Sunday, January 30, 2011

Is your dinner obscene?

Imagine that you'd like to have a special evening with your spouse. You decide to make a gourmet dinner, served on your finest china. You eat by candlelight, hold hands across the table, gaze lovingly into each other's eyes and profess your undying love for each other. It's a pretty intimate meal, isn't it?

Now imagine you are seated at a table in a public restaurant. Is there something about this meal you are enjoying that is suddenly obscene because you are no longer in the privacy of your own home? Would people expect you to eat under a blanket, or take your meal to the bathroom? Do they glare at you because they think what you are doing is disgusting? Or does nobody bat an eyelash?

This is my current profile picture on facebook. It is my younger son, Tyler, nursing in downtown Seattle, just a couple blocks away from the Pike Place Public Market. Unless you are very familiar with what breastfeeding looks like, or are looking very closely, it's difficult to discern what exactly is happening here as I'm doing it very discreetly. I recently had an acquaintance tell me I shouldn't post pictures (referring in particular to this one) of my son nursing on facebook because "it's private." When I hear people say that, my first thought is, yes, sometimes nursing can be a private, intimate, bonding experience. For the most part, however, it's really just a mother feeding her baby. It's just another meal, part of the daily routine. Just as most of my meals are nothing particular special, breastfeeding is the normal, biological way for babies to eat. If I posted a picture of my son taking a bottle, would anybody tell me that I shouldn't post it? Would anybody tell me that it is an intimate experience, not to be seen by the public? I can't imagine they would.

It seems the real problem people have with nursing in public (and yes, this includes posting a picture on a social networking website) is the body part involved. Breasts are so sexualized in our culture that people have begun to forget their primary purpose, which is feeding, nourishing, growing, and comforting our babies. When a breast is seen as primarily sexual, it is hard for people to reconcile seeing a baby sucking on such a body part. People become so offended by this that they take it upon themselves to tell mothers to cover themselves, to feed their babies in the bathroom, and report nursing pictures on facebook as being "obscene." The following picture is of my older son, Ryan, having a snack at a wedding reception when he was 16 months old. It's one of my favorite pictures, and it was deleted by facebook staff from one of my private albums.

Yes, you can see my breast, but there's nothing sexual about it. There is nothing obscene about breastfeeding. It doesn't need to be hidden. It's not shameful. It's not inappropriate or indecent. It's normal, natural, and if anything, it NEEDS to be seen in order to become less taboo. Taboo! Isn't it unfortunate that the word has anything at all to with an act that the survival of our species has literally depended on for thousands of years? Not even sex seems to be taboo anymore. It's everywhere. But breastfeeding? Keep it behind closed doors. Nobody wants to watch your baby eat.


  1. Karyn I love you and your voice on this subject! I read that whole thing between you and that person and I still do not understand his view! To many people think nothing of the boobs that are flashed on tv all the time but a child eating in the most natural, healthy way we can't have that! Thank you for speaking up on this issue!

  2. You're far more subtle than me. But if I was honest, I'd have to admit that I'm not subtle expressly to annoy people.

  3. This is an excellent post, Karyn.

    Why is it OK to show animals nursing on facebook?

  4. Great post, and beautiful pictures!

  5. I wish I had more nursing photos but no one ever takes any of me. *pouts* Very well put Karyn!

  6. Isn't it a bit hypocritical to paint sex in the media negatively and expect a positive public response to partial public nudity? I have no problems with breastfeeding in public but I can think of a lot of reasonable objections to the practice and your article did little to convince me otherwise.