As you may already know, a total internet shit storm has erupted today over the cover of the latest issue of Time Magazine. Is this because people think it’s inappropriate to breastfeed an older child, or because they get uncomfortable whenever a breast’s sexual and biological purposes are in danger of being conflated?
As I’ve previously explored, it’s hard to de-couple a bare breast from its sexual connotations. And as the level of intolerance towards breastfeeding in public would attest, it’s even hard for many people to do so when that breast is actively engaged in a biological function that has nothing to do with sexytimes. (Besides being the indirect result of them.) This happens to moms who try to breastfeed in the most discreet way possible, so as you can imagine, it happened times a million with this magazine cover. As Shawna Cohen at our sister site Mommyish points out, the mom in the photo looks like she could be a model. Beyond that, she’s styled and posed in an arguably sexy way. Take the kid away, and you’d have an image that might be at home in a men’s magazine.
People (but men especially) don’t generally like to think about the fact that they once put their mouths on their mom’s boobs, maybe because it would ruin that particular act as a component of foreplay with appropriate sexual partners. Nobody wants to think about their parents during sex! Conversely, nobody wants to think about performing what they now consider a sex act on their parents. We want our breastfeeding days as far in the past as possible, and I’d venture to guess most of us are glad we were weaned before our long-term memories kicked in. The idea of a child who looks old enough to walk, eat solid foods, and ask in whole sentences for his mom’s teat unnerves us, because it makes us wonder how we’d feel if we harbored such memories.
I’m not saying I’m not creeped out for some of the aforementioned reasons, but are these reasons a valid basis for judgment? Like it or not, the boobs we so greedily ogle evolved primarily for the purpose of feeding our offspring, and while we might find it unnerving to watch a three-year-old suckle his mom’s breast, I’m pretty sure it’s not sexual for the child. Having zero experience with child-rearing myself, I don’t think I can comment on the validity of “attachment parenting” as a practice, but before we rush to voice our displeasure with this photo, we need to ask ourselves: do our feelings of disgust stem from the fact that she is doing something wrong, or our own sexual neuroses surrounding boobs? I would argue that it’s the latter. Or, as The Atlantic‘s Jen Doll put it:
…The breast is one of the few entities with this dual role. You know, besides the body parts involved in sex itself and from which, sometimes, 9 months later, babies emerge. Or, for that matter, the sexualized pregnant woman. These things creep us out because we don’t like “sex” and “motherhood” coming from the same place. And, yet, the grand forever irony is that they can’t be separated.