Sunday, February 05, 2012

In which I am a bad lactivist

"That's so beautiful."

May I say how much that phrase grates me? When I've gotten remarks on photos or blog posts about nursing, there have been a few, "Breastfeeding is so beautiful" remarks.

And I know people are trying to be supportive, but it makes me really self-conscious. Because it sounds like, "They way you transfer milk into your child is really attractive." There's this unsaid idea that if I was breastfeeding in some other way (on my head? sitting in mud? if I was 100 pounds heavier?) it wouldn't be "beautiful."

It just really irks me. And creeps me out a little. Because even when I'm just trying to sit down, take a breather, and be a mom, someone has to comment on my appearance. Because as women, we don't get enough of that, you know.

Can I have 2 seconds when my appearance isn't being critiqued or commented on?

I also get the same heebie jeebies when someone goes on and on about how "natural" nursing is. "Breastfeeding pictures are beautiful because breastfeeding is so natural." That logic just doesn't work for me. Lots of things are natural and not beautiful and for some women, breastfeeding is hard hard hard unnatural work with lots of unnatural hoops to jump through, so yeah. Stop it with the "natural" business. You're creeping me out.

I just want breastfeeding to be breastfeeding. I want to be considered a person who breastfeeds, not a picture of a woman being "motherly" and therefore "beautiful." Stop making judgments on my appearance. Or my baby's appearance. Or my breasts. Or whatever you think is "beautiful" and "natural."

I'm on this earth to kick some ass, not to be pretty for you. Thank you. (I need this in a T-shirt).

And now, to get ready for the nurse-in tomorrow. Because my breastfeeding pictures speak 1000 words: sometimes "beautiful" but always "freaking awesome."

ETA: McKay said this post was a little weird and a little confusing. And I know that. I really don't know how to explain my feelings about this at all. I guess you could say that some pictures are National Geographic material and some are bottom-of-the-drawer-will-get-into-the-photo-album-someday material. And you share both with your friends, and it's weird when someone uses the same adjective for the bottom-of-the-drawer picture and the National Geographic picture. Or something like that.


  1. *Laughs* I totally get what you mean. I suspect they find the act of nourishment beautiful but you're damn right that if you were 100lbs heavier you'd probably get less compliments in that vein which meeeeaaaannnns physical attractiveness IS coming into the equation somehow. Which is weird. And squicky. People are weird even when they're trying to be supportive. I suspect being lost in our twisted society doesn't help. Carry on kickin ass ;)

  2. I think part of it is that we use the word beautiful for a variety of uses. Yeah, if I thought someone was labeling me attractive for breastfeeding or whatever else, that'd weird me out too, unless it was my husband. That being said, I wouldn't be that weirded out by someone saying that it's beautiful because I'd assume that they meant something more along the lines of inspiring. A word I use to describe my husband, since I think the word handsome is weird, and I don't mean his hotness or anything like that when I say it is happymaking. There are some things that just make you happy to see, and those are happymaking. Since not many people use that word, I'd just assume that it is something like that when they say it's beautiful.

    As for being natural, it is plain natural. You can't get around that fact. Natural can be hard, and natural can be challenging. Reproduction itself is supremely natural, but it doesn't always go according to plan, and it can have a variety of challenges, but it is how our species has always been perpetuated, and breastfeeding is how our children have been given life. It -is- natural.

    It's funny, though, that those things would bug you, because people noticing and seeing that is the kind of thing that changes people's minds about breastfeeding. You're kicking just as much ass then as you are whenever you are participating in a nurse-in.

  3. Susan5:53 AM

    For that matter, it's kind of misleading that we use the word "beautiful" to describe personal physical human appearance-related beauty and cosmic emotional sunsets/symphonies/news stories about puppies crossing the country to find their owners beauty. Were I to use the word "beautiful" to describe a picture of a nursing mother, the second kind of beauty is what I would mean--beauty of meaning and connection rather than beauty of aesthetics. But, to tell you the truth, I haven't considered the way that word's other connotations might make it an objectifying choice and I'll be more careful with my language in future.

  4. I don't know. I find others' breastfeeding pictures to be beautiful. First, because they include kids and kids are beautiful. And second, because there is little so beautiful/awe-inspiring/fabulous as seeing a baby being nourished by its mother's body. I just can't help gushing a little when I see a really lovely breastfeeding picture. It's not about the mother's body. It's about the beautiful thing she's doing. I guess I'm using "beautiful" more to talk about the emotions inspired than the actual appearance.

    Since I'm not currently breastfeeding anyone (though I will be again soon!) these pictures are extra-special to me. They remind me of breastfeeding my first child and how beautiful and special that was. And that's why my mother and mother-in-law say my breastfeeding pictures are "beautiful," I'm sure. They remember nursing their own kids, and the sight of me doing it too just makes them sigh happy sighs. I'm glad to make them happy.

  5. Katelyn8:28 AM

    From my perspective a "beautiful" comment regarding breastfeeding or a breastfeeding picture doesn't necessarily refer to physical appearance (i.e. my hair or clothing or my breasts or what my child looks like.) I see it used as a description of the relationship successful breastfeeding often fosters between a mother and her child - the connectedness and the selflessness. A mother literally gives of herself to her child when breastfeeding. Many find that a beautiful thing regardless of the mother's current appearance.
    This isn't to say that the same kind of connected, selfless relationship isn't or can't be created while bottle feeding. It can. I know breastfeeding doesn't work well for some mothers and babies. To me selflessness is the definition a good mother (whatever her feeding choices.)
    I think too that most people have a natural affection for little babies, especially women - biological factor at work. In this country most breastfeeding children are still infants and small enough for the "beauty" and "wonder" of new life to shine through. I know I personally would much rather observe a mother nurturing her child (feeding, cuddling, laughing, playing) and would be inclined to see that as "beautiful" as opposed to ignoring a child (screaming children in restaurants) or dealing with a child in a detached or rough manner.

  6. I really hate the word natural in regards to breastfeeding as well, especially when women use it in online arguments in support of public breastfeeding, because as an argument, it doesn't work. Pooping is natural and so is sex, but we don't do those in public and this is what the enemy (can I use that term?) always brings up. Breastfeeding is FEEDING and that's what should be highlighted anytime someone gets their panties in a bunch someone doing it in broad daylight.

    I also think that the word natural has gotten a connotation that makes it somehow superior and that bothers me.

  7. I believe using beautiful as an adjective for breastfeeding may apply to the concept, not your appearance. And of course natural and beautiful are not synonymous. Some people are rather limited in their vocabulary and tend to use trite statements due to limited knowledge, not to denigrate. Maybe not all comments about "beautiful breastfeeding" deserve harsh judgment calls.

  8. I'm not quite sure how I feel about this. Personally, I'd never feel comfortable walking up to a women breastfeeding (if I knew her or not) and comment on its beauty, as I'd just feel awkward; I totally get what you mean re: your 'transferring milk into child' comment. I'd only be likely to comment if I had a genuine question about breastfeeding, or needed advice. That said, I don't think that all pictures, sculptures, and other ways women are depicted breastfeeding are void from beauty, as I find art to be beautiful and there are many cases of women breastfeeding that I'd consider "art." For me at least, it has nothing to do with gender or physical appearance.

    I get where you're coming from in that certain people may comment on appearance as a matter of sexualizing women (and even breastfeeding), or judging one based on appearance, but that's not necessarily the case for everyone. I'd say that it's inappropriate to say something like that to someone for that very reason (as you can't always be sure of a stranger's intentions). However, I do think that there are some pictures of women breastfeeding that are obviously more out of necessity, but then there are some wonderfully done photos that depict every bit of joy and closeness that a mother and child can feel whilst breastfeeding that are beautiful - because life is beautiful.

  9. I get what you are trying to say. People mean it as a compliment, but sometimes we just don't need a compliment when we are feeding out babies. Breastfeeding is just part of life, like when I eat or read or shout at bad drivers. It needs no commentary.

  10. When I think of breastfeeding as "beautiful" I'm not thinking of it in terms of the prettiness of the mother or baby or that milk being transferred between people looks sexy.... In this case to me, "beautiful" means more like "amazing," "awesome," or even "divine." I know it bothers you when people think that breastfeeding has to be this amazing bonding thing every single time you do it. But regardless of where your mind is at any given time when you are breastfeeding, breastfeeding is still an amazing thing, whether you're present to that at the moment or not. I think that when I'm no longer lactating, I will look on or think on breastfeeding mothers and think of the beauty of it (in terms of awesomeness). I think some people that say that to you are just taking the moment to reflect on the coolness of what you're doing, even if in the moment it just seems normal to you because you do it many times every day.

  11. I don't understand why you assume they are referring to your appearance? If I said a breastfeeding picture was beautiful, I would not be referring to appearance. Maybe that's just me though. I wonder if you have some emotional blocks about appearance, so you perceive that people are commenting on your appearance more?


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