June 16, 2014

Facebook Lifts Breastfeeding Ban, But What Does it Mean For Women?

breastfeeding mom child

Facebook recently lifted the ban on photos of breastfeeding, but what does this really mean for breastfeeding mothers, as well as for women in general?

This ban lift essentially allows photos with some nipple to not be labeled as pornographic. Nipple shots are still banned, if said nipple isn’t connected in some way to a baby’s mouth.

And as someone who’s about to rejoin the nursing mother’s club, this personally interests me quite a bit.

I’m not in denial about the sexism that still exists in our country, nor am I immune to acknowledging how breasts are considered objects of men’s desire, plain and simple—even though breasts are actually for nursing babies—but do we really think that society doesn’t have access to images of breasts, on Facebook or otherwise?

While it might be banned to show nip slips, it’s perfectly okay to wear next-to-nothing bikinis or extremely low-cut tops. I’m certainly not about to suggest that there’s something wrong with this necessarily, but the reality is that women are sexualized because sex sells.

Even on a wellness site like elephant journal, the articles pertaining in some way to female nudity or sex are the ones that are most likely to go big in views. Poetry, nah. Not today. A well-written article with an inspirational theme? Possibly. Maybe. But, sex? Oh, yeah, bring it.

And breasts are connected in our societal mind with sex, not with producing milk and nursing babies and feeding the creation of life. Nope, that’s not sexy enough.

However, now it’s okay, on one of the main social network sites in the world mind you, to bare our breasts when feeding our children, but is this because they’ve seen the light over at Facebook or simply because they want to cash in on a hot social media trend?

And it blows me away, given my conscious state of our male-dominated culture, that this is something to celebrate and see as a huge step forward for womenkind. Because I’m not sure it is.

My daughter will make my next nursing experience pretty different.

I’ve heard hilarious horror-type stories from friends about how a toddler sibling pulled a cover off of a nursing infant at, say, dinner. It really is an entirely new game when you have an active little person to chase and another one attached to you. Gone are the days of slow, sweet, quiet breastfeeding, and I’m okay with this, although it will surely be a change.

Yet this also brings me to another remembrance of my own breastfeeding experience: it’s kind of okay to have a woman feeding her child when partially covered by some form of fabric shield (a whole ‘nother article)—as long as this baby is tiny.

Forget feeding a child over one.

Actually, I nursed my daughter until she was over two. I have fortunate and unfortunate experience in the shame that mothers are supposed to feel when the baby attached to them is wriggling and squirming and maybe even biting. It’s similar to the idea of mother and child being romantically ideal if the picture looks like a still, silent, statuesque Mary and Jesus. A baby who’s crying, loudly? No, this gets dirty looks and stuffy reprimands, not occasional awww’s and oooo’s.

I’ve had many friends tell me that they’ll stop breastfeeding when “the baby gets teeth.” Hahaha. (You’re supposed to laugh and smile politely when this is said.)

There’s a stigma attached to that breast, along with a nursing child, and it’s not just coming from men and from Facebook either.

So what exactly does this lift of an incredibly inappropriate ban mean? Nada. Squat. That’s what. Because what needs to shift is the way that we treat women, women’s bodies, and mothers and their babies. While I’d like to believe that this is a step toward that, I’m hesitant.

The Onion, as always, made a funny yet poignant joke about this situation.

One of the made-up quotes, “Breastfeeding is a natural part of social media,” is sadly right on.

Because Facebook is catering to people wanting to see Instagram shares of a breatfeeding Gisele and Miranda Kerr. And that image of Gisele was beautiful, yes, but also completely unrelated to most nursing mothers. Sure it’s her job to have her hair done and her nails manicured, but is this truthfully a photo that mothers can relate to or even feel inspired from? Probably not. But it sells. A gorgeous, breast-exposed Gisele sells.

I’m fairly positive that the average, exhausted mother feeding her baby isn’t what people want to see.

So, thank you, Facebook, for making it possible for me to show my long-distance family and friends photographs of my nipples after my child’s impending birth. Thanks, but no thanks.

I think I’ll stick to trying to make nursing at Barnes and Noble while my daughter plays with the train station normal and acceptable. I’ll breastfeed away when I take my older child places she loves to go, like restaurants, museums and the zoo.

Because condoning social media images of breastfeeding seems more like keeping a technology, image and celebrity-obsessed society happy than it does women and children.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Mothering Touch/Flickr

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