A 14 year old girl’s thoughts on breasts, breastfeeding, sex appeal, and society.

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
Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

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. Urban ballerina 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.

________________________________________

teen ballerina Ophélia Martin-Weber is 15 years old, the eldest of six girls.  Ophélia is in 8th grade, homeschooled, and is passionate about dance.  A few years ago Ophélia wrote for The Leaky Boob, sharing her views as an 11 year old on breastfeeding and Jessica recently shared a proud mama moment about Ophélia.  You can see some of Ophélia’s dancing and hear her share her dance story and dreams in this video.
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Changing for the breast? A 14 year old shares her views on breasts, breastfeeding, sex appeal, and society.

by Ophélia Martin-Weber, see more about Ophélia here and support her efforts.
Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

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. (Though the voting thing is certainly a good thing, let’s not go back to no votes for women!) 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 who loves to dance.

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 of dance 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 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.

The author, Ophélia Martin-Weber

The author, Ophélia Martin-Weber

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?  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.

And 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 and her dance aspirations.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9wzWcV_gSs

________________________________________

IMG_0404 Ophélia Martin-Weber is 14 years old, the eldest of six girls.  Ophélia is in 8th grade, homeschooled, and is   passionate about dance.  A few years ago Ophélia wrote for The Leaky Boob, sharing her views as an 11 year old on breastfeeding and Jessica recently shared a proud mama moment about Ophélia.  You can see some of Ophélia’s dancing and hear her share her dance story and dreams in this video.
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Exploring the “body fluids” debate about breastfeeding in public

As a culture we give so much lip service to breastfeeding being “best,” “natural,” etcetera but the reality is that is still not the cultural norm.  Sure, women are judged for not breastfeeding all the time but our culture isn’t actually supporting breastfeeding beyond using it as fodder for flaming mommy wars.  This reality is never more tangible than when a breastfeeding mother gets asked to move, leave, or otherwise change how she’s breastfeeding her child in a public setting.  When the media takes up the story before you know it further proof that understanding and support of breastfeeding is lacking culturally exhibits itself boldly with comparisons of bodily functions or sex acts done in public to breastfeeding in public.  Their point being that breastfeeding in public is just as unacceptable in our culture (according to that individual anyway) as any of those other acts.

Right, because feeding your baby and pooping/peeing or any sex act are so alike.

While it may seem obvious to most that there isn’t really any social, cultural, or medical similarities between breastfeeding and defecating in public, urinating in public, masturbation or oral sex in public, or even sex in public, some individuals insist on drawing the comparison.  A lot, actually.  Why?  I’m not sure but my best guess is shock value, as though they can prove their argument against breastfeeding in public merely by shocking people into silence.

I conducted a highly unscientific poll as to what people actually thought was more disgusting and shared the results here.  It’s very biased, seeing as the participants polled were all from either The Leaky Boob Facebook page, Jessica The Leaky Boob Facebook page, or my own personal Facebook page.  Still, the results are demonstrated in 2 fun little graphs.

But my site is called “The Leaky Boob,” I’m not exactly the type to be shocked or silenced.  Just ask Facebook.  Recently media attention on a variety of breastfeeding related stories (Target nurse-in, Kasey Kahne, etc.) seemed to have brought a rise of individuals that actually believe this is a valid argument.   I decided I needed to see if they had a point.

I talked with a pediatrician friend of mine and learned that the only special handling instructions they were given about breastmilk when she was doing rotations in the NICU was to ensure the milk was not contaminated before it was fed to the fragile neonates in their care.  It was considered a food and was treated as such, not as waste nor a biohazard.  An RN friend echoed these same experiences.  Hmmmmm, doesn’t sound like they thought of breastmilk as potentially dangerous body fluid or waste that needed to be carefully disposed of for health safety reasons.  Pretty major distinction there.

To help anyone still confused, anyone who may be thinking breastfeeding in public is like defecating in public, urinating in public, masturbation/oral sex in public, or sex in public, I’ve put together a couple of tables to break it down.

Breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding in public is legal and protected in the majority of the world.  In the states there are laws in 45 states that expressly allow women breastfeeding in public or private areas.  Twenty-eight states have specific clauses that exempt breastfeeding mothers from public indecency exposure laws.

Breastfeeding in public does not pose a public health threat.  While breastmilk can carry HIV and hepatitis if the mother is infected, breastfeeding in public does not carry an increased risk of spread of the disease and the CDC even cites that a bottle of infected milk given on accident to the wrong baby is unlikely to lead to transmission of the disease in a healthy infant.

Breastfeeding a human infant is encouraged by recognized health organizations globally.

Breastfeeding in public is based on a mother responding to the need of her child for nourishment or comfort.  A small infant or child’s hunger can not be postponed.

Breastfeeding is not a sex act, it is an act of nourishment and comfort for a child.  A small portion of women may experience some level of sexual arousal by breastfeeding but that is secondary to the primary purpose of meeting her child’s nutritional and comfort needs and women are able to distinguish the difference.

Breastfeeding has been essential to the survival of the species for centuries and today is still the biologically normal way to feed a human infant.  Further, public breastfeeding provides a model for future mother/baby dyads to be familiar with normal means of infant feeding, we learn by seeing.

 

Defecating in public:

In all 1st world countries public defecation is illegal.

Human feces is recognized as a very serious health hazard that can contaminate water and food sources.

With the exception of those with special needs, public elimination of feces is considered deviant.

*Yes- if the individual is unable to control their bowels due to physical or mental disabilities.

*No- if it is from a fully functioning healthy adult.  The need can be postponed until a suitable toilet receptacle can be located.

Public defecation is a public health hazard and threatens the entire species including the young.

 

Urinating in public:

In all 1st world countries public urination without an acceptable receptacle is illegal.

Though sterile and not toxic in a healthy person, urine is known to carry pathogens and possible disease and can contaminate water and food sources as it is a human waste product.

In some cultures it is considered acceptable to urinate in public, while others have find it socially unacceptable.  However, all public health organizations warn of the dangers related to urinating in public.

*Yes- if the individual is unable to control their bladder due to physical or mental disabilities.

* No- if it is from a fully functioning healthy adult.  The need can be postponed until a suitable toilet receptacle can be located.

Public urination without proper sewage disposal is a potential public health hazard and as it is a human waste product threatens the entire species including the young.

 

Public masturbation/oral sex:

In all 1st world countries public masturbation and oral sex is illegal.

Semen and vaginal fluid can carry known pathogens though the spread would likely be contained, casual and unprotected sex is recognized in furthering the spread of disease.

Masturbation and oral sex are not acceptable public acts in most cultures and public display of them is consider sexual deviancy and is punishable by law.

*If it is from a fully functioning healthy adult, the need for sexual gratification can be postponed until a suitably private area is located.

Public masturbation and oral sex do not protect or care for the young of the species.

 

Public sex:

In all 1st world countries public sex is illegal.

Semen and vaginal fluid can carry known pathogens though the spread would likely be contained, casual and unprotected sex is recognized in furthering the spread of disease.

Sex is not considered an acceptable public act in most cultures and public display of sex is consider sexual deviancy and is punishable by law.

The need for sexual gratification can be postponed until a suitably private area is located.

While sex is necessary for the procreation of the species, public sex acts are not essential for caring or protecting the young of the species.

 

Our cultural preferences are often born out of deeply held beliefs whether they be religious, anecdotal, circumstantial, a belief about health and bodies, scientific, and more.  A few examples come to mind: the belief that the world was flat, the story of the woman that cut the ends off the roast simply because her mother always did so it would fit in her pan, and the practice of blood letting to name a few.  As our understanding grows we change our practices.  There was a time when washing hands wasn’t standard practice in health care and today we know that basic hand washing reduces illness and the spread of disease.  Culturally we accept hand washing because science has shown that the practice can save lives.  I can’t help but hope that some day the science behind breastfeeding will open our culture to accepting, even welcoming it in public.  Since there are these comparisons made I decided to look at breastmilk, human urine, human feces, vaginal fluid, and semen from more of a health perspective.  I did as much research as I could before my pregnant pukey self had to stop reading simply to spare my stomach any more churning.  As much as possible I included links where I found information.  I wanted to look at a historical and anthropological perspective as well but you know, I had to draw the line somewhere and get to the other things I have to do.

 

 My conclusion is that these comparisons are little more than culturally accepted beliefs rooted in gross misunderstandings of biology and ignorance of normal, healthy human infant feeding.  That and a desire to control women by telling them what they can and can not do with their bodies and shaming them into believing there is something inappropriate with using their body to feed their child.  These issues have nothing to do with whether or not a woman is covered to breastfeed, a personal choice nobody has the right to insist for another person.  It’s time we as a culture trust women with their bodies and their children and leave our ignorant prejudices out of it.

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