How would you feel if I asked you to cover yourself with a blanket while eating?
Let us have our imagination take the wheel with this for a bit.
Just assume, you’re sitting in a 5-star hotel, with calm music playing and worldly people all around you. But just as your food arrives and you begin to eat, a waiter approaches you and asks you to cover yourself up. How would you react? For a few seconds, you might not even be entirely aware of what exactly it is that he wants in the first place, right? Then why do we expect breastfeeding mothers to cover themselves up while feeding their babies?
All of us have seen the Victoria's Secret models going down the ramp with their breasts partly exposed, and no one says much. From bras to burgers, breasts apparently have the power to sell anything and everything, with billboards displaying them almost everywhere. Then why does a problem arise when a woman sitting in a public place is breastfeeding her child, and is led to hesitance because people around her won’t stop ogling. The capitalist fashion industry has not left a single stone unturned in sexualising breasts, and if this wasn’t enough, women showing their nipples isn’t much “appreciated” on our “beloved” social media. (Hello Instagram!!)
Glancing over the initial purpose of breasts, these are life-giving parts of our body, but rising above all the biological notions, we have ended up with sexual connotations. Just because they CAN be sexual organs does not mean they SHOULD be sexualised in every aspect. The proscribed behaviours we have developed towards women breastfeeding in public have made us look down upon the original objective. Breasts are meant to nurture babies; the skin to skin contact between a baby and the mother, as a result of breastfeeding, is a close bond to cherish and it puts down the building block of something beautiful. After undermining all the benefits of breastfeeding, we become successful in leaving breasts as only playthings on a pedestal.
Until 2018, many of the 50 states of the United States prohibited breastfeeding in public, the last ones to pass this bill being Idaho and Utah. However, in India, no law ever existed prohibiting this act (and we say western societies are progressive?). Even though the government never denied the right to breastfeed in public, they never took any steps to promote it either. It might come as a surprise to many of us, but rural and backward regions in India are more welcoming to this idea than urban society, where it’s frowned upon and considered “uncultured” - which makes me question whether I’m living in an advantageous society at all.
On a separate note, it’s not of concern if women choose to breastfeed in public or in private, if they snap hundreds of selfies of their breasts and post them on social media (to support the ‘Free The Nipple’ movement) or not. It doesn't matter if they choose not to breastfeed and support bottle feeding. What matters is that they should have a pool of options to make a CHOICE from. A choice that won't let people judge them, but instead, accept what they want to do as mothers, because as we all know, being a mother isn’t an easy job at all.