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Gisele, breastfeeding images, and real moms

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Ah, the bru-ha-ha.  A celebrity shared a picture of herself breastfeeding her child.  She’s a hero!  She’s so natural!  She’s supporting women!  She’s a REAL mom!  She’s a show-off!  She’s a bitch!  She’s pampered!  She doesn’t look like us REAL moms!  She makes breastfeeding look unattainable!  She’s making women that don’t breastfeed feel bad!  She’s pressuring women to breastfeed!  She’s a sanctimommy!  BRU.freakingHA.HAAAAAAAAAA.

Everybody has an opinion on it from commenters on Facebook and twitter to talk show hosts and bloggers.  They all must say something about it.  Apparently, me too.

Would this picture have been such a big deal if Gisele was holding a sandwich in one hand and feeding herself claiming multitasking as her team worked on her?  Or if she had an iPad set up and was FaceTiming with her child as a nanny gave them a bottle?  Or if Gisele was spooning baby food into her toddler’s mouth?  I highly doubt it.  Because while the uproar appears to be about a great many things such as whether or not it’s multitasking, or that normal moms don’t have a beauty team, the flashpoint is clearly that breastfeeding is involved.

Oddly enough, the focus has not really been on that she was pictured feeding her 12 month old daughter, the age of her little girl has hardly come up at all.  And the team working on Gisele didn’t seem to notice or care at all.  Maybe we are making progress?

I’m not one to get starstruck nor do I care what celebrities are doing.  It’s not a big deal to me personally the fashion, decorating, or lifestyle choices someone famous makes, I’m going to do what I do because it feels right for me and fits my values and tastes.  Decisions like breastfeeding and how they birth hardly seem like a big deal, they’re humans doing what humans do.  I don’t want to herald every star that puts her baby to her breast to feed them, that just seems a little… extreme.

But I am committed to normalizing breastfeeding so I do see the value in celebrities sharing that they are breastfeeding because I recognize that people look up to them.  Just as stars can normalize a fashion trend, inspire people to get their colon checked, or connect with nonprofit charity work, so can others be inspired to view breastfeeding as normal or at least ok because someone with notoriety has done it.  And who am I to say how someone should be inspired?  They see Kim Kardashian, Gisele Bündchen, Pink, Angelina Jolie, Miranda Kerr or some other celebrity breastfeeding and think “hey, maybe it’s not so bad and I could do that” that’s a good thing so why not?

Just as I understand how a celebrity sharing images of breastfeeding their children or talking about breastfeeding publicly helps normalize it, so do, I believe, the efforts of us incredibly normal, average, non-celebrities.  When we share our pictures and talk about the realities of breastfeeding, we’re helping create a culture that will eventually stop considering it newsworthy when a celebrity does the very normal, average, human behavior of feeding their baby.  A woman using her body as it is biologically intended to feed her baby won’t cause gasps of shock any more, perhaps it will be as normal as the marketing we accept every day that uses the female form to sell stuff.  Eventually, all the trolls and naysayers won’t have any buttons to push on the matter.

Gisele has said some things in the past that have made me cringe and I have a funny feeling she’ll say something cringe worthy again.  But this moment of sharing a picture of herself feeding her baby while she was working isn’t one of them.  The majority of mothers don’t have a team available to them to do their hair, make-up, and nails.  The majority of mothers also don’t have to look impossibly impeccable as part of their career even after flying 15 hours and getting only 3 hours of sleep, they don’t have the pressure of adhering to an artificial standard of beauty for their livelihood.  The majority of us moms are short on sleep and long on too much to do but we all have our own version of what that looks like.  My multitasking doesn’t look exactly like yours and nothing like Ms. Bündchen’s.  My multitasking also doesn’t look like that of a women in extreme poverty in a third world country or a mother struggling to feed her kids in the slums of New York.  Doesn’t make any of it less real.  Dismissing someone’s version because we can’t relate or maybe we’re even jealous or because we judge them isn’t helping anyone.  Such immature responses could actually be damaging.  Declaring “REAL moms…” or “REAL women…” don’t experience life as or look like someone else objectifies that person.

People, particularly women and especially moms need to stop that right now.

What’s “real” has many different expressions.

Gisele breastfeeding with beauty squad

This is a real mom multitasking breastfeeding and work.

This is also a real mom multitasking breastfeeding and work.

This is also a real mom multitasking breastfeeding and work.

This too is a real mom multitasking breastfeeding and work (image from Snugabell).

 

Another real mom multitasking breastfeeding and work.

Another real mom multitasking breastfeeding and work.

These are also real women breastfeeding, not multitasking but still real.

These are also real moms breastfeeding, not multitasking but still real.

Mama and baby with bottle

This is a real mom feeding her baby too. (photo credit: David Castillo Dominici)

Is this the world we want for our children?  A society that trivializes the reality of someone else simply because they can’t relate?  A society that dismisses the good of an act because they are personally offended that it doesn’t look a certain way?  A society that attempts to marginalize someone that can have influence simply because they are jealous?  A society that can only support those whose reality is just like their own?

I hope not.

What all these women need is pretty simple: support.  Even if you’re different than me, even if your reality looks different from mine, even if your choices are ones I can’t understand, even if we can’t relate: I SUPPORT YOU.  Natural birthing or highly medicalized birthing, breastfeeding or formula feeding, safely cosleeping or safely separate sleeping, working outside the home or stay at home parent, no processed foods or all processed foods, and everything in between as long as you’re not intentionally abusing or neglecting your child and have the access you need to make fully informed decisions according to your personal circumstances and available resources: I SUPPORT YOU.  Because anything else only serves to divide, keeps marginalizing women, and drag us all down.

I’m going to go out on a limb and state the obvious here: celebrities are normal, real people.  Normal, real people that can help change things.

Gisele Bündchen has a life I can’t even imagine, bet she can’t imagine mine either.  I multitasked writing this post while cuddling a sick 5yo and breastfeeding an active 19 month old.  In my pajamas.  The same way I answered emails, talked with my site host, interacted on Facebook, texted with my children, and worked.  Sometimes I multitask breastfeeding my toddler while speaking to a couple hundred people about sex.  A typical day for me, normal and real, different from Gisele’s day which for her was no less normal and real.   Though I can’t relate to her life, I appreciate her and all the other women in the world celebrity or not, that are sharing the very real aspect of caring for their children through breastfeeding.  As they continue to do so, maybe when my own daughters are breastfeeding their children, there will be more important and interesting matters discussed by society and the media than how a woman is feeding her baby.

Instagram and the global village of breastfeeding

It is said that it takes a village to bring up a child.  Do you have a village?

Once upon a time community was found while foraging, working, washing, around the well, in the birthing room, through places of worship, then in salons, on front porches, over quilts, around suffrage signs.  Most never moved too far from the place where they were born.  Children grew up aware of the work their parents did, helping at times, involved.  With the exception of Victorian era stodginess, much about the reality of life was shared openly, families just lived and extended family and friends involved.

Today the global village has expanded where we find community.  No longer are the borders of our village confined to our geographical context, we find our place through social media with our past, present, and future, via our interests, concerns, and passions.  We learn about life in our context and far beyond, broadening our perspective and opening our minds to other ways of living.  By sharing the exiting, the mundane, the average, and the significant parts of life, people are finding their village again.  In a time when it is easy to be isolated and alone, the internet is drawing people together.

All this and more is what I love about social media.  I found my village.

#beautifulBfing

On June 8th, as I headed out for a date with my husband, Jeremy Beyond Moi, I quickly checked The Leaky Boob Instagram account but was already logged into my personal account which I checked first.  I noticed a comment on one of my photos asking what happened to The Leaky Boob account on Instagram.  Unsure what she meant a knowing feeling came over me and I entered the login information for the account and received this screen.

TLBigDisabled

Hoping it was a mistake but suspecting it wasn’t I tried again.  Then checked my email and saw no email from Instagram so I tried again.  After 4 tries I gave up.  The account was indeed disabled.  This part of my village was gone.

I’ve checked every few days since.  Gone.

I wasn’t sure I had the energy for this.  It’s not the first time The Leaky Boob has had issues on a social media platform and the fight was starting to feel wearisome.  With our eldest daughter preparing to leave for the summer, 5 other kids at home, and work, I was feeling swamped as it was without this issue.  But this is part of my community and not just mine but thousands of others as well.

We want our village back.

On May 23rd I received a warning from Instagram that The Leaky Boob account had been flagged but with no details as to why.  It was the third warning I received within a week.  All that was included was that I supposedly violated the terms of service, terms that are conveniently vague at best, intentionally nebulous for subjective interpretation at worst.  I emailed requesting they let me know what images I posted violated what terms of service and received no reply.

Instagram warning email

Shortly after this, inspired by Instagram’s own weekend hashtag projects and user Instagram_kids, I started a new hashtag on Instagram, #beautifulbfing to encourage more sharing of breastfeeding photos and informed users.  Posting about it I asked users to use the hashtag and I would select from those images ones to feature, or regram, just as thousands of other users and brands, including Instagram’s own account, do.  With each post, I credited the user that posted it and only used images from the #beautifulbfing hashtag.  The #regram is the only way to share other posts and functions much like the Twitter retweet, the only current option Instagram has to compete.  Every image I shared was of a breastfeeding mother and was within Instagram’s terms of service regarding nudity.  While I had forgotten the terms of service to not post images that weren’t yours, I didn’t feel this was a problem as I had permission to use those photos and had modeled this sharing of these images after Instagram’s own usage.

Instagram weekend hashtag

Instagram Kids

There were no further warnings between the May 23rd email and the account being disabled on June 8th as well as no response to my inquires about the warnings I had received.  I received no warnings after I began sharing the images from the #beautifulbfing hashtag either.  Nothing, just the account disabled.  On June 9th there was another form email that someone had flagged my account and if the terms of service were violated the account could be disabled but no details as to why or how to contact Instagram to dispute.  My account was already gone.

Many don’t understand why images of breastfeeding are shared online, I go into that in my post about my struggle with Facebook over the same issue and you can read that here.  And to go ahead and address the inevitable boorish “peeing and taking a dump are natural but nobody wants to see pictures of that” read this and remember, we’re not talking waste, we’re talking nutrition for a baby, something mothers spend a significant amount of time doing and it’s a part of her life… her life that she shares with her community.  Don’t understand?  Simply put though, moms need to see breastfeeding, it’s important.  Others need to see breastfeeding to put a stop to the dehumanization of women through the over emphasis on the sexual nature of the female body.  Sharing these images is important because we need to culturally encourage moms to breastfeed and go beyond just lip service and accept them fully in society without penalizing them by requiring them to hide feeding their children.  Society needs to walk the talk.  What I said about why share breastfeeding images on Facebook applies to Facebook owned Instagram as well:

Why  share breastfeeding photos on FB?  Some may feel it’s too private to share, I don’t.  In fact, I believe it’s crucial to share breastfeeding photos.  Gone are the days where breastfeeding is seen in the day in and day out living of our lives in a community, replaced instead with virtual communities found on Facebook, forums, and other social media platforms.  Social media and virtual communities need to be as multidimensional as the physical community or we lose ourselves as a society, relating to each other as a slick collection of data without the human and biological component that makes us alive.  We need to see breastfeeding in real life and in the virtual world that many of us relate in as our community.  This photo may seem obscene to some but to others it was inspiring and encouraging, leading some to even learn something about breastfeeding.

Women used to see breastfeeding all around them in their community, it is only fairly recently with the advent of artificial breastmilk substitutes or formula that breastfeeding was considered something to be hidden.  Not sure about that?  Check out the number of historical paintings of religious and nonreligious nature depicting breastfeeding as well as the historical photographs from even the Victorian era that include breastfeeding mothers.  We’ve lost that presence of breastfeeding in our community and today new moms see it in their online village.  Breastfeeding may be natural but it needs to be learned and it’s learned by seeing others feed their baby.

I don’t know exactly why The Leaky Boob IG account was disabled, I have received no response to my inquires from Instagram.  My best guess is that the many breastfeeding images, my own, were flagged by other users.  It is possible that Instagram decided to disable the account because of the #regram sharing, singling out The Leaky Boob to enforce this rule while blatantly ignoring it themselves and with other brands.  I don’t know.  But I do know that Instagram has shut down a resource that connected thousands of women and served as one of the avenues of the global village supporting breastfeeding.  In doing so Instagram has essentially said that breastfeeding women are not welcome and sends a conflicting message that may cause breastfeeding moms to question:

 

…if images of breastfeeding are inappropriate and not fit for her community to see, is it inappropriate for her child to breastfeed?  If she’s struggling and looking for her community for support but these images aren’t permitted, how is she going to work out that there can be a wide variety of normal in breastfeeding baby’s latches or any other variety of breastfeeding related questions?  How is she going to know that she’s not alone with how her little one behaves at the breast?  How else are moms going to get over the emphasis on the sexual nature of female breasts to just feed her baby when her very community shames and harasses her for sharing these images?  The message that is being sent is that you can have community, you can be marketed to within that community, but your personal experience with breastfeeding is shameful and not welcome in the community.  Which ultimately means the breastfeeding mother is not welcome in the community.

 

Maybe you’re uncomfortable seeing images of breastfeeding, that’s ok.  In time, with enough moms openly feeding their babies and sharing the experience with their village, you’ll get more comfortable with it.  For now though, just look away, scroll right past it, and remember that a woman feeding her baby is still a person and her child’s right to eat may just supersede your right to be comfortable.  And the law agrees with that.

Help us bring back The Leaky Boob on Instagram.  Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, has permitted breastfeeding images to be shared according to their terms of service, we need to pressure Instagram to do the same and to stop discriminating against breastfeeding mothers and the feeding children.

Instagram bring back TLB

What can you do?

Join the Facebook page: Instagram, stop discriminating against breastfeeding mothers and babies

Sign this petition.

Tweet and post on Instagram and Facebook using the hashtags #beautifulbfing #bringbackTLB #stopbfingdiscrimination #normalizebreastfeeding and tag @Instagram to let them know.

Share this post with your village.

Sharing breastfeeding images isn’t for everyone, individual comfort level may prohibit you from sharing.  But if you are comfortable sharing your breastfeeding photos, please do and we’d love to see.

Follow jmartinweber on Instagram for more updates on the situation with The Leaky Boob IG account.

______________________________

edited: In less than an hour of publishing this post and in only 20 minutes of sharing it on Facebook, I received the following email:

IG apologizes for mistake

 

While I’m grateful they acted fast to reinstate my account once I took this issue public, I’m not satisfied.  Nobody should be afraid their account will be suspended if they share breastfeeding photos.  Rather, Instagram needs to clearly outline in their terms of service that breastfeeding photos are permitted and have a system in place to be sure images and accounts are viewed after a flagging so as compliant accounts and images are not deleted.  Please continue to speak up for all breastfeeding women and let Instagram know their policy needs to change NOW.