Libby Purves (pictured) argues it’s self-centred for mothers to share photos of themselves breastfeeding on social media
By Libby Purves, author and broadcaster
Actress Georgia Tennant, the wife of actor David, sounds like a good egg.
She shared her experience of cervical cancer on social media, posting a photo of herself in a hospital gown, to raise awareness. So in a fight between her and Facebook, I’d like to be on her side. Sadly, I am not.
She feels that by removing a photo of her breastfeeding her daughter, Birdie, the social media giant ‘sexualised’ it. It’s an elegant black-and-white image, and there’s not a nipple in sight.
Her threat, in response, to squirt the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the eye, seems fine by me: he’s been asking for it for years. Also in her favour is the fact I have always championed public breastfeeding — despite the squawks of horror I heard when I praised House of Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, for raising the ban on it in the Chamber.
As a working mother with a voracious newborn, I had to feed anywhere. I once did it in a committee meeting with some chief constables, after my babysitter plans fell through. No one ever complained, except one old git on a delayed train. He piped down pretty fast when I offered him the choice: screaming or feeding?
So hooray for liberated nursing. But the trend for sharing photos of it? That bothers me, and I wish Georgia hadn’t posted her carefully curated shot on a public noticeboard for fans to admire. ‘So powerful! You are a star!’ they wrote. Fans of a different kind, of course, will just perve at the upper curve of her breast and imagine the rest. Of course they shouldn’t.
Pictured: The breastfeeding photo Georgia Tennant posted on Facebook that was removed by the social media site
But even in this age of Instagram bragging, the brelfie or ‘breastfeeding selfie’ feels wrong. Feeding a hungry baby anywhere is natural: bystanders can look away, or smile in approval. Often, new mums are a bit chaotic rather than glamorous — with a bag full of nappies looped over their arm. It’s the essence of maternal un-self-awareness, and rather lovely.
It isn’t sexual, but it is definitely self-centred
You are certainly not making a point about how wonderful you are as a mum, or there to depress women who can’t feed or had to give up early. It’s just that you’re there, in real time, and so is a hungry baby.
But to adjust and post a photo of yourself looking gorgeous and serene is different. Not sexual, but definitely self-centred. Babies are not props to adorn a mother’s image, especially not while, unaware of the camera, they’re just trying to have dinner.
Anna Whitehouse (pictured) argues Facebook shouldn’t be policing out mammaries
by Anna Whitehouse, parenting blogger and heart radio DJ
How is this issue still being debated? A quick Google search shows hundreds of women have complained to Facebook about their breastfeeding photos being taken down.
Why remove an image of a woman being, well, a woman? There’s enough judgment in the parenting ranks without social media giants policing our mammaries, too.
I’ve posted photos that show me feeding my children — whether by breast, by bottle, or using a plate piled with fish fingers. It’s what Mother Nature asks of us.
So when I received a comment that said, ‘Get your skanky manky t***y off my feed’, it winded me. My boobs are not disgusting or offensive — what is grim is a stranger sexualising my nipples. Or worse, erasing how I choose to mother my children.
Critics claim mums posting pictures of themselves breastfeeding are ‘showing off’, but there’s nothing showy about keeping your baby alive with food. It’s mundane, if anything.
My husband and I agree that whatever we post publicly shouldn’t shame our children in any way. There are no potty photos, no images where they’re having a tantrum. But eating? There’s no shame in that.
Social media shouldn’t be policing our mammaries
I think we should be asking: what more can we do to support mothers? As anyone who has managed to feed a baby with cracked nipples will attest, it’s not always an easy task.
It’s not a given that your baby will instantly latch on; it’s a journey often laced with trauma, postnatal depression, and a sense of guilt at not providing enough, doing enough or being enough. And I say this as someone who breastfed one baby and bottle-fed the other. It’s always been the judgment from others that weighed me down, not my choices.
Oh, what I would have given on that first mastitis-addled journey to see Georgia Tennant feeding her baby. It would have given me hope. I might have messaged her to say ‘hi’ during what can be a lonely experience.
A woman once told me the only thing that kept her going in those first hazy months was posting a photo of her baby every day.
Her posts showcased what it really takes to raise the next generation. Who has the right to delete that because a squeamish few are offended by GCSE biology? Breastfeed, bottle-feed, Facebook feed, it’s your life.
Anna is founder of the Mother Pukka parenting site.