Someone recently reminded me of a post on here and my views from a couple years back, about why I didn’t celebrate the attention Beyonce received for nursing in public. I didn’t agree, like many others did, that it would really get Black people anywhere — as far as getting more Black women to breastfeed and allowing us to move towards a place where breastfeeding is expressed as a real critical and integral part of culture, rather than a continuance of being bedazzled by the glitz and glamour that celebrity life portrays. I feel this way anytime someone mentions how awesome it is to see ‘so and so’ famous person get ‘caught’ nursing in public. I had a conversation with someone the other day and we somehow got on this topic and began to discuss the greater complications — the ones that don’t really make it to the forefront during these times when someone talks about celebrity breastfeeding. During our conversation, the woman I was talking to told me that she subscribes to a popular breastfeeding support group via social media and the moderator posted a picture of a very famous celebrity (I don’t remember which one), who was breastfeeding in public. She said at first she was really excited to see it and thought how awesome it was, but then more and more she started to question it — why is it that we see a portrayal of only certain people when it comes to nursing in public and promoting it — anywhere?
I’ve heard folks encouraging breastfeeding among ‘everyday’ people, comparing a certain ‘everyday’ person’s ability to do it to a celebrity’s. I’ve even seen someone say that if a certain celebrity can do it, then they can, too. This is something I’ve never understood. As if a celebrity must worry about returning to their job at McDonald’s one week after they’ve given birth, making five bucks and hour. Or take three busses to get to said job, or have to pick up an additional shift to try and keep the lights from being turned off, or argue with their partner over 50 dollars for diapers and food or have to deal with a mental illness and can’t/won’t/don’t get traditional or professional help. I know this is not always the case but what I’m trying to point out is that there are vast differences and making comparisons such as these are totally asinine and will only pathologize one of them — can we guess which one? I still stand on those views about Beyonce, btw. I don’t really get the fascination with celebrities, but I know that there are many people who have different views and many advocates who are very supportive of them when they discuss their support of nursing, and even defense of this.
I remember when I was younger — around my teenage years in the 90s — seeing certain talk shows that always criticized modeling agencies and magazines and such for constantly portraying this ideal image of what women are supposed to look like and all of the problems that leads to. These days we call that ‘normative’. I believe all of those celebrity pictures of nursing mothers that I’ve seen are only reinscriptions of that idea. And when I hear people talk about how great it is to see these I just can’t agree. It’s as if someone has to live up to a certain criteria to be celebrated as someone who supports nursing. And in Hollywood, we know how this makes major complications on a global scale.
To begin with, the criteria for even being in this role in order to participate means that you have to fit a certain mold, and that means that first and foremost you must be WHITE. And if you are not white, then you must be as closely reflective of this race, as possible — do whatever you have to do to get there — get a weave, bleach your skin, a nose job. Black women, burqa-wearing Brown muslims, Indigenous house cleaning-looking ladies need not apply. Oh, and God forbid you have an accent — unless it’s from one of those from European countries or somewhere else that have been deemed ‘sexy’ like where Nicole Kidman is from — or the woman from Titanic. But that’s where the line is drawn. No slanted-eye, Japanese thick ones — like someone who sounds like they are ‘fresh off the boat’. Also, you must be thin. Nothing over a size zero. And a size zero woman with long hair that flows in the breeze, which excludes a lot of folks — especially Black women who are increasingly natural. So nappy-headed Black chicks with curves, just won’t do. I also think maintaining the image of the cisgendered and heterosexual representation is a must. But in the exceptionally rare case that a dyke is highlighted, then she would need to be in a butch-femme relationship — no exceptions. Like Ellen Degenenerous and her wife, because everybody knows that butch-butch is the ‘new’ down low. Women also must have perfect breasts. And not those stretched-out, gravity visited, 40-year-old woman boobs who have suckled more than exactly one half of a child. Anything less than a perfectly round pair of silicone-mimicing set of full ‘B’s, in an $800 dollar nursing bra, will not be tolerated. And you can’t have a single stretchmark — anywhere — especially not on those boobs. This is even though the pictures that are taken where these women are supposedly ‘nursing’ — you can’t really even see anything anyway. I think the no stretchmark rule also applies to women’s stomachs. Not even after carrying a baby (ideally) to term for nine to 10 months and have their bellies stretched to the size of the family’s watermelon from last weekend’s barbecue, before pushing said watermelon out of one’s vagina — and then discussing the need to ‘fix’ your vagina — regardless if we never see that, either — with surgery, jewels, etc — because the illusion of perfection must be preserved. So no one ever looks tired, or without make up and their clothing — everything must be on point. Something ceeute. Because we just can’t fathom seeing a poor, non-glamorous, non-white, visually impaired, overweight, too short, or even a too tall bodied woman who’s had a less than perfect day sit back and try and pop a tit in her baby’s mouth. That’s just creepy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad when women, regardless of who they are, breastfeed on-demand, whenever and wherever. But in these instances this is part of what I mean when I share my thoughts on the problems of only being concerned with getting a breast inside of a baby’s mouth. Folks believe that celebrity representation will help ‘normalize’ breastfeeding and get more women to participate, insisting that they can be good ‘role models’. But a role model for what? Exploitation? The white power structure? The glorification of white women, white bodies and the (illusion of the) ideal white mother? The gross amount of global injustice, underscored by these types of representations, with racism, class division, patriarchy, that supports this dynamic that is absolutely the framework surrounding breastfeeding inequity? Folks gets so enthralled about it when they see a star participating in this way. I can’t speak for everyone except for myself, but I think after removing the layers and looking a bit more critically it is clear that there is a very large price to pay with this type of representation — it has very large-scale ramifications. These all continue to repeat itself because it remains hidden right before our eyes. And to me, that’s noting to be excited about.