Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Big E

My boobs embarrass me.
Okay, not all the time.  Actually, not even most of the time.  Want to crack a joke about them?  Go right ahead! It won't phase me, at least not for long.
However, ask me to talk to someone about making pumping arrangements and my ears turn bright red, my pupils dilate, and my heart starts to pound.  It is my equivalent of standing in front of an audience in my underwear.  You say its a man?  I might faint right now.
I've come to the conclusion it is the fact that I am bringing my breasts to the attention of someone in authority.  As soon as I open my mouth I feel as though they become the elephant in the room (or perhaps "the big E in the room" is a better euphemism...).  It should be like a conversation about taking a break for an insulin shot, but its not because my breasts are sexual.  At least that's what society says.

In grade school it was emphasized that we girls must keep the 4 B's (boobs, back, belly, butt) covered at all times lest an adolescent boy become faint from cerebral hypoperfusion.  We were taught all about menstrual cycles, male anatomy, female anatomy, ejaculation, ovulation, where babies come from, and where to get a prescription for birth control without our parents knowing (believe it), but no one talked about our breasts.  It was touched on a little in  the obligatory "lets pretend this sack of potatoes is your baby" exercise in prophylactic contraception, but the overarching message was that our breasts are sexual.  They are to be used in the art of seduction and as sexual playthings.  That's it.

Its not like I grew up in a house where this was the only message too -- my mom breastfed all of us and formula never entered the equation of child-rearing for me.  However its amazing how deep of an impact it can have when society, pop culture, etc. are repeatedly telling you how titillating your breasts are to men.  When you step out the door of your home that message completely washes away anything else you know.

In the end it makes a perfectly normal bodily function -- lactation -- embarrassing and stressful.

How do we fix this though?  Ban ads that display breasts in a sexual manner?  Have girls run around topless? I don't see either of those happening (and I'm a fan of relative modesty to boot).  Rather I'd love to see more examples of breastfeeding in everyday life.  It starts with women feeling free to nurse in public -- not just nurse ins, but during day to day activities like eating at a restaurant, worshiping at church, or while the kids play at a park.  I don't mean finding a dark secluded corner to do it either -- I mean nursing right there in the midst of things.  I don't think I ever witnessed a mother nursing her child in public before I had my daughter.  If I did, I didn't know what was happening.  I'd love to see examples in the mainstream as well -- advertisements, TV, and media to start.  It would be great to see posters promoting breastfeeding in doctors' offices too.  There are plenty of posters for Plavix and sponsored information kiosks about healthy living.  Why not add just one poster of a mother breastfeeding?

Until breastfeeding becomes as commonplace as Maxim, regardless of how many women breastfeed sexual stigma will continue to overpower the normalcy of lactation.  It needs to change.

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