Response to Time Magazine’s Cover

This portion of the series does not address my personal response to attachment parenting, and does not represent my complete views on extended breastfeeding. Please stay tuned for future posts on these topics.

Welcome to Part 1 of my series on Time Magazine’s cover story on Attachment Parenting. Today, I will write my own personal response specifically to the cover of the magazine. I know I posted the picture in my last post, but let’s post it again here so we’re all on the same page.

Let’s start with the positive, then move on to the negative. Lastly, I’ll address some common reactions.

What’s Good About It?

One thing that could be considered good about this photo is that puts both extended breastfeeding and public nursing into mainstream media. I am all for normalizing both of these (so long as they are done appropriately and respectfully to those around you). Our culture as a whole is very unfamiliar with the idea of nursing longer than 12-18 months or so- and many United States residents are uncomfortable with actually seeing a woman nurse her baby- so this photograph could be a way to help some people make the mental transition to the idea that this is a normal occurrence in many places all over the world.

What’s Bad About It?

The Picture is Misleading.

The very nature of this photo- the pose of the mom, the boy standing on the chair, the facial expressions- all of it has sparked heated controversy among formula feeding moms and breastfeeding advocates alike. Why? Many say this pose isn’t really what regular breastfeeding is like- “extended” or not! On a chair? Hands on hips? No, this pose doesn’t display the typical nurturing, snuggling, intimate feel of breastfeeding that we are used to.

In fact, the photographer who did the shoot said in a report, “When you think of breast-feeding, you think of mothers holding their children, which was impossible with some of these older kids,” Schoeller says. “I liked the idea of having the kids standing up to underline the point that this was an uncommon situation.” However, the fact is that older kids can still be snuggled  by their mamas, nursing toddlers are less uncommon than one might think, and not all “extended nursers” are doing it provocatively on the front cover of a magazine.

I think this cover photo will probably turn many people off to extended nursing, rather displaying it as a normal part of life for many women all over the world. I believe the shocking nature of the cover will tend to mask any useful information on the subject. I liked some of the other photos from the cover shoot better because they weren’t as sensational, but none were nearly as natural as seeing a woman doing it on her own turf.

The Title is Offensive.

“Are you mom enough?” screams out at us from the front cover. Ouch. Especially around Mother’s Day. Double Ouch. To me, this is ridiculous. Most attachment parents that I know aren’t going around strutting their stuff, looking down on other moms for weaning at 9 months instead of 2 years. (And if they are, it’s an attitude problem- not a parenting style problem.) This title isn’t a billboard for attachment parenting and it’s not reflective of the attitude of many women who practice it- but it certainly attracts attention from many readers. This, I suppose, must have been the intended reaction. Selling is key, and unfortunately, stirring up controversy and misrepresentations is one way to make this happen. (Gag.)

The Caption Raises Misconceptions.

“Why attachment parenting drives some mothers to extremes- and how Dr. Bill Sears became their guru.”

This seems to suggest that the practices of attachment parenting are extreme- nursing beyond the “normal” 12 months, wearing your baby most of the day, and sleeping with your baby- when in fact, many of these practices are very common around the world. A friend of mine from Uganda asked me once, “Why do you put the babies in their crib here? In Africa, we sleep with them!” Look at pictures of women all over the world, and many of them are working while carrying their babies in slings or wraps on their back- in fact, one of my husband’s employers, who was from South Africa, mentioned this very thing to me once while I was wearing my son. A woman in Australia commented once, “[Here] we have much higher rates of breastfeeding & now I completely know why. If I am out to lunch & my child wants to be fed I feed him!! I DON’T COVER UP I DON’T GO TO ANOTHER ROOM OR WORSE THE TOILET, no I feed my child where I am because he is hungry & because he has every right to be fed straight away.” One conservative Christian man I knew from Portugal didn’t have a second thought about seeing a nursing mother. When I was in Austria, I think I recall a toddler running up to his mother for a drink at a public square. The examples go on and on…

I’m not saying that mothers have to employ these parenting practices by any means, or that they are superior to others. I simply want to convey the point that they are not extreme, and that the U.S. is probably in the minority in their employment of the practices Dr. Bill Sears suggests.

Secondly, I don’t like that Time poses Sears as a “guru” for “extreme” mothers. While I’m not out to defend the now-infamous doctor, I will say that Sears never claims that you have to employ every single attachment practice at all times. In fact, Sears said in his response to Time Magazine’s article, “Attachment parenting is not an all-or-nothing, extreme, or indulgent style of parenting.  I advise moms and dads that the seven Baby B’s (birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bedding close to baby, belief in baby’s cries, beware of baby trainers, and balance) are starter tools (remember, tools not rules) to help parents and infants get to know each other better.  And families can modify these tools to fit their individual family situation.” I can see how some women might take these tools a little too far, but I don’t think that Sears’ intention was to drive anyone over the edge. More on this to come in my personal response to attachment parenting.

Common Reactions

“It’s Porn” or “That’s Gross.”

Uhhh, no. Actually, it’s a breastfeeding mother. It’s definitely not porn, nor is it “disgusting.” This is a picture of a normal way to feed and comfort your child. Provocative? Sure, I could see that- but only really because of the pose they assumed. But honestly, the cover only turned my head because I was surprised to see something like that in such a major publication. Other than that, the scene of a mother nursing her child seems totally normal to me.

One probable reason for this viewpoint is the over-sexualization of the breast in our culture, as one fun-poking post addressed (Warning: the picture for this one may be more shocking than Time Magazine’s photo). We’ve lost the ability to see it as a nurturing part of our body, and many people are left awkward at the sight of a breastfeeding mother. I see this as an unfortunate predicament, and one that I struggle with frequently- how do I normalize public breastfeeding without causing offense by making onlookers uncomfortable? (I know this very topic is  debated- but that’s another post entirely…)

Stork Stories drew a striking contrast between risque photos (that most of us don’t take a second glance at) and public breastfeeding that offends many. Enjoy Birth defended the position that breasts are not for entertainment purposes alone. My point is not to try to convince all of you to start publicly breastfeeding, but rather to show that our culture accepts MANY sexual images as normal but has a difficult time accepting breastfeeding. This, to me, is backwards, and is a real cause for some of the unease many readers are finding in Time Magazine’s cover photo.

The Mother Should Have Protected Her Son

I can agree with this point of view, but I think this is also because of the oversexualiztion of the  breast in our culture. Regardless though, whether or not this should be the case, the fact of the matter is that it is the state of our culture. This is the reason that I don’t personally force public nursing- because I know it’s naive to think that no one will be looking at my son and me in a wrong, perverted way. Likewise, even though people shouldn’t look at this mother and her son in that way, there may be some who do. It hurts me deeply that this is the case, and yet, the truth of it restrains me from fully supporting the photo on the front of Time, well-intentioned as it may have been. It’s that catch-22 again- I want to work towards changing the culture to be more accepting of public nursing, and yet I don’t know how to do that without working through these serious obstacles. Arrg! Again, that’s another whole post…

It’s Great! More Power to Her!

I can understand this reaction too, and I am glad that this mother has kept nursing her son happily so long. I take absolutely no personal offense at the photo, but the misconceptions that have risen over the cover are disconcerting. This is not the model’s fault so much as Time Magazine’s for painting both extended and public nursing in such a controversial light.

As much as I would love to be overjoyed at the sight of public nursing going on in mainstream media, the reasons I have listed throughout this entire post keep me from being able to truly support Time’s new cover. I think I would support a cover photo of public nursing if it was more respectful, more “real life,” and perhaps a bit more subtle, because it would probably cause less offense, less uproar, and more transfer of helpful breastfeeding information. (But that probably wouldn’t sell as much, right?)

What are your thoughts on Time Magazine’s new cover? I love hearing differing viewpoints and lively (though kind) discussion. Ready, set, go!

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10 responses to this post.

  1. […] « Happy Mother’s Day! Response to Time Magazine’s Cover […]

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  2. Posted by thepurposefulwife on May 15, 2012 at 8:13 am

    Unfortunately, I think that her tight clothes, posture, and even facial expression contribute to giving the photo a sensuous feel. This is a pity. Thank you for sharing the other pictures from the shoot, I actually liked the second one of the cover mom and her son better! It seemed more appropriate and natural. As always, I appreciate your balanced and thoughtful approach to the matter at hand! 🙂

    Reply

    • Right- I really think the photo gave the wrong message. Dr. Sears said that the photo was not what either he or the mom would have chosen for the cover- but then part of me has to question why she would even agree to pose that way if they really didn’t agree with the message it conveyed. It’s too bad it came out this way.

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      • In fact, I think my favorite of the alternate cover photos was the one of the mother with the four children around her with the two and a half year old nursing. I thought that one was the most tasteful.

  3. Posted by thepurposefulwife on May 15, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    I agree! It was the most tasteful. You could hardly tell she was nursing!

    Reply

    • Even though nursing moms don’t phase me at all, I think that it would be a kinder introduction to the rest of the non-nursing or anti-public nursing world to show that yes, it can be done discreetly and not be a bother to anyone. Sigh. Ah well.

      Reply

  4. Posted by Sara on May 16, 2012 at 2:45 am

    It’s a shame really. I can’t count the amount of ignorant and close minded comments I’ve heard from people I know who’ve seen this. Or even read the article. It just somehow painted a weird bias against anything written about positive aspects of extended breastfeeding. Very disappointing.

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  5. […] Resources « Response to Time Magazine’s Cover […]

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  6. Great response to the article! I totally agree with your point of view. It’s provocative on purpose to sell magazines and is not at all an accurate reflection of breastfeeding and attachment parenting. No one breastfeeds that way.

    Reply

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