Reposting this article from last year, at a time when there is public outrage and debate about women posting photos online of themselves breastfeeding and arguments rage about how appropriate inappropriate it is to breastfeeding in public, it seems timely to share the thoughts of a 14 year old girl on what messages she sees in the world of breasts, breastfeeding, sex appeal, and society.
by Ophélia Martin-Weber
I wonder when people started treating boobs as objects used just for sex. A long time ago did people respect moms and their breasts feeding hungry babies? Even though they didn’t see women as equal did they know that breastfeeding was the healthiest, easiest, and natural source of nutrients to feed the baby and nothing to shun? There was a time when women didn’t have the right to vote but could freely pull out their breast and feed their baby and today it seems like we have flipped those. In some ways we have come so far in how women are treated and viewed in society but in other ways women, particularly mothers, are dismissed as their real value being only in their appeal to the opposite sex. I wonder if we’ve lost something. Then I wonder what that means for me and I’m only a 14 year old girl. When I was younger I didn’t know breasts had amazing powers to produce milk even though my mom breastfed my sisters and me. All that I knew was that I had little boobies and I couldn’t wait for the day when my nipples would transform into breasts. I don’t remember when the fact that mature breasts can give milk really stuck in my head but when it did I thought humans were related to cows. Sure, humans and cows are both mammals but when I was a kid I thought maybe women actually were cows. Today I know that’s not true and I also understand there is a lot of attention given to the sexiness of the female breast and that makes me uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because now that I have breasts I find myself wanting smaller breasts in part because I’m a ballerina but also because I know that bigger breasts are supposed draw attention from guys, are seen as more sexy, and could decide how I am treated by others. Part of me feels that if I want to be liked I have to have big breasts. I want guys to notice me but I don’t want guys to notice me (yes, I know this is a contradiction) and I really don’t want them to think I’m just here to have sex with. I’m just not ready for that and don’t know if I ever will be. To me, I’m so much more than my sex appeal. So I’m careful about what I wear, I don’t want communicate that I want attention based on sex but that frustrates me too. The clothes I like the best and find most comfortable are more form fitting but if I wear yoga pants that fit my butt well will it be communicating that I want the wrong kind of attention? Or in a leotard are my breasts speaking louder than my mind or my art? I hope not. I want to matter to others for more than just my body. As a dancer, I work with my body a lot and I work hard to make it strong and healthy but not for attention. That work is to help me tell stories, to use my body as an artist and an athlete. Struggling with my body every day is part of my lot as a dancer and I have a love hate relationship with it and I’m ok with that. What I don’t want is to question my natural biology simply because of how others say it should be. Sometimes it feels as though society wants to punish those with female body parts yet tell us we’re equal without having to act like we really are. I don’t get it, I understand that breasts are considered sex things but they don’t seem any more “sexy” than most of the other parts of my body such as my lips, my arms, my shoulders, my legs. Men may find them sexy (is it that way in every culture or just ours?) but they aren’t sexy to me, they feed babies. Looking back to what my childish mind was thinking and comparing it to some people’s opinions about moms openly breastfeeding in public, I wonder if they too see breastfeeding moms as cows? Do breastfeeding mothers need to be fenced and herded together, separate from everyone else? I know there are people that think about moms that way but not everyone does. A lot of my adult friends have different opinions about breastfeeding but they don’t think poorly about my mom and they don’t ask her to cover when she’s feeding my little sister. It doesn’t bother them that part of my mom’s breast is visible. Pictures of beautiful and sexy women show off breasts at least as much as a mom’s breast is seen when she is breastfeeding. In our culture, what is the most sexy part about women’s breasts? The breast that is popping out of a too small shirt or the covered nipple? Why? If it’s the nipple, why is it such a big deal about breastfeeding in public if the baby is hiding the nipple? Maybe it’s understandable because of the messages we get from certain parts of society, they might think it is sexual because a person’s mouth, even if it is a baby is on a woman’s breast but they need to get a grip and review their history lessons. And also learn how breastfeeding works. Why is it ok for men to show off their mammary glands but women can’t? Why aren’t women “allowed” to expose their chest as much as men can? Why is it considered indecent for me to be topless by my neighbor across the street can walk around just in his shorts and nobody has a problem with it? How is that equal? How is that not discrimination? Stop telling me I can be equal to my male counterparts but then tell me I have to hide my body more as if there is something wrong with me. I’m not sure I even want to have babies but if I do I will breastfeed them though I have to admit the idea of breastfeeding in public scares me because I know how people think of breasts, women, and moms. That kind of attention isn’t what I want for myself. I don’t know what I will do though because I know too much about breastfeeding to not breastfeed and I don’t think I’d want to just stay home all the time. How sad is it that anyone would be afraid to feed their baby in public? I’m a little disappointed in myself for feeling this way, I mean, my mom is The Leaky Boob, I feel like she’s the queen of breastfeeding. But that’s where I am right now. Fortunately, I have a long time to figure that out and I know I have a family that will support me along the way. If all this obsession with female breasts didn’t actually happen, what would life be like? If we could change the attitudes against breastfeeding would we actually change attitudes about women? I hope we can learn from our mistakes because I think people are being hurt by the accepted cultural attitudes of social norms. And I’m still young, I have to have hope.
What do you think?
Do you feel attitudes about breastfeeding are related in any way to our attitudes about women in general?
How did you think about breasts, breastfeeding, and your own body when you were a teen?
Completely unrelated to this post, this video shares the author’s story of dance, her dance aspirations, and her current project.