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The Sexy Woman Versus The Breastfeeding Mother: A Case Study of Facebook Memes

We’ve all seen those memes that show a breastfeeding mother next to a scantily clad celebrity asking a question such as, “Which one do you think was asked to cover up?” It always seemed like a simple question to me, pointing out the glaring hypocrisy that is life as a woman.

But I’ve come to see that the point as I intended it does not often get communicated clearly. And so I have decided to make it personal. By removing other women from the images and examples and speaking purely from my point of view I hope that I can be clearer.

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breatfeeder, sexy versus breastfeeding.

The photo on the left was taken of me a couple of years before I had my first child. I was deeply in touch with the sexual me, to say the least. I worked hard to be sexually attractive. I got a lot of attention, and I liked it. (It’s not a high fashion gown or my sexiest lingerie, I am not a celebrity on the red carpet or a Victoria’s Secret model, but it will do to make my point.) The photo on the right was taken a few months ago after the birth of my second son. My relationship with my body has changed drastically. I don’t get the same attention I used to, I don’t try very hard to look “attractive” (whatever that means to me).

The me on the left often got a ton of positive feedback from my environment. The me on the right does too, but she is also confronted with direct and indirect messages that breastfeeding is inappropriate or offensive; that being a mother is less valuable than being sexually attractive; that my body shouldn’t be used that way. Both of these photos depict a side of me that is valuable and beautiful. But the photo on the left represents my value as seen by the majority of mainstream society. The photo on the right, even though it’s natural and all that, isn’t valued as much from a greater societal point of view.

When these memes are created the point is to show the hypocrisy of society; how the “sexual” (as defined by the looker) side of a person is highly valued while the mothering side is not. But somewhere along the way the point was lost. Many people took this to mean that the sexual side of a woman was being put down; that it was being put in a negative light. I completely disagree with this. I love that me on the left. She is hot! I want her to come back! I fully plan on finding a place for her in my new life as the me on the right. And that’s just it, we as women are ALL of these things ALL of the time. We are deeply complicated and multi-layered. There is no part of us that is more or less valuable than the other. We are not a collection of parts, we are whole.

I would never want the me on the left to feel shame. I felt proud and confident. I deliberately left half of my clothes at home that day. I intended to look just as I look there. I did prescribe to a culturally accepted and valued form of beauty and I am fine with that. Beauty ideals are culturally bound. I am not a slut, I am not responsible for people’s reactions to me, I am free to express myself however I choose.

I want the same freedom for the me on the right. I want the mothering me to be just as accepted and celebrated. I want to feel confident and proud when I breastfeed my child. It’s very empowering! And feeling sexually attractive is also just as empowering. This does not make breastfeeding sexual or inappropriate.

The sexy photos and women in them endure slut-shaming comments and the mothering photos endure comments about covering up and how no one wants to see that. Then there are other comments that I shouldn’t shame a sexy woman just to stick up for a mothering woman. All of this to highlight how confused we are in this debate; how deeply this question of value runs within each of us.

The reality is that both sides of a woman are equally valuable and our debating and insulting and personalizing are all examples of how we have internalized the message from society that our bodies do not belong to us.

When I have created these memes my intention in showing a sexy celebrity has been to illustrate that this is the ideal woman, the one that we feel we should strive to be, the beauty queen, the one who is highly valued and accepted. The understanding that this woman is being put down is your personal interpretation and yours to own and explore.

It is interesting to me that we can identify that society values sexual women over mothers, but when we speak of sexual women (or the sexual side of each of us) we assume we are putting them down. I do not condone the over-sexualizing of women or sex as a way to control women, but I do not feel that we need to desexualize ourselves in order to gain value for mothering in mainstream society. I do not think we need to assume that sexuality is a dirty thing. Sex is not dirty or shameful.

I believe that the over-sexualizing of women acts as a way for us to be controlled. Society can fuck off. We need to be better at loving all aspects of ourselves so that we can love all aspects of others being confident, proud and empowered by every dimension of our beings.

The more I write the more I have to say. I will stop here for now. Let me know what you think. Your comments are always a beautiful inspiration for me!

Abby Theuring, MSW

Comments

  1. “Society can f*** off.” This. Yes!

  2. Discuss it along with your therapist and other professional beforehand.

  3. Luca'sMomma says:

    I love everything you write . I have an 11 month old baby, i had him when I was 28 and I was so lost when it came to Nip. When at a restaurant I would cover up and almost feel like I was doing something wrong, or like someone would come over and ask for me to leave. I would even ask my husband if he thought it was okay to nip ( Or I would stay inside our stuffy car and feed) Until God lead me to your fb page. As soon as I read a couple of your articles I understood that I had NOTHING to be ashamed of. NOTHING to hide.Why? Because I wasnt doing ANYTHING wrong. I was nursing my child. I was feeding my hungry new born. I did receive a glare from a lady one time (mind you I live in Mexico, and people are more old school here) and all I did was smile back and said ” I didn’t think that starving him was a good option” she smiled back and nodded.
    I am sadden that people take offense to such a natural thing, and don’t even blink when they see a half naked woman on a billboard. But then again, I’m not starving my child just so they won’t flinch or feel uncomfortable… Its not about them, or even me. Its about my son.
    Thank you, Abby. For giving me strength, teaching me and guiding me. You’ve done more for me than you’ll ever know.
    Elizabeth.

  4. I agree! I posted an opinion like this on a person’s picture, there’s some normalize breastfeeding pics going around on fb right now. A person questioned why people are sharing these pics and that we should cover up, etc. My response was that in normalizing nip it would become nothing to bat an eye at. We all see teeny bikinis on the beach, exposing potentially more and no one says a thing. .. it shouldn’t be a big deal for anyone. We are used to seeing that, as well as women dressed the way you were on the left. Who cares? 🙂 live and let live.

  5. I love this!!! I also fully intend to incorporate my old sexy self again. I’m so grateful to hear someone say that part of us is valuable, too. I’m still getting comfortable with my current use for my breasts and the current state of my body, but the old me is still in there, too. It is definitely a trick to reconcile the two.

  6. I love this. The picture on the left looks fresh faced and full of confidence. The picture on the right looks so calm, powerful, and at peace with her beautiful baby. I just love it. Granted, I am writing this at 2:30am as I breastfeed my 4 month old daughter. I think there should be room in society for the appreciation of women in all her beautiful life stages. It warms my heart to see mamas breastfeeding in public and I hope that by continuing to do so myself, I am helping to normalize it so that one day if my daughter becomes a mother herself, there is no longer a social stigma to public breastfeeding.

  7. Agree, agree and agree.

  8. Suzanne Walling says:

    So very though provoking! I just love both of the photos. It made me think of our disposable society. Young pre-motherhood women are used to sell everything and our society puts the young hot chick out there as the be all and end all of femininity. I love that the sexual side of women is what ends up causing us to become the nurturer. I agree, both have value.

  9. Thank you so much for writing this. Just – thank you 🙂
    x x

  10. Jean M. Cooper says:

    I couldn’t have said it any better. I feel so proud of what I have accomplished so far. My baby girl is 3 and a half months and we are a team. I find breastfeeding to be so beautiful. I don’t hold back when I need to breastfeed my baby in public but, it does hurt me inside when I see people walking by or staring like if my baby and I were some type of “alien”. I refuse to cover up because I have tried it ones before and I could tell my baby girl did not like it. I refuse to make her unformfortable at the expense of other people’s view. I long for the day when we (breastfeeding mothers) can be free and don’t have to worry or have to put up with ALL the ignorant things people migh say or comments someone may throw at you. Loved this post! 🙂

  11. Thank you! Plus it would be super easy to breastfeed in the outfit on the left 😉

  12. The part of this meme that I find so funny is that the picture on the left is what is applied to get to the picture on the right. It’s cyclical! And it’s a wonderful cycle 🙂 I love the sexy me but I love the momma me as well, but nothing says I won’t be the sexy me again…which will hopefully lead to another momma me incident again 😉

  13. I made a meme of types, its totally dorky but along these lines.
    http://mileageofameanmama.blogspot.com/2012/03/boobs.html

  14. Paige Snyder says:

    I think you look beautiful in both. However I think you look much more so in the nursing photo. As a young, single mom of two, I always felt ashamed. Six years after my youngest, I had an amazing Husband and we had a miracle baby. I’d never felt so beautiful in my whole life!!!

  15. Sarah Pedro says:

    I also love everything you write. Sometimes I feel pretty lonely being so millitant about my feelings regarding these same subjects and it is heartwarming to see another woman who is as strident and intelligent and well spoken as I am. I get so frustrated about the way this whole world devalues and abuses women. Not only is it cruel and uneccesary but it is also pointless and counterproductive to the continuance of humanity and peace on our planet. I will breastfeed wherever the sam hell i bloody feel like it, and luckily Im big and scary looking so I personally dont get harassed much to begin with, but I also protect and support any other women I may happen across breastfeeding in public. Women need to support each other. This post was very moving for me,your reflection on yourself is spot on and you are clearly very keen and sharp witted. I think u looka ton betterwith a little flesh on u and holding a baby. Hollah

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