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."

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