Saturday, December 28, 2013

TIME Magazine Repost

(originally posted on May 17, 2012)

Since everyone else is talking about it, I might as well join in the fray.  I seem to be at the edges of organic, hippie, breastfeeding community, so what the hell!  Please note that this is simply a visual analysis of the TIME Magazine cover.  I have not read the article itself, nor do I intend to.

So, first and foremost, breastfeeding is about:  food, nutrition, health, and a loving bond between mother and child.  There is nothing loving or remotely food-related about this picture: 

Let's discuss why, shall we? 
  • The cover's stark white background leaves the impression of something clinical, or -- at best -- a vacuum devoid of any feelings, especially those of love, care, and nutrition. 
  • No one breastfeeds standing up. In addition to nutrition/eating, breastfeeding is often very soothing for children; they end up falling asleep. Therefore, mothers and children are often sitting, cradling, rocking, or even lying down when breastfeeding. I doubt this child is even "eating" during this picture. The fact that the entire thing, then, must be staged adds to the alien, uncomfortable feeling the viewer gets because he's literally hanging out with his mom's boob in his mouth for no particular reason. Boobs in mouths for recreational purposes is something adults do, not children. 
  • Speaking of children, the cover states that this boy is three years old. Uhh, what? He looks like a first-grader. My Unit's nephew is nearly three, and he's a BIG boy (nearly twelve pounds at birth!), and he is neither this tall, nor is his face as mature looking as this boy's. You can be damn sure that the photographer or editor picked the oldest-looking child from the bunch for this picture to reinforce the discomfort and awkwardness of this image. Take, for instance what he's wearing:
    • He's not dressed like a toddler. At the risk of sounding like a 1920s mother, he's wearing long pants! And said long pants are camouflage, which then makes us think of the military. The military brings up connotations of rigidity, masculinity, and aggression, not to mention adults. Again, nothing loving or nutrition-related there. 
    • His grey, long-sleeved shirt matches the grey undertones in his camouflage pants, giving the overall impression of a tiny soldier, or -- worse yet -- a miniature adult. Toddlers' clothes tend to be brightly colored and/or patterned, with whimsical trucks or monkeys or frogs or what have you. There is no whimsy here. 
  • He is a "he." It's not a mother and daughter; it's a mother and a son dressed like a miniature adult. Or, in other words, a woman and a "man," once again leading us to sexual connotations (can you say "Oedipus complex"?), rather than familial, maternal ones. 
  • He's standing on a wooden chair. In addition to the above comment ("no one breastfeeds standing up"), the allusion to milking a cow (during which one traditionally sits on a wooden stool) cannot be ignored. 
  • Let's look at the mother. I know lots of mothers of children under the age of ten, many of whom breastfeed, and none of them look like that. You can be damn sure that TIME's photographer or editor picked the sleekest, fittest, trimmest, "hottest" looking mom from the bunch for the cover. 
  • She's Caucasian and blonde.  I don't even need to break that one down for you. 
  • In addition to faux-breastfeeding her son, they have dressed her to show as much skin as possible. There are lots of tops and tanks out there made for breastfeeding or items that can be worn easily whilst breastfeeding, but they still put her in a tiny tank top with skinny straps to reveal as much skin as possible while still making her look "casually dressed." 
  • Two words: skinny jeans. See above re: slimmest, fittest mom possible. 
The effect, of course, of all of these things working together is to present an alien, "unnatural" picture of what is, in reality, a very natural practice (that is, breastfeeding). When looking at the picture, we are experiencing what Freud calls "the uncanny." The uncanny (briefly, simply) is "an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange or uncomfortably familiar" (Wikipedia Contributors). We recognize mother and child, but with the added layer of "adult-ness," the lack of a recognizably maternal setting, and the hints of sexuality creeping around the edges, we decide the overall image is foreign. We then reject it, are repulsed by it; something about it "does not compute" in our heads.

And here's the kicker: now that TIME has done everything within its power to stage this photo to make the audience feel as uncomfortable (or uncanny) as possible, both "models" are looking directly at the camera, thereby looking "at" us. So not only do we feel uncomfortable with the images presented, we now feel guilty about feeling uncomfortable because they can "see" us looking at them. It's a kind of reversed voyeurism, chock-full of judgment and criticism from the mother and son watching us watching them.

The last thing I'll address it the much-discussed headline: "Are you MOM enough?" While I think that so-called "attachment parenting" is a crock of shit, this headline makes parenting into a competition. Rather, it reinforces the idea that parenting or mothering is a competition of some sort. Unfortunately, there are many women out there who already view their maternal duties -- consciously or un- -- as a kind of competition. Parenting is not about how hard you can make it on yourself. If you choose to do things the most difficult way possible by growing all of your own food, literally wearing your babies/toddlers/children on you 24/7, and going without showering or bathing so that you can spend your days making your own homemade granola/yogurt/detergent/bread/sausages/toothpaste/ketchup/mayonnaise/pesto/wine, kudos to you! But no one is going to hand you an award and think, "Wow, she must be a great mom because she's so stressed out all the time." 
Well, I certainly won't.

There can be a happy medium -- or several happy mediums -- in parenting, and those ways are different for every parent, every child, every family. Things like "attachment parenting" and "elimination communication" strike me as neither happy nor medium. But it's not a competition, people. Shame on you, TIME Magazine, for contributing to the pressure that mothering is something to compete at, something to "win."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Chronicle of Chronic Things Chronologically

I never thought it would happen, but I guess I'm one of those people who suffers from chronic pain.  I don't have fibromyalgia or M-S, but I swear each day something hurts, often multiple somethings.  Whether it's my back because our mattress is older than I am or sinus pressure because of a change in weather, my "normal" is somewhere on the pain scale.

Last night, certain pain was so bad I took a painkiller (hydrocodone).  I don't take them often, and I only take them at home because they're the equivalent of smoking about three joints for me.  I sometimes slur my speech, and I most certainly cannot operate heavy machinery as the label warns.  I'm not all that convinced that it really takes the pain away; it just makes me not care that I'm in pain.

Then, around 3 a.m., both Doogie and I had to pee.  I got up to let him out, and it was amazing.  Nothing hurt.  I stood up and felt nothing.  Not my head, not my back, not my knee (which I dislocated before Thanksgiving),  not my other knee (which has been picking up the slack), not my uterus (which has issues), not my ovaries (which have even more issues and are very angry about them).  It was incredible!

The next morning, when I remembered what had happened, I thought, "Is this how normal people feel?"  It wasn't until the complete absence of pain that I realized how much pain I'm in on a regular basis.  And that kind of sucks.

There's not really a point to this post.  It is kind of depressing, so here is a gratuitous picture of a kitten serenading you:
Photo by Benjamin Torode

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Dolphins, Manatees, and Frogs -- Oh My!

When planning our trip to Key West, my Unit and I decided that we should rent mopeds to tool around the city.  Key West itself is only seven square miles, so many people use a variety of bikes and things to get around.  Given my love of motorcycles (but inability to drive them), I thought mopeds would be pretty damn awesome.

We asked our delightful front desk attendant where to rent bikes, where to find the cool places to eat, and where Hemingway's House was, and she gave us the 4-1-1.  Seriously, she was very helpful and even gave us some coupons for some places.

The first day, though, we walked.  We walked to Duval Street, which was already crowded and blaring music at 11 a.m.  We walked around the block to get the lay of the land.  We walked to the wharf to see what there was to see.  We started to walk back to own hotel that evening, glancing at some of the famous houses and B&B's (including places I had wanted to stay, like the Artist House, but it was already booked up).  During our sight-seeing, right after sunset, I realized something was itchy and sharp on my foot.  We stopped in doorway, and I inspected my foot.

Somehow, my pinkie toe was digging into the toe right next to it; so much so, that the pinkie toenail had cut open the neighboring toe.  What the hell?  I was not wearing my usual high heels, just sandals.  Okay, sandals with like a 1/2" platform.

After I took off my sandal and the Key West night air hit my piggies, I realized that more things hurt.  Where the thong of my sandal fit into between my big toe and the rest were giant blisters.  On both feet.  Putting the shoes back on again was like pouring grain alcohol over my feet and then lighting them on fire.  I begged my Unit to even call a taxi cab (it didn't even have to be a pink one), but she pointed out we were only a few more blocks from "home."

As soon as we reached the hotel, we made a mutual decision:  tomorrow we ride!

But then the discussion came of mopeds or bicycles.  The pros and cons are as follows:
  • Pro:  mopeds are infinitely cooler
  • Con:  mopeds are loud
  • Pro:  bicycles make it easier to communicate with each other while riding
  • Pro:  bicycles are cheaper to rent
  • Pro:  mopeds are faster
  • Con:  faster speeds means more likelihood of one of us (read:  "me") hurting ourselves
After much debate, we decided to rent bicycles.  My Unit pointed out that we could rent them for a day and always change to mopeds later if we wanted.  We were going to be in Key West for seven days; we had plenty of time.

Oh, bike-riding!

I was very, very nervous.  I had not ridden a bike (that wasn't stationary) in about two decades.  We immediately came up with a disaster plan:  should one of us fall off, fall down, fall behind, hit something, be hit by something, we were to yell loudly "DOO-DOO DOWN!"

It is legal in Key West to ride your bike on the sidewalk, except on Duval Street (as it's simply too busy); when riding in the streets, one must follow the regular rules of traffic.  We stuck to the sidewalks for that first half hour, with my Unit in the lead.  To watch us was probably like a comedy of errors.

I couldn't seem to steer my bike; I whipped the handle bars back and forth, correcting and overcorrecting.  I swerved and squealed and tried to avoid telephone posts, fences, overgrowth from yards, and, of course, pedestrians.

My Unit took us down lesser-known paths (fewer pedestrians), past a graveyard (not exactly inspiring), and finally down to Key West's (and the United States') Southernmost Point (which isn't even the southernmost point, but let's not split hairs).  After Southernmost Point we found ourselves in a quiet, tree-lined street with wide roads.  We actually started heading back north, putting me in the lead.  My Unit was finally able to see my ride a bike.

First, amid the laughter, she had to take a picture so there was photographic evidence that I was both outside AND on a bike:
Also keep in mind that I have excellent posture.  Okay, maybe not "excellent," but certainly better than average (thanks, Mom!).  So, when riding a bike, I don't hunch over the handlebars.  I sit up straight like a lady should -- shoulders back, tits out.  For some reason, this made my Unit declare that I look like Kermit the Frog when I ride a bike.  You decide:


We rode and rode and rode.  We hit the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor as we did not want to hit the beach covered in Spring Breakers.  It wasn't what either of us expected.  My Unit, for one, thought the waves would have been bigger.  I thought the size was fine, but she's also been to the beaches on Hawaii, and I haven't.  I thought, frankly, it'd be warmer.  You'll notice in the bike picture I'm wearing jeans.  It didn't get above 76 degrees for the entire week we were there.  Very unseasonably cool weather.  I don't get out of jeans or pants until it's at least 80 or 85.  A couple of mornings our redheaded front desk girl was wearing a turtleneck under her uniform shirt.  70-some degrees is cold to the islanders!
So we didn't swim in the ocean, but we did snap another picture to prove that I was actually outside.

 We also stopped for lunch at a restaurant off one of the docks.  I wish I could remember the name so I could tell you not to go there.  Neither the food nor the service was very good.  Thankfully, I was really only interested in one thing:
My Unit's tattoos make an appearance in every one of these pictures.

We stopped at another dock later on during the day.  Here's something I've learned working with animals:  any time there's a group of people crowded around, something interesting is happening.  Lo and behold, there was a small crowd gathered near the edge of the dock.  Naturally, I elbowed my way into their midst so I could see what was happening.

The sea cow!
It was a manatee!  This fisherman was hosing him down.  Here are more not-very-good pictures, all taken with my phone (as my Unit cried, "Don't drop it into the ocean!!")

You can see his wee flippers in this one.
Just to the left of all this was a lone pelican, posing but being completely upstaged by the manatee.  I felt bad for him, so I took his picture, too.
"I'm watching YOU, Mr. Manatee.  Just you wait."
At this point my Unit dragged me away so "other people can see," and so I wouldn't drop my phone into the water.  And then we headed home.  I was getting tired and cranky.  Then I realized we had been biking for over four hours!  That's a big deal for someone who leads a mostly sedentary life.  It was naptime.

But the manatee-sighting had inspired our next big ticket item:  a dolphin tour.  Coming up next:  dolphins swimming, dolphins having sex, and gratuitous food pictures!