When Breasts Offend

As I watched the morning news a few days ago, I was treated to a story about national outrage over a photo of two American military officers breastfeeding their babies. Before showing the photo, the newscaster warned viewers that they may wish to overt their eyes because of the explicit nature of the photo. Here it is, and I am recklessly posting it without such a warning because I frankly find it both ridiculous and offensive to refer to images of mothers feeding their children while wearing their daily work uniforms as “explicit”:

Breastfeeding Military Moms

Breastfeeding Military Moms

Ironically, I saw that newscast from a TV on the Las Vegas strip, where I was surrounded by many other images of female breasts (and a bunch of scantily clad men, too; casinos are equal opportunity exploiters). I will not post any of these Photoshop and silicone enhanced images, with or without a warning, because I do find them offensive.

Am I alone in my opinions about what kinds of images are offensive? Why don’t images of cleavage combined with silicone and lingerie spark any newsworthy outrage, while images of cleavage combined with nursing babies and military uniforms get people up in arms?

April Young-Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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31 Responses

  1. alex w. says:

    Ugh, that makes me feel so dirty to hear that the newscaster gave a warning for explicit content for a breastfeeding photograph. That photo is NOT inappropriate. It’s the opposite of inappropriate.

    • John Blackstone says:

      I am a man, a husband, and a father. I am also a United States Army Infantry veteran. I have no problem with a Soldier/Sailor/Airman/Marine, Active Duty/National Guard/Reserve who is also a mother breastfeeding in thier uniform, in public, on base, or anywhere. Nor do I have a problem with women doing it in a restaurant, a mall, department store or anywhere. It is not obscene, disgusting, or perverse. Someone said the woman on the right was ok but the woman on the left was disturbing, why? Because it shows her full cleavage and the sides and bottoms of her breasts? No reason to pay attention that she has two babies to feed and babies are not inclined to wait quietly while the mother feeds one at a time so that the public can feel she is being more modest. This is the society that we live in today, where motherhood is a sin and all things related to it. It is completely acceptable for public consumption to have pre-teen and teenage girls leave the house wearing clothing that exposes more skin than it covers. When I go grociery shopping I sometimes feel I have stepped into a, to use the very polite and misleading term, “Gentleman’s Club”. Women (and girls) have more breast exposed than these ladies along with thier rears and other parts, I personaly do not agree and would not let my daughters out of the house dressed remotely close to them, but I do not say anything because I value our rights as citizens of this country. They say it is thier right to wear whatever makes them feel good and if someone does not like then they do not have to look I agree so as long as they do not break any laws. Why is this acceptable and encouraged when breastfeeding is not? I believe the reason is that these women have children and maybe married therefore they are not “accessible” to the public. Men and Women think that they probably could not get a date with them and that makes it bad because it destroys the illusion, the fantasies that they have about women. If these women exposed themselves just to do it the public would not care if they were wearing a uniform or not (the military would). Public beaches are filled with scantily clad women in bikinis some forgoing the top altogether in favor of “pasties” to ensure an even tan without tan lines. The people who scream and cry the loudest are projecting thier own immoral desires and shortcomings onto these women. These women are serving or have served thier country they and the rest of us veterans and those currently serving have provided the rights that they abuse and take for granted. I have seen strippers and porn stars dress as soldiers, I have seen the American Flag that has covered the caskets of so many of my brothers and sisters used as bikinis, underwear, and boxer shorts and beach towels for people to perform truly immoral acts in and it disgusts me when it is used for that purpose. The military should promote breastfeeding in uniform they are not above using movies and tv shows to boost recruiting by making war and combat appear glamorous. There is nothing glamorous or fun about war. Bleeding in the dirt of some foreign country while your friends and collegues die bloody, so that other do not have to and can have a better life, is not glamorous it is neccessary. Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed a baby and it is the healthier way for both the mother and the child. It is not to be compared to urinating, deficating, or any lewd or lascivious act. It is not a sexual act, it is not a perverse act, it is not exposing oneself in public, it is a healthy, moral choice that women make to care for thier children it should be protected and encouraged. This country protects the rights of others who live outside of mainstream beliefs, why not protect the people who live inside of them. It disgusts me that these women and any other mother who has recieved criticism for doing thier duty as a mother. I have earned the right to my opinion and the beauty of this country is that you can have an opinion whether it is right or wrong and whether you have ever done anything for anyone other than yourself, but they and all the mothers who have taken criticism and still do the right thing have earned thiers. I salute you. God Bless and keep being a good mother.

  2. Diane says:

    My feelings of this is a little complicated. I feel like the woman with the little girl dressed in red is entirely appropriate.

    For some reason the woman is the twins is bothering. Its’ not that I feel that is explicit. But, she is practically exposing her whole breast. Granted, men Bare their chest all the time and its not offensive, but, if they were to say bare other body parts it would be.

    There was a book that was published a few years ago that was a big hit called” The womanly art of Breastfeeding.” Perhaps some technique so that not so much needs to be exposed.

    Now, to be fair, I don’t particularly care for lingerie ads which bare everything either.

    As far as the newscaster giving a warning, perhaps its because they are required by law to say that to give parents (or anyone else for that matter)an opportunity to either change the channel or turn the tv off. I think we need to remember that not all women who have children breastfeed, so, if there are young children at home watching it might provoke questions that parents might not want to answer at that particular moment in time.

    We also need to remember that breastfeeding in public is still a relatively new phenomenon. Forget about young children asking embarrassing question. People in from another generation might not want to see it either and to them it would be considered pornographic.

    • MissRissa says:

      I would have to disagree that breastfeeding (public or not) is a new phenomenon. Last I checked it started with Eve.

      • Diane says:

        Infant formula came into its heyday with the ddvent of WWll. Women were needed in the plants to help with the War effort and Infant formula made this possible.

        Breastfeeding debate heated up once again during the 70’s with the feminist movement, The debate started because women were forced to choose between staying at home or going into the workforce. Doctors were leading the push for breastfeeding citing benefits, Which are neither here nor there. Its a matter of personal choice and what is best for each individual Momma and her situation. But, what it has come down to once again is Mommy wars and what makes a good momma and what doesn’t. Breastfeeding isn’t one of those things.

  3. Howard says:

    Great photo!

  4. MissRissa says:

    I do not like that. I do not like that at all! (i mean the part about the newscaster giving a warning, not the actual photo. The photo, I think, is AWESOME!) I am so sad that the message that was given by the newscaster was WARNING: breastfeeding your baby is inappropriate and graphic and something that will induce queasy feelings. Major eye roll!

    As a breastfeeding mother it makes me angry and hurt and sad that some people think me feeding my baby in a perfectly natural way somehow makes me and my baby a freak and even pornographic. That is absurd!

  5. TopHat says:

    I think the photo rocks. And it was totally unnecessary to “warn” people of it. That’s like saying, “I’m (or the TV station is) sexualizing these women.” That’s really gross. Giving a warn means that, on some level, the person speaking is seeing the women, the babies, or breastfeeding in general as sexual. Creepy.

    • Libby says:

      Good grief! That’s what breasts are FOR. Nice to see them being used appropriately for a change. No warning necessary.

      By the way, I love seeing military personnel breastfeeding. It wasn’t all that long ago that society wasn’t comfortable with the idea of women in the military. At least this shows how far we’ve come….

      • Lisset says:

        You took the words right out of my mouth. Er. Fingers? This photo is beautiful. And these women kick but on two fronts- providing for their babies and protecting our country. Go them!

  6. CatherineWO says:

    I think this is a great picture and tells a great story of moms serving their country and taking care of their families too. I nursed my youngest in public 28 years ago, and most people didn’t even know I was doing it. I never got a complaint about it. I bottle-fed two of my children, and I certainly didn’t go hide in the restroom to do that either. I really like that they included a mother feeding twins in this picture. One of my foster daughters breastfed her twin sons just like this until they were well past two. Each had his favorite side.

  7. Rixa says:

    I love the picture!

    LDS women need to know that until about the middle of this century, public exposure of breasts while nursing was totally accepted within Mormon culture. Two pieces of evidence:

    1. Engraving of an LDS sacrament meeting in 1871 shows 2 women nursing openly with their dresses unbuttoned in front. See <a href="” title=”Breastfeeding History Moment: LDS Sacrament Meeting, 1871″>

    2. In the Cardston, Alberta temple where I was married, the chapel where you wait for the session has large murals depicting scenes from 3 Nephi. In these murals, dating from the early part of the 20th century, there are at least 3 (possibly 4) women nursing with their dresses opened, exposing the entire breast.

    Takeaway lesson?

  8. Rixa says:

    Sorry for some of the messed up link formatting!

    • EmilyCC says:

      April, awesome picture! Breaking ground in so many ways!

      Rixa, double-awesome picture–showing the ground has already been broken and we just forgot.

  9. I think someone just drew the line at acceptable in the wrong place. We’ve gotten to the point that any amount of breast, so long as no nipple (or area where a nipple should be) is showing is ok (even if that part is covered by a part of another person, so long as they aren’t obviously doing anything with it), but having -anyone- using that breast, for anything at all, is out of bounds.
    I can understand wanting to protect others from having to see breasts used for enjoyment, but for breastfeeding?

    I think part of the discomfort of seeing breastfeeding comes more as the age (or size) of the child increases. I know it’d make me uncomfortable to have a 10 year old wander into a conversation, get out her mothers breast, and have a feed. Perhaps its just my Ameriken sensibilities. I’d also be uncomfortable with someone coming in and groping their wife in front of me.

    So where do you draw the line?

    • Course, now thinking about how this could also affect men, I wonder at the reaction of seeing a child who has emotional problems needing to rest her head on her fathers bare chest to calm down. Would someone ask them to drape a towel over it, so we wouldn’t have to see?

  10. May says:

    I wonder if the ‘problem’ with this picture has to do with the fact that the woman on the left is breastfeeding while displaying some pretty awesome cleavage. For those who have difficulty seeing breasts as anything other than sexual, the conflating of motherhood and attractive breasts could cause discomfort. Perhaps another example of how we prefer women in defined roles (sexpot, mother) instead of as multifaceted people.

  11. Sherry says:

    I breastfed nine babies, pretty much anywhere BUT not openly at church, except in the mother’s lounge, which didn’t come into existence until the last three kids. My X thought my breasts belonged to him so was not particularly supportive of BF, but I did it anyway. I found nomo’s to be more open and supportive, whereas LDS women would hide BF more. I sometimes BF in the chapel, if my baby was small and not noisy. I absolutely LOVE seeing women anywhere BF their babies – it’s natural and normal. Side note – with my last baby X did not me BF. Had two boys at home ages 9 & 11. I was appropriate when they were around; didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable but still wanted BF to be normal to them. X said I was trying to corrupt them by BF. He had the distorted sexualized ideas about my breasts. Was really difficult living with him, being pregnant and nursing my babies. Don’t know what his root issues were about women’s breasts. My daughters and DIL all BF for a while, except for daughter who adopted four babies in four years. She thought about it though! Anyway – breastfeeding rocks! Those two women get major browinie points from me!!! That should be the NORM for goodness sakes!

    • Waldo says:

      -“He had the distorted sexualized ideas about my breasts.”

      Perhaps if his mother had breastfed his siblings in his presence he wouldn’t have the distorted idea. I just believe that NIP needs to become more common so that some of that stigma can be combated.

      And, I don’t get how seeing breasts can damage a kid. Can somebody explain that one to me?

  12. Sherry says:

    Again…it was the distorted views of my x. His mother did not BF any of her four children. X was never around BF women. To me, BF was the natural and normal way to feed an infant. We were at BYU for the first four babies and couldn’t have afforded formula if I wanted to use it! X and I separated when my last child was three; he wanted me to have more children. Saying I was corrupting the boys was just part of his trying to use guilt and control over me, which didn’t work any more. X wanted me to be ultra-modest, which I was so I suppose to him the thought of my sons getting even a tiny glimpse of part of my breast was corrupting. The more children/teens see BF as normal, the better off BF anywhere will be – it will be normnalized. And I agree with the posts about seeing women’s artificial boobs – at the mall with posters for Vistoria’s Secret, in movies, magazines, TV commercial and programs, etc. Why oh why does our culture think that is normal, but to see an infant attached to it’s mother’s breast is bad, weird, porn, ugly, corrupting????

  13. Diane says:

    I just saw an awesome cartoon caption from a cookbook called of all things,”Get in the kitchen B$%%H This ain’t your grandma’s cookbook.” The caption had a couple, a man and a woman on a beach. The man had man boobs and was shirtless, the woman was topless. The man stated,” Good God Helen, you can’t come on the beach looking like that, Its’ obscene.

    This was too funny

  14. sartawi says:

    I find it particularly interesting that it is generally North Americans breastfeeding that people find offensive. I have lived in several countries around the world, from South America, to Asia, to South Africa. When I lived in South Africa, women would nurse their baby in church, then pass the baby down the line, and the baby would be fed by several other mothers. There was no shame, no covering up, and I bet that, although people may find that strange, no one would see it as obscene. If you watch a documentary about tribal people in the far reaches of the world, topless, with babies running up to breastfeed, and men wearing nothing but a loincloth (if that), we don’t find it offensive. But put a white woman, in modern clothing, baring her chest to feed her baby in the best way nature offers, and it becomes offensive to many, and the word “sexual” is either brought up, or thought by many. We can blame the media, we can blame men, we can blame ourselves for being drawn into the sexualization of the female form and striving to be sexy, we can blame the church for making us feel badly about the natural things our bodies were designed to do. When it comes down to it, we could blame everything in some way. The thing is, all of these reasons are behaviors that have been learned. We have been taught by all these venues what we should think of breasts. If we can be taught so incorrectly, then I have hope that we can be taught to revert our minds and our society back to what nature intended for breasts, what nature intended to be the best way to nourish our babies, and the beauty of the female form…..and that has nothing to do with breastfeeding being inappropriate or sexual in any way. However, sometimes, in an effort to be very pro-breastfeeding exposure, we can be a little too liberally minded. I have no issues with women BF in public, photos of women breastfeeding (I am a labor nurse, afterall!), BF in church or the store. But my issue comes when we TRY to force it in front of people, and try to elicit the shock reaction. It is counteractive to the real mission to return BF in public as an acceptable and natural activity. I have FB friends who post photos of women naked, doing yoga and BF. I’m sorry, but there’s just nothing natural about doing yoga 😀

  15. Zach says:

    I just wanted to thank you for adding one more picture, one more exposure of women’s breasts into my day. Just kidding. Yes, feeding children is what they are made for, yes it’s a beautiful and wonderful experience for the mother to bond with her children, but I don’t want to see it! That picture is immodest any way you look at it. I’m sorry but get a room, get a blanket, men (especially ones struggling with pornography addictions) don’t need any more exposure than they already get day in and day out. I really don’t think women understand the kind of effect pictures like that have on the minds of men. So yeah, it’s natural, but for men, seeing an exposed breast whether it be for breastfeeding or pornography, it’s still an exposed breast and should be avoided. This picture is inappropriate.

    • amelia says:

      Perhaps what men need is precisely more exposure. If it weren’t so damn taboo, the female body could be the normal, human thing it is, in all the nuances of what that means, rather than nothing but a sex object.

      And don’t pull the “if only you women could understand the depraved minds of men” justification out. It’s a lousy excuse for allowing the status quo–the sexualization of women–to continue. There are men all over the world in very different cultures who manage to see naked breasts without turning into raving lust-filled porn addicts. So there’s nothing inherent in the male brain or biology that requires “seeing breasts” to mean “lust–quick, find some porn!” That is a response created by a cultural context which is demonstrably harmful to both women and men. We should change it. Which means women should exercise their right to breastfeed their children. And men should learn to control their thoughts and reactions, rather than ceding that control to a fallen and destructive cultural status quo. Grow up, take responsibility, learn to be better. It’s not my responsibility to protect you from your weakness; it is yours to learn how to overcome that weakness. It is both of our responsibility to change our world to eliminate that which does harm, including the sexualization of women that leads to seeing breastfeeding the way you do in this comment.

      • Zach says:

        The prophets have counseled us to be modest in our communication, dress, behavior, and other aspects of life. They have also repeatedly warned against pornography or viewing anything that can arouse sexual feelings. And you know, I’m trying to “grow up, take responsibility, and learn to be better,” but I’m not perfect yet. I’m sorry. While I understand it’s not your responsibility to protect me from my weaknesses, it would be nice if I lived among people that were a little more considerate.

      • MDearest says:

        A woman feeding her child is modest. Let me repeat, A Woman Feeding Her Child Is Modest. There is nothing remotely immodest about it, much less pornographic. There is no excuse for a man who wants to put a nursing mother, with all her duties weighing down on her limited resources, to any more trouble in order for her to shield his eyes from his own perversions. Your perviness is all yours to handle, my dear, and none of it should register as so much as a blip on a dutiful mother’s already crowded radar. Avert your eyes, deal with your own thoughts in silence, and grow up a little faster.

        In case I’m not clear: It is for you to be considerate of the nursing mom, not the other way around.

      • Amelia says:

        Being considerate does not mean I have to protect you from your weakness by not engaging in perfectly normal, perfectly modest behavior. As MDearest said, there is nothing immodest about breastfeeding. Your assumption that I am only considerate when I cover up in the way you expect reveals the real problem here: that men continue to believe that women exist for them and for their (the men’s) convenience. If we as a society would finally understand that women do not exist for the pleasure and convenience of men, we’d be able to create an atmosphere in which perfectly normal, perfectly healthy behavior (like breastfeeding) could not be perceived as immodest or inappropriately revealing. I find myself wondering why you and others like you don’t want and work for that instead of insisting on the ongoing sexualization of women (which you are doing; the requirement that women cover up for the convenience of men is as much a cause of sexualization as is the requirement that women undress for the convenience of men).

  1. July 23, 2016

    […] in many private and nonprofit organizations.  The lack of such a policy puts women at risk, since negative cultural attitudes about lactation are certainly present in the broader culture that surrounds the Church and male priesthood leaders […]

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