Why is a magazine from Kerala making heads turn with it’s latest edition? The answer lies on the cover page – a bare-breasted woman feeding a baby with the lines “don’t ogle at us, we want to breastfeed” across it.
The March issue of the fortnightly Malayalam magazine “Grihalakshmi” features two women breastfeeding infants as part of its campaign “Mara illaathe mulayootaam”, literally translated to “breastfeed without a veil”. It raises the pertinent issue of freedom to breastfeed in public as a part of International Women’s Day.
The campaign was inspired by a Facebook photo of a young mother named Amritha, feeding her 9-day-old baby. The photo was a part of a post on some important tips while breastfeeding which was posted by her husband in January. It undoubtedly sparked public interest and the campaign was launched immediately after it.
While Amritha is featured inside the magazine, the face of the magazine is young Dubai-based Malayali model named Gilu Joseph. As is to be expected, the photo is spreading like wildfire and has already brought about many controversial reactions on social media platforms.
Controversies Against The Cover Photo
Some were disturbed by the fact that the infant suckling on the model Gilu Joseph’s breast was not her own. Others complained that the use of a model instead of a mother in a more realistic setting posed a disappointing emphasis on aesthetic appeal.
The magazine explained that it was not easy to find breastfeeding mothers who would be willing to pose for the photo shoot, though many support what the movement stands for.
The sindoor on her forehead and the thali around her neck have also raised allegations that, though the campaign is revolutionary, it refuses to let go of the traditional Indian ideology of married mothers. Some even accuse the magazine of using this cover photo as a cheap trick to promote sales.
Even though the sindoor and thali are not incidental additions and the magazine may have an ulterior motive to boost sales through this controversial photograph, it doesn’t make the issue raised by it any less important.
How It’s Breaking Ancient Breastfeeding Stereotypes
Most movies and commercialized content portray weaning women as doting mothers who don’t take their eyes off the babe at their breast throughout the feeding session. This romanticized depiction of breastfeeding is far from the reality.
A weaning mother has to find time to feed her baby during her busy day. This may be right before she’s off to work, right after she’s finished her chores or even while she’s forwarding a motion in the parliament (kudos to Australian Senator Larissa Waters). Adoringly gazing at your child every time s/he feeds (around 8-12 times in the first month) is just a thing from the movies.
Some have thus appreciated how the model in the magazine’s cover gazes straight at the camera, which is a fresh and more realistic depiction. Her bare breast also goes against centuries of women being told to cover up.
We Need To Stop Sexualising Breastfeeding
Breast milk is a magical formula that changes its composition as the child grows to meet its evolving nutritional needs. Moreover, it comes stored in the most portable package a mother could wish for – if only she wasn’t shamed for it.
Why should we feel squeamish when a mother breastfeeds her child while feeding with a bottle does not produce the same effect? Just because breastfeeding involves the female sexual organs, the act itself should not be sexualized.
When a nursing mother is unable to feed her child, it is not just the infant who suffers. Irregularity in breastfeeding can cause milk to store up in the mother’s breasts and cause painful chest heaviness.
If you are one among those who support breastfeeding in public but wonder if it’s really that hard to cover up while doing it, here’s some news. Apparently, sometimes it is.
Babies get irritable when they’re hungry. Trying to calm down a cranky baby with a towel over its head, especially when it’s hot, just worsens the situation. More importantly, covering up implies that there is something inappropriate about feeding a baby. There isn’t. She’s just feeding her child. That’s all.
If it’s the exposed sexual organ that bothers you, why is it considered to be quite normal for a man to expose his genitalia and relieve himself in public (even though it is unhygienic and a public nuisance), while the perfectly harmless act of feeding your child remains a taboo?
The campaign hopes to inspire and empower weaning mothers and to bring about a positive difference in the mentality of the society. Like any great change, the impact may be slow, but let’s hope this has marked a new beginning.
Image Credits: Google Images