Let’s talk about boobs for a minute, those highly controversial fat deposits on most women’s chests, that continue to be gleefully exposed for entertainment, but shamed when put to use.
We live in a society that is no stranger to breast exposure. Flick on the TV or jump on Facebook and – BAM! – cleavage galore.
The latest excuse to flood the internet with images of bare breasts is a viral social media trend called the ‘underboob challenge’.
For those who missed it, it involved female challengers putting a pen underneath one of their breasts. If the breast was large enough to hold it in place, the woman could declare true femininity – and post photographic proof to Instagram with the hashtag #underboobpenchallenge.
We shouldn’t be shocked. Boobs are already everywhere: splashed on our newsfeeds, peeking out of tops on the street, sunbathing at the beach and flaunted at bars and nightclubs. But here’s the catch: no matter how much we flood our screens with boobs, many Australian women still feel uncomfortable breastfeeding their babies in public.
Why is it that we are obsessed with breasts but then turn away the minute they are used for their purpose?
The mammary paradox
Jasjeet Hundal is a new breastfeeding mother and proud to be one. She gave birth to her first child six months ago and has overcome many challenges to be at this point.
Her baby was born quite small, therefore needing regular feeds, and she had mastitis (painful inflammation of the breast tissue) twice. Sadly, one of the other major issues she faced was the judgement of other people when she fed in public.
“I’ve never ever taken my top off in public let alone expose my breast … so for me to do this, it was a bit of a challenge,” Mrs Hundal said.
“One time I was just sitting at a coffee shop [breastfeeding] … a mother was walking with her son and he would have been about six or eight years old and she just gave me that look. You know the look.”
Even after breastfeeding for six months, Mrs Hundal said she still feels judged when she nurses in public. However, now she is more confident and cares a lot less about other people’s opinions.
Sex sells … the wrong idea
So why do we gleefully expose and look at breast tissue online, but then scorn their true purpose?
Acting Clinical Caseload Midwife at the Townsville Birth Centre, Lisa Johnston, said she believes the sexualisation of breasts plays a role.
“Breastfeeding is something that we don’t see a lot of in our culture, so I think that some people are really confronted by that. I think it’s hard when breasts in our culture are often seen as purely sexual, so the idea of seeing a baby at a woman’s breast makes people uncomfortable.”
In the end it all comes down to personal choice and parents should not be forced to breastfeed, bottle-feed or formula feed in public or private, she said.
“Women should be able to choose how they want to feed their baby and they should feel comfortable and supported to make whatever choice is right for them.”
Why women can’t ‘just bottle-feed’
A common counterargument to breastfeeding in public is, why not bottle-feed when you’re out and about? This suggestion rules out the awkwardness of public breast exposure, but for some it is simply not the best option.
Ms Johnston said bottle-feeding is not always as straightforward as one may think.
“Some babies will refuse to feed from a bottle so that obviously makes bottle-feeding in public quite hard to do,” she said.
She also said the way a baby feeds from a bottle is different to the way it suckles at a breast so switching between the two can make it more difficult for the mother to breastfeed at home.
On top of this, bottle sterilisation practices are time-consuming and baby formula is expensive.