. "Have they seen their own advertisements?!"

My first thought: Um. If you wouldn't want to eat in an alley, why should a baby? You know those small people with an underdeveloped immune systems?

Clawson said she was "shocked", humiliated and confused by the suggestion. “What are we, animals? Are [nursing women] that gross to you?” Clawson says she wondered.

So she reports the incident to Vicky's HQ and gets an apology and a promise of a gift certificate for the store (which she still has not received) as if she would have any desire to shop there again after a salesclerk tried to send her into the alley to feed her baby like she was a hooker servicing a "John" at Hunt's Point.

"See where the mother messed up was asking in the first damn place," another commenter wrote. "I breastfed both my daughters WHILE WALKING in stores. And I did it with a look on my face that said, "Please. Try me. While I got this baby on my titty, hungry and whatnot." This lady was being polite, I'm sure, when she asked if it was okay to use the dressing room to feed her kid, but really, asking permission to feed your kid is not necessary."


I hope Clawson sues the entire hell out of  Vicky's for discrimination and gets the kid's college paid for and then some.

I don't understand the anti- public breastfeeding logic. Is it cause a partial boob may be seen in that quick flash of a moment before or after it is covered by a nursing cloth? Is it really so hideous to see a breast? Do breasts pose a societal danger that, despite having them for more than twenty years, I am as yet unaware of?

As a society, we-- or at least our doctors-- have agreed that breast-feeding children is best for the health of the child. There are multiple national initiatives to get women to breastfeed more since the United States lags behind the rest of the world in doing so. These women hear a battle cry, take action and are met with: take your kid to the alley?!

Clawson actually ended up feeding her kid in the bathroom, which I find gross. I don't eat in the bathroom. Do you? Then why should a baby?

What if there is no bathroom available? Or is as commonly the case with public bathrooms, it's gross in there? Or if the mother rightfully finds it gross to feed her child where people release their bowels? Then what?

Is it really the most horrid occurrence in the world for a woman to park herself in safe and public place, or even a private place like a dressing room, and pop out a boob to feed her kid?

A lady on my Facebook page more or less said, "yes".

"I have 11 week old twins. I do think people should be more open minded [about breast feeding] but I do not think women should force anyone to like it or witness it. Or change their company policy (if it was one)...  I do breast feed in public but I balance my time and places I visit to accommodate. Sometimes the first year of having a baby might mean you can't go everywhere and or do everything the same."


Should breast feeding mothers curb their outings to avoid public feedings as much as possible, so as to convenience others? Or  pump and bottle the milk to avoid flashing boobies? Should they just let the baby wail?

I have no "skin" in this game. I am not responsible for any babies, and don't think I will ever will be. (I like kids, but raising people who can't talk isn't really my thing.) But as person with some basic compassion for small people-- and one who can't stand the sound of screaming kids— the discomfort of a hungry baby and the assault of their crying on my eardrums trumps any way your eyes might feel spotting a boob put to its primary function. And that's especially if you've walked by the cover of a men's magazine-- like King of GQ--  and never given the over-exposure of breasts just for the titillating sake of doing so, any real thought.