America Shows Its Weird Relationship With Boobs By “Ew”-ing Time Breastfeeding Cover

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.

(Via Mommyish)

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    • Nancy

      The only thing that weirds me out about breastfeeding so late is the thought that one day that kid might remember sucking his mother’s breast. If I remembered that, I’d get the heebie jeebies.

    • Fabel

      I think the general feeling of discomfort stems from the fact that the kid looks almost old enough to be enjoying it? I mean, you mention he’s three, so probably not– but the fact that these are models, not actual mother & son, & they set it up so he’s standing on a chair (giving the illusion, at first glance, that he’s even older) makes it kind of squirmy.

      • Jeannette

        @Fabel They are mother and son. The caption at the bottom of the cover gives her name and states that this is her 3 year old son.

        I don’t know how to feel about it. On one hand, I think it wonderful that she is able to do what she feels is right for her child with out giving in to criticism. On the other hand, I agree with Nancy. “If I remembered that, I’d get the heebie jeebies.”

      • Fabel

        Ah, didn’t see that! That’s marginally better than making two models pose in this position.

    • Adriana

      Honestly, my concern is that this poor kid is going to be mortified when he’s old enough to realize Time slapped a picture of him attached to his mom’s boob on their cover and let it loose on the entire country. And adolescence is tough enough without something like this for bullies to use against you.

    • Alexis H

      I don’t think the pose is the problem. The reason I don’t like it is the age of the child (who is definitely not 3, he looks to be about 6).

      I’m sorry for my long-winded comment, but I have a lot of thoughts on this because I’m a mom. I breastfed until my son was 1 and then he naturally lost interest because he was excited about eating solid food with the teeth that kept showing up his mouth. He is a year and a half now and only wants to feed himself. Even if it were possible for me to restart lactation, I couldn’t breastfeed him now if I wanted to. He would reject it and reach for my fork because he’s trying to learn how to imitate the way grow ups eat (which is what he’s biologically supposed to do).

      Of course breastfeeding is natural and of course it’s a fantastic thing to do for your child if you are able, but the point is to provide your child with nutrition while they’re too young to do it for themselves. There is no purpose to breastfeeding an older child after they can independently feed themself.

      Would you continue to let your child wear diapers when they’re in kindergarten because potty training didn’t feel right? Would you continue to bathe your teenage son? No, you do what’s right for your child at the stage they’re in and then congratulate yourself when they outgrow your assistance because it means they’re growing up into the healthy, self-sufficient adult you hope they’ll become.

      • Alexis H

        I retract my comment about the kid looking to be 6 years old since the caption states that he really is 3 (That’s a big 3-year old!), but the fact remains that this child is old enough to pick up food and put it in his own mouth. He is probably pretty savvy with a fork and spoon. There is no need for this.

    • Lana

      The World Health Organization recommends that mothers breastfeed their children until they are at least two years old and beyond if possible. Many mothers who want to breastfeed can’t and many who do end up having to wean their children early. We should be congratulating her on being able to breast feed for as long as she has.

    • Anna

      My only thought was ouch because of the teeth. I have heard breastfeeding moms talk of a startled child accidentally biting and I can’t imagine the pain if there was a mouth of complete of teeth.

    • Riefer

      The reason I think it’s unnatural is that there’s no way that our ancestors would have breastfed for so long. Mainly because the next kid would have come along already, and the first one would have been weaned to make way for the second. Also because women had a lot of other work to do (gathering food, making clothes and blankets, and making other implements like bowls, baskets, etc). It just wouldn’t have happened. And it’s unnecessary, since the kid can obviously feed himself at this point.