News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

Time's Breastfeeding Cover is Pure Shock Value, No Substance

Rather than challenging taboos, Time's shock tactics exploit society's existing shame and confusion about sex and maternity.
 
 
Share
 
 
 

 When the Time magazine cover for a story on attachment parenting "Are You Mom Enough?" hit the web this week, the reaction ran the full range from troll-friendly to thoughtful. It's not difficult to see why this headline and design drew so much heat: without even wading into "mommy wars", compounding Americans' puritanical discomfort with the body is a cultural taboo over breast-feeding. Recall, for example, the negative reaction to mother mag Babytalk's breastfeeding cover: 25% of readers polled thought the pic was inappropriate, with some women even calling the image "gross" and shredding the edition.

What also makes for the perfect storm of sales-driving sensationalism: the child in question is three years old and has a model-looking mother, whom some news outlets have inevitably referred to as a "Milf" (from American Pie: "Mom I Would Like to F…").

Friday, the issue is set to hit newsstands nationwide. While the edition is likely to remain controversial for the obvious issues – that late-stage breastfeeding is/isn't weird; that child will/will not grow up well-adjusted; and (sadly) that mom pictured is/isn't hot – the cover is not problematic because it's polemic. Rather, the way it is presented distracts us from having a meaningful discussion of motherhood and sexuality, which is a discussion we need to have.

We get so caught up in the "weirdness" of the situation that we don't really address the bigger issue: uneasy Americans flip out whether Mamma Madonna is a goddess or a bitch, and will criticize her if she's sexed up or completely desexualized. 

Some evidence? Let's start with Annie Leibovitz-shot Demi Moore Vanity Fair cover. As described by the Los Angeles Times, "It was the photo that spawned all manner of celebrity mom to bare all along with their bellies, among them Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera," but "at the time, some retailers were so taken aback by the shot that they sold the issue in a brown paper bag as if it were an adult title like Playboy." Moore said she felt it gave women "permission to feel sexy, attractive when you're pregnant." 

But the preg-celeb photo shoots that have followed over the past 20 years, such as the Jessica Simpson's Elle spread of late, suggest that women still don't have the permission to celebrate pregnancy or motherhood without charges of indecency.  

Reactions to the frilly lingerie for lactating mothers, as detailed in a New York Times' article "Nursing Bras That Show Mothers in More than Work Mode" also support this.

There were women who felt that the traditional "matronly" models were sufficient and practical; that the post-partum period was no time to worry about unmentionables' unattractiveness. There were women who felt bogged down by the demands of motherhood, who wanted to boost their self-esteem with nursing bras and matching thongs. And then, there were women who felt that being a mother in a simple, lingerie-free way was given a bad rap; that they should be thought of as sexual beings even if they're wearing a white or flesh-toned bra – in the words of one garment maker said: "I love being a mother, but lingerie is not for a mother … It's for a woman." As Koa Beck wrote on Mommyish:

"Apparently being a mother is not the same as being woman on the pure basis of undergarment choice. If you're not wearing a lacy push up bra or matching lingerie set, you're not a woman to the heads of these bra companies. And motherhood and a fancy balconette bra are just not compatible."

 
See more stories tagged with: