Monday, June 04, 2012


Breastfeeding is one of those subjects that newspaper and magazine editors adore.

Readers either love it or hate it - so any article that mentions it, especially if accompanied by a controversial picture and headline, always stirs up a furore.

It gives editors a chance to titillate by choosing pictures of women's breasts. For some reason this sells newspapers.

It gives the hardcore breastfeeders a chance to relish in the discomfort of those who didn't, for whatever reasons, "provide the best start for their children".

And it gives the bottle feeders a chance to look down their noses on long-term breastfeeders as raging hippies with no personal boundaries.

Even though I still breastfeed my 1 year old I don't consider myself to be defined by it. Sometimes I find it a curse - binding myself to my baby when really I'd love to escape for a night and soothe myself in peace and calm. I'd also like my body back because I've either been pregnant or breastfeeding for the past five and a half years.

But mostly I sit on the fence, amused by the passions it stirs up in people. Any article written about it brings out a mass hysteria from both camps - as debates go round in circles and editors keep the story alive by printing fresh comments by extremists guaranteed to enrage more and more people the next day.

I used to work on a few different newspapers in London so I know how cynical editors can be and how they like to spin a story to whip up a frenzy.

Take for instance the decision by Time magazine to stick a Yummy Mummy on its cover with her boy who looked big enough to be 5 sucking her nipple. They knew it would cause a media frenzy and have dined out on the controversy ever since. Personally, I feel they manipulated her, knowing it would guarantee shock worldwide coverage. They chose a picture from the photoshoot that looked cold and clinical, and showed her posing nonchalantly rather than cradling. No mum ever breastfeeds like that!

But it was the headline that really wound me up. "Are you mom enough?" Crikey, the editor was really looking to cause a stir, implying that anyone who doesn't feed like that isn't a proper mum.

Time's controversial cover

Closer to home, I was reading the Irish Sunday Independent just after the Time cover story broke. A woman called Antonia Leslie wrote a piece about why she chose to breastfeed her daughter until she was three and a half, talking about what attachment parenting meant for her. Now, I'm all for these kind of articles in the media but I hate what the male sub-editors and editors do to make the article stand out.

The picture they chose of Antonia was highly sexual and nothing to do with breastfeeding. She was staring directly at the camera through smokey eyes, leaning over so that her boobs undulated down whilst her left tatooed arm pushed forward for maximum impact. The caption read: "Leslie, right, enjoys men admiring her breasts". I read the piece again. Nothing about her words or her honesty in the piece seemed appropriate for the choice of picture and caption. It was only in the final paragraph that, almost as an afterthrought, she wrote "I still enjoy grown men admiring my breasts as objects of desire, at the appropriate time and place".

My bet is that her editor asked for that last paragraph, because it doesn't fit in with the piece at all. It only fits in with the pysche of the newspaper editor who still believes that sex sells. They do this all the time. That's why page 3 of Britain's The Sun newspaper still limply shows a topless model every day. Page 3 should have been dumped years ago - if Rebekah Brooks had been brave enough to stand up to Murdoch and ditch it when she was editor then we might have liked her and had some sympathy for her now as her future looks bleak behind bars.

Nowadays, I can't help but feel that this kind of brainless titillation in newspapers just looks dated and desperate. That's why there is always such a frenzy when breasts and feeding are in the story - because we feel we've been disrespected as people, not because of our lifestyle choices. Isn't it about time that editors realised we don't want to see naked flesh and tornado-inducing stories - we want to see real people who are positive role models for our kids.

And so in the interest of showing an artistic representation of a mum breastfeeding, and deliberately avoiding showing those recent shock-and-awe pictures on my blog, here's a beautiful picture called Motherhood by Polish artist Stanisław Wyspianski.

And yes, thank you Time magazine, I reckon I am mum enough!

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