Anthropologie’s Beverly Hills store made headlines last week. But their PR department was far from thrilled. In case you missed it, a mom, who reportedly had just purchased over $700 dollars worth of merchandise, was nursing her 6-week-old baby on the sales floor when she was escorted to the restroom to finish feeding her baby by the store manager. The restroom had no seating so the mom had to finish feeding – on a toilet. Rightfully upset, (who wants to do anything besides you-know-what on a toilet?), she took her experience to Facebook where it didn’t take long before local news channels got wind of the story and it went viral. Moms were up in arms. A nurse-in was scheduled for August 20 and over 100 moms showed up at the Beverly Hills store to nurse and show their disapproval of the store manager’s actions. Tsk, tsk, tsk Anthropologie. Poor timing – and right in the middle of National Breastfeeding Month.
As a first-time mom, I’m very self-aware when I nurse in public – and I even use a cover. I know that there is nothing to be embarrassed about, but it’s experiences like this that add to my self-consciousness. And herein lies the problem. Too often, nursing moms are stared at, shamed, told to “cover up,” or asked to leave public establishments when they’re nursing (uncovered). I don’t understand it. Why are women made to feel ashamed for nurturing our children in public?
We live in a very pro-breastfeeding culture. Doctors encourage breastfeeding at birth, we have easy access to all sorts of breastfeeding resources, and lactation consultants abound. In my experience, the resources and knowledge that we have at our disposal are not nearly as prevalent in other cultures. Yet ironically, our society is the one that has not yet fully embraced public nursing, while many other more conservative cultures have. It is particularly disappointing when we live in a culture that is supposed to be liberal, progressive and forward-thinking. And yet there is still so much disapproval of public (uncovered) nursing. I get it. When nursing uncovered, part of the breast can be exposed, and some people may not feel comfortable seeing that. And I respect that. But then why not just look away? I do it when I see someone wearing something I find inappropriate. I tune out people that say offensive things when I’m standing in line at a store. Nursing moms aren’t causing any harm, or disruption. They’re going about their own business. If public breastfeeding rubs you the wrong way, then you should probably be minding your own business, too.
I think a large part of the problem stems from the fact that our society puts too much emphasis on breasts as sex tools, rather than a functional body part. Just check out how much boobage is shown on HBO. Sex = ratings. But as a consequence, when people see an exposed breast, they associate it with “sex,” and “inappropriateness” – not their intended purpose. Which, contrary to what shows like “Californication” display, is feeding, not sex. (Shocking, I know). They are not for looking sexy in La Perla lingerie (although they do come in handy for that), or to be tools of profit for media. So many people are offended by a partially exposed breast of a nursing mom, but okay with larger-than-life posters of Victoria Secrets models in barely-there lingerie hanging in store fronts. It just doesn’t make sense.
Usually, I don’t impose my views on others, and similarly, I don’t believe that others should impose their views on me. But when we’re talking about breastfeeding, something that is so natural, so instinctual – I would implore that it’s high time that we, as a society, embrace public breastfeeding. And I know that we’re still a long way from that, so I ask those of you that do not approve of public breastfeeding to consider turning away if it really bothers you to see a nursing mom. Because she has just as much right to be where you are as you do and, according to the law, she has every right to nurse her baby in public. Please don’t harass her, don’t ask her to leave, don’t ask her to move. It IS possible to coexist in the same space. Just don’t look if you don’t want to see. For many women, breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally – some have to work hard at it. Not every mom is fortunate enough to be able to breastfeed their babies so let’s give nursing moms some respect.
I leave you with this: “Be kinder than necessary, because everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle.” – T.H. Thompson & John Watson