The models of Victoria’s Secret expose more décolletage than your average breastfeeding mom—along with a lot of pelvic bone and a few other things. And yet, despite the presence of TV ads that air during shows where children are watching and large window displays that are located in Times Square and the malls of middle America alike, I can’t recall the last time I heard cries for these slim sex kittens to be presented with more “modesty.” Yet, a whole lot of people felt the need to pull out that antiquated word when the image of Karlesha Thurman nursing at her college graduation went viral.
While I was initially tickled by the faux outrage (I mean, really, what America do you people live in that the sight of a breast is a shocking one?) and then angered (because ultimately, it has a lot to do with the fact that Black mothers are always unequivocally wrong, no matter what we do) I quickly realized that a whole lot of people were speaking out of class. Men, women who aren’t mothers and moms who have disturbing anti-breastfeeding attitudes were piling on the 25-year-old. For those who are unfamiliar with how the whole ‘a human being requires on a liquid from my body for survival’ works, here’s a little context.
On a sunny June day last year, I took my-then 4-month-old daughter, Naima Freedom out for a walk in her stroller, graciously allowing my Bedford Stuyvesant community the opportunity to gaze upon the face of the most gorgeous infant in the land. Right at the point where we got to the other side of the neighborhood, she launched into The Hunger Cry.
The Hunger Cry, for the uninitiated, is different from The Wet Diaper Cry, The Soiled Diaper Cry, The “My Teeth Are Growing!” Cry, The “I’m Tired” Cry, The “I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHY I AM CRYING” Cry. And active parents of newborns learn the difference rather quickly.
I made a point to feed her before we left the house, and I’d even brought a bottle of pumped milk, which she’d already drank.
It’s one of the warmest days in recent weeks. Everyone is out. There are creepy men everywhere (spoiler alert for future moms: street harassment doesn’t end when you’re walking with a child, it just becomes more despicable). At the time, my daughter didn’t drink formula at all, nor could she eat baby food. Even in a cab, it would have taken 20-plus minutes to get home.
Now, I’m presenting this scenario to you in this way only to help you understand what nursing moms are dealing with at the point that they decide to punish the puritan public by exposing them to a flash of boob that they can easily look away from. Don’t think for a moment that I agonized over what to do. Baby hungry? Feed baby. Easy peasy.
This was something I repeated many times in many public spaces over the course of the nine months that I nursed (I wanted to do an entire year, but struggled to find time to pump enough at work). Naima ate in restaurants, on buses, planes and trains; in taxis, parks and stores (the rocking chair display in Target was a blessing). She ate in my office, she ate in other people’s offices. When I really had some skills, she ate as I walked down the street. While I never posed for a picture of while nursing, I wish that I had. Because I'll never get to see this particular child of mine and I in that moment again.
The only place I wouldn’t feed her? A public restroom. That’s just disgusting. Would you eat in a place where folks go to…you know? Didn’t think so. And even though I always used a nursing apron or blanket, once my daughter got a little older, she started tossing and kicking the fabric off of her. So, yeah, there was breast on display. Did I like that? No. But anyone who saw more than just a peek had made a deliberate choice to stare at us. Whose fault is that?
While Rihanna’s nipple-baring, La Bakér-inspired gown set a lot of tongues to wagging last week, it certainly wasn’t the first time we’d seen a woman’s entire breast on display. The sight of breasts should be shocking to no one at this point. But regardless of your personal taste in cleavage fashions, it’s irresponsible to think of breasts as fashion accessories or sex toys and not acknowledge their most significant purpose: feeding children. And while Rih can easily decide that Tuesday is a “t*tty out like what, I don’t give a____” and then decide to go for a turtleneck on Wednesday, nursing moms are not making style choices or giving peep shows; they are attending to the hungriest, most impatient and important people in the world. And the last thing they should have to worry about is the comfort of someone else.
Every mom has the right to decide whether or not she’ll nurse (and for as great as it is for your little one, it simply doesn’t work for all families), but those of us who are not feeding children from our bodies shouldn’t have the right to determine the appropriate time and place to do so. While a blanket or nursing apron may seem like an acceptable compromise between parties, how about we simply keep our eyes on our own paper when someone is feeding their baby? Karlesha Thurman couldn’t have been such a distraction to people who were focused on the graduation ceremony, so if anyone was challenging the ‘sanctity’ of the ceremony…it was those who chose to watch her nurse instead.
Breasts are magical. They shape shift (another spoiler: literally) from sartorial to sensual to life-sustaining and back again and all of the above. Instead of shaming someone for taking full-advantage of their glory, worry about something that actually hurts people—or just learn to keep your eyes to yourself.
Jamilah Lemieux is EBONY.com's Senior Editor.