Tag Archives: breastfeeding

Let’s change the subject to breasts

I know I’ve been quiet since my brain dump a few weeks ago. Our “only way out is through” era continues with plenty of days that feel semi-normal, in spite of the fact that things remain anything but. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me here, in private email, on Facebook, in phone calls and in person. It made my tummy ache to hit “publish” on that post, but the compassion I’ve received since doing so has been overwhelming. I have some half-posts written that I’ll finish and publish soon. In the meantime, I’d like to change the subject for a moment because I really do need to talk about breasts.

Nearly 20 years ago, someone or other (via some lawsuit or other) realized that Columbus didn’t have any law on the books that outlawed the baring of female breasts in public. Women decided to start exercising that right at our long-standing, volunteer-run Community Festival (Comfest). I worked at a local alternative weekly at the time, and while I don’t remember all of the legal details, I do remember the small media melee, including a whirlwind of bad boob puns and fairly silly editorials on the matter. The spirit of the thing was clear – women of all shapes and sizes (and sometimes ages) would partake in the ritual, promoting positive body-consciousness in a sort of homegrown, goofy and easily misconstrued way.

Flash forward to today: Naked, painted boobs have become a tradition at Comfest, as well as the city’s massive Pride Festival (which sometimes share a weekend). It’s a central feature of the fest’s many eccentricities. There are still plenty of women doing it for body-positive reasons, but the phenomena has started to turn the corner into something kind of creepy. The vibe has become less of a bold feminist statement for the “party with a purpose,” more of a cruising spot for the producers of “hippie girls gone wild.”

It’s not the women who have changed so much as the festival-goers. For the first time this year, I saw more joke t-shirts on men that said things like “I love boobies,” and more guys cruising the street fair, hollering commentary towards bare-chested women (and the women that they felt should remove their clothing) than I saw actual bare, painted breasts.

When I went to Comfest as a teenager, it was probably less than a tenth of the size it is now. And it was the place where I met and connected with my first local, radical feminist elders, who loved the fact that a newly minted driver would come to their urban homes on a Friday night to discuss reproductive rights, body image and pay inequity. Comfest brought me into the political counterculture of a city which, by most other appearances, looked about as mainstream as you could get.

So it’s kind of breaking my heart that this year, if you happen to be a teenage girl visiting Comfest, it has become a place where you’re more likely to be confronted by men who are comfortable yelling “show me your tits,” even as they feign political progressiveness than feel the presence of interesting political women.

I also imagined the festival as a place where my son would see some of the better male role models in the city – men who are activists, who happen to care about the world and volunteer to improve it. Maybe even a few men that had a better grasp of what it means to respect women. I don’t have a problem with my kid seeing bare breasts, but I do have a problem with him seeing women treated like beauty pageant contestants or live snapshots in a street version of Hot or Not. I imagined him seeing women positively celebrating their bodies without a constant stream of commentary from drunken creeps.

Just so I’m not whining here, let me provide a suggestion or two for next year. Let’s change the nature of Comfest’s dialogue about breasts. Make the festival’s slogan one that educates the public about the benefits of breastfeeding.

Then take it one step further by designating one part of the park as a family friendly space (not the playgrounds, which sit in the crosshairs of three stages and are a sensory nightmare). Make it smoke-free. Put a cooling tent for nursing moms there with moderately comfortable chairs and changing tables. And preferably, drop it on the North end of the park to disrupt the place that everyone now refers to as “derelict teenager hill.”

I have no idea whether or not earlier closing times curbed the elements that the organizers wanted to see curbed. But I do know that Comfest’s social justice currency doesn’t only lie in its financial ability to give grants – it lies in the power of the event itself. It has the power to be hospitable to more than drunks and people whose perception of “hippie” seems to be entirely about fashion (or anti-fashion) and the use of substances instead of the values that brought the event into existence.

Copyright Tracy Zollinger Turner, Tinymantras.com, 2009.

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Bye Bye Bill Maher

I felt pretty betrayed at the end of “Real Time with Bill Maher” last weekend. Being one of those people who has actually done things like written to Sinclair Broadcasting in protest of their censorship practices (they were the galvanizing force that got his network show cancelled a few years back), I’ve always found his understanding of gender politics awfully limited, but I was glad he was out there, shaking the trees for free speech.

But his “New Rules” chastising breastfeeding moms that held a “nurse-in” at Applebees restaurants across the country, just came across as petty, unfair, and a clear case of the “look-at-me-ism” he absurdly accused these women of. I know journalists like this – people who go off the rails on a topic that they know will stir things up because they just aren’t getting enough hate mail lately, and hate mail is something that they’ve come to rely on to validate their celebrity. If it wasn’t deliberately disingenuous, then it was certainly horribly, horribly researched.

First, there were some facts that he just got wrong. He said that the Applebees nurse-in was the “world’s first,” when, in fact, these kinds of formal protests have been going on for some time. Wasn’t it only last year when a bunch of moms held one outside the studio where they tape “The View”? There have also been protests of Delta airlines, Starbucks, even hospitals. The purpose of these protests certainly isn’t vanity – it is the raising of awareness of a public health issue.

Maher is one of the only pundits out there who routinely addresses environmental problems created by our food supply, the toxic nature of additives like high fructose corn syrup and the nationwide health problem of obesity. So it’s baffling to me that he knocks the promotion of a health choice that is well known to reduce the risk of childhood obesity and a variety of illnesses, has health benefits for women, is completely ecologically sound and could have far-reaching economic benefits if it were promoted more effectively (over infant formula, which is often the product of behemoth drug companies).

The events are also an opportunity to re-acquaint business owners and the general public about the breastfeeding laws in our country, many of which protect a woman’s right to feed her child anywhere she deems necessary. In other words, companies should thank “lactivists” because they typically get so much media attention, they make managers revisit laws and policy, hopefully to the point where they make sure everyone who works for them realizes that it’s illegal for us to them to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave even if they are offended by a naked breast.

Lastly, his suggestion that women just “cover up” is basically moronic, and only forgivable in that he has clearly spent no time around infants. Hello Bill – babies have arms and hands, and it doesn’t take long before they begin to figure out that they can be used to pull blankets and things off of their faces. They also don’t have the cognitive ability to understand things like “but the people around you will be uncomfortable if you do that here” or “you’ll have to eat later.” Incidentally, the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with any number of national health agencies, recommend that mothers breastfeed for a year. The World Health Organization recommends two years. So yes, in a healthier world, babies would have teeth and the ability to say words before being weaned, and after the first 2-3 months, a blanket on the head is not going to stay there long.

At any rate, I certainly don’t have any problem watching and listening to a person I disagree with. I’ve watched Bill Maher for years (since his days on Comedy Central) and liked and disliked lots of the things he had to say. But in this case, his ignorance was personally insulting. If he doesn’t do any mea culpa on this, I definitely won’t watch him again for a while, if at all.

Add this to what I read about Facebook and MySpace at IzzyMom today (namely that breastfeeding images have been removed as “obscene” even as hundreds of pro-anorexia groups are free to give women directions about how to starve themselves), and I’d say it’s been a pretty depressing news week for chicks.

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Blood and guilt

In a dream last night, there was no milk left in my breasts, only blood. In the netherworld of REM sleep, I remember feeling surprised and frustrated rather than mortified. I tried to convince myself that maybe there was a good reason for this biological change. Maybe the blood would protect my son from new, volatile viruses or cure his runny nose.

Instead, the nursing just became painful and Declan looked distressed and unhappy. I felt angry that my body was betraying me. The last thing I remember was carrying my crying baby, asking strangers for advice.

This is the precipice every mother I know has told me about at one point or another. Just when you feel like you’ve mastered the challenges of one stage, the next one comes creeping along and the ground crumbles out from beneath you.

Mostly, I’ve gotten pretty good at embracing the falls and having the faith that I will figure out how to keep from belly flopping. But every day I see this essence of goodness in a boy who is becoming more and more himself at lightening speed.

Then I worry about the emotional wounds I’m bound to inflict because I am an imperfect human. Like the times I’ll get angry at his father that he won’t forget, while he wonders at the depth of my feelings. Or the times that I have no answers to hard questions and he begins to feel his first sense of fear and aloneness.

Some say worry is useless and destructive, but if you check my DNA, I am preceded by at least two generations of worrying women. Sure, the rational side of me knows that I can’t control what happens to my son, and that overprotection isn’t going to help him find his way in the world any more than being a militaristic and controlling parent would be.

But at it’s best, I think worry can be a bit of a motivator. It challenges me to look for new means to handle things and be a better mom. It’s the anxiety that I need to extract like a painful molar.

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In a funk

Declan’s been having yet another little growth spurt this week, demanding food pretty much constantly. The bigger he gets, the harder it is to breastfeed while typing. At nearly 15 weeks, he’s almost doubled his birth weight. (And yes, this is one of those facts that’s really only meaningful to fellow moms and doctors.)

All things seemed strangely equal at mom and baby yoga yesterday. Whatever each woman’s political ideology, everyone was excited when one of the babies rolled over by himself for the first time during the class.

Afterwards, on my way to lunch, there was a car accident right in front of me. It happened while I was sitting at a stoplight. One car just slammed into the side of the other, but neither driver was hurt. What are cars made of these days? I was maybe 25 feet from the collision, and it barely made a sound.

And I can’t stop watching the coverage of New Orleans. When things didn’t seem quite so awful late Monday, I thought about how resilient the city seemed to be when I spent time there a few years ago, and how willing it’s always been to cope with dark times by embracing them. But this is just sickening and tragic – there are no words.

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