Mahaliyah Grace, left, baby Immorah, center, and Cindy, right, pose for NOH8's equality and fairness photo campaign in San Francisco, CA.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1,500,000 babies die from a lack of breast milk each year. That's one-and-a-half million. To make matters more dangerous, babies who aren't breastfed are fifty percent more likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), than those who are.
With numbers like these, is anyone else bewildered at societies continued lack of acceptance towards women who breastfeed publicly, or media images showing a woman breastfeeding their child?
Here in the United States and abroad, women continue to be discriminated against for breastfeeding in public spaces. In August of 2014, a woman feeding her child was escorted to the bathroom of Anthropolgie, a clothing store in Beverly Hills, CA. You may also remember supermodel Gisele Bundchen being condemned for posting a photo breastfeeding her one-year-old daughter on her Instagram, but rarely, if ever, do women receive the same condemnation for exposing the same body parts in a sexualized ad campaign. The hysteria alone, whether directed at a woman shopping, or towards the highest paid supermodel, begs a very important question: why are we so uncomfortable with the idea of a mother using her breasts for their biological purpose, yet we sexualize breasts in media and advertisements every day?
"Breasts are a scandal because they shatter the border between motherhood and sexuality."
There are numerous arguments hypothesizing the origin and reproduction of such societal discomfort, the most prominent being the often confusing sexualization of women's breasts. Many simply don't know how to respond to a woman's breast in a non-sexual way, and like most things this can be credited to good ol' patriarchy, but we won't go there—not today, at least.
We will, however, highlight a woman's decision to pose for pro-LGBTQ equality photo campaign, NOH8, co-founded by fashion photographer Adam Bouska, with her 18-month-old daughter feeding from her left breast, and a female companion on her arm: the first photo of its kind in over 45,000 shots.
Mahaliyah Grace, 31, of Phoenix, and Cindy Manit, also 31, of San Francisco, posed for Bouska and Parshley's famed NOH8 photo campaign in San Francisco in November 2014, and a magical photo came from the collaboration. While there have been numerous photographs of queer mothers and fathers posing with their children in the popular photo campaign, this is the very first one of a mother breastfeeding!
I reached out to Bouska for his thoughts about the photo, and he responded quite poignantly that, "NOH8 is about putting a face to those that have been discriminated against or made to feel lesser - a feeling many mothers who have breast-fed in public are all too familiar with. I'm proud to have had the opportunity to help Mahaliyah and Cindy celebrate the beauty of motherhood."
Grace agreed that this was an opportunity not to be missed saying, "once we saw the image, we realized how powerful it was".
The power in this image will largely be quantified by the response it receives, however. There is no doubt that many will appreciate this image as a "stand for justice" as described by Grace, both a justice for mothers who are discriminated against for a natural act, but also for the concept of queer parenting which mainstream media is just beginning to greet with acceptance. But most importantly, it may challenge those who find it disturbing and uncomfortable. It may challenge the idea that breastfeeding should be done privately, while simultaneously interrogating where these ideas and beliefs originated, and why they are held onto with such judgment.
While sucked into my latest Netflix addiction, Scandal, I became fixated on a scene where two adult characters began to kiss each other in front of a group of presumably first-graders. I was able to see the parallels between the giddy children, and the hyper-modest adults who find breastfeeding publicly indecent. As children we are taught, or rather we presume, that affection is gross or funny, yet as we mature we begin to understand and embrace human affection. However, as we see mother's breastfeeding their children, nourishing them in the healthiest way possible, ridicule persists, and it appears many adults are the ones that need reprogramming.
I have little doubt that public images of women breastfeeding can and will help this process of reprogramming, beginning with conversations about perceptions and what is considered decent. This article is just one.
"Images are extremely powerful. When we see things in physical form: a multi-racial relationship, someone whose gender presentation is abstract, a woman breastfeeding--something shifts. We are confronted with their humanness," said Manit.
"I want my daughter to grow up knowing she can be whatever she feels inside. I want her to feel safe and confident in expressing who she is. This is my way of supporting that," said Grace.
Cheers to these women for taking a stand for motherhood, and to that beautiful baby girl, too. May she continue to be nurtured into a strong woman who embraces her womanhood, a courageous women just like her mother.
To participate in a NOH8 photo project near you, visit their official website.
Or check-out their FaceBook page for up-to-the-minute progress on LGBTQ equality and justice.
Mahaliyah, Cindy and Immorah pictured with NOH8 co-founder, Adam Bouska.
Just one more picture of baby Immorah. Because let's face it, she's adorable.
That face. Come on.