Why All the Anger Over a Breast-Feeding Photo?



When breasts are propped high in Victoria’s Secret ads or the pages of King magazine, or an A-list star wears a dress cut to her navel or maybe a R-related movie shows women flashing them freely, few people seem to have a problem. Maybe some advocacy groups for teenage girls and their self-esteem, maybe some feminists. But overall, there’s rarely a peep about a set being flashed across a TV or movie screen or in a magazine ad. As a culture, we consider breasts tantalizing, alluring and sexy, and they are shown constantly in varying degrees of modesty to none at all.

But attracting attention, turning people on or serving as a backdrop to shilling products that rarely have anything to do with bras is not the primary function of boobs. A quick refresher: The biological purpose of breasts is to feed babies. That some find those same breasts alluring does not negate their primary purpose.

So why am I telling you this?

Because last week, a picture that was posted on Instagram by Ashley Nicole, a new mother and girlfriend of Miami Dolphins’ Phillip Wheeler, went viral. Nicole, a svelte model, posed for a picture with her baby latched to her nipple, breast-feeding. What was exposed of her breast was akin to what we’ve all seen in a lingerie ad. The caption read, “Was on the way out the door but then mommy duty called …  Everything stops for him! #breastisbest #natureisbeautiful.”

It was a sweet mother-child bonding moment and a nice endorsement for breast-feeding to black moms and would-be moms, especially when black mothers are underrepresented when it comes to breast-feeding. Research finds that just 54 percent of black mothers attempt breast-feeding, while the national average is 73 percent. Experts say that one of the reasons black women fall behind in breast-feeding is that women just don’t see women who look like them doing it.

“You don’t desire something you don’t see,” Micky Jones of La Leche League, an organization that encourages moms to breast-feed, told USA Today. “In the black community, you don’t see a lot of black women breast-feeding.”

Nicole, whether she intended to or not, could have been making a statement and a difference. But many found the picture “vulgar,” “attention-whoring,” “inappropriate” or “disgusting.” The backlash for the picture got so bad that Wheeler came to his girlfriend’s defense, telling TMZ, “I wish everybody would just leave it alone.”

He also noted how the reaction to his girlfriend’s picture was much different from the praise heaped on supermodel and NFL wife Gisele Bündchen when she posted a picture of herself breast-feeding her daughter as her glam squad pampered her. Wheeler didn’t understand why his girlfriend wasn’t receiving the same love.

To be fair, Mrs. Tom Brady did get her fair share of criticism. However, much of the negative feedback Bündchen received was about the lack or realism depicted in the photo—I mean, how many working mothers have a glam squad to make them more beautiful?—than the appropriateness of the image. Nicole’s criticism seems to be largely about decorum or the lack thereof.


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This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Samantha says:

    You know, I am so happy you pointed out the twisted double standard that surrounds the purpose of breasts. This woman is showing just as much breast as she would if she were wearing a bikini top. There is nothing “inappropriate” about the picture. She isn’t showing her nipple and she isn’t being provocative. If there is anything inappropriate it is the perception breastfeeding has in the black community.

    I breastfed my son for 1 1/2 years and for the first year, I was forced to feel ashamed by others who found me breastfeeding my child uncomfortable to them. Breasts are sexualized in American culture and when a woman uses them the way they were made to be used, instead of being celebrated she’s criticized. Just goes to show how backwards some of us really are.

  2. Michele says:

    I agree Samantha! The standards in the United States says indirectly: You may advertise fashion under garments (bras and panties) you may perform as an artist or background dancer half clothed; but, you give woman a bad name to feed your baby in a public place.

    How did we get so far away from our cultural history to it’s ok sell your body being half naked in the industry .

    What does it promote for our young ladies evolving in their womanhood?

    Thank you Demetria for bring natural beauty to our attention . It’s a beautiful image that demonstrates mother and child bonding!!!

  3. TestaMONI says:

    Proof, yet again, that people have NOTHING better to do than to make issues of NOTHING! I personally appreciate the message and the maternal beauty of the picture.

  4. KayD says:

    In the age of social media, we need to respect ourselves by having some boundaries. Each woman has to draw their own line to protect what is special, intimate, and/or sacred. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Matthew 7:6

  5. Tenitrus says:

    I think people are so far removed from what a breasts actual function is, that’s problem #1. As I told people before I had a child, there like ornaments on a Christmas tree. They’re decoration and until I have a child. And they catch crumbs when I eat food.

    I digress, people attribute breastfeeding to watching someone have sex in public. Translation people are ignorant and refuse to get educated. To the man who says he’d prefer his child’s mother do it in private similar to when she’s changing the diaper. If a baby is crying, and hunger tears are by far the worst, you STOP, POP & FEED. You don’t have time to look for a secluded corner or some special room to feed your child. You look for the closest chair and a blanket. It’s natural.

    My issue with this picture isnt the picture at all its her “genius” boyfriend, Phillip Wheeler, and his response to the picture. He tells TMZ “I wish everybody would just leave it alone” … adding, “She’s a model. She takes pictures for a living.”

    Really…because people were concerned about her career & how she looked in the photograph?! Did I mention he’s a “genius”. How about its better for your child and you want your child to be healthy and this is the best start for immunity as well as brain development. *le sigh* He may also believe she was attracted to him for his Idris like looks and him playing professional football was just by happenstance. *le sigh again*

  6. TrueTy says:

    but beyonce can show her entire ass in partition…and thats considered sexy and art? this is bs to me. breast feeding is the most beautiful and deepest expresion of love a mother can show

  7. AMarie83 says:

    I agree, as a community we need to talk about it more, and not just with your income bracket equivalent neighbors, but with everyone. There is a lot of power in conversation, it sparks interest. To my surprise I received a fair amount of side looks and backlash from breastfeeding my son, but by the end, many people changed their perspective, just from conversations. Also, many black mothers feel as if it is too hard, like you have to be wealthy and stable to do it, which is not true at all, when my son switched to formula I realized that I had saved so much money and time by breastfeeding!

  8. LightHead says:

    I think people are bothered because so many women these days in American treat their children like toys and props to prove what type of mother they are. They are more about themselves than they are the children.

  9. TLady says:

    I like the fact that you posted this because breastfeeding is now more popular and controversial than ever before. I breastfed both of my girls and my support system – well there was none. Other than my daughters pediatrician. The women in my family did not breast feed so they were not very supportive, primarily because no one taught them the health benefits and the bond it creates between mom and baby.

  10. Tanya says:

    It’s just the society and norms by which we live. Breastfeeding isn’t wrong but reality is most people are uncomfortable around it. A few pics on Instagram isn’t going to change that. I am still breastfeeding my toddler (….yes, I said toddler but, that’s a whole story by itself) and I’ve always done it privately. My husband wasn’t comfortable with me pulling out my boob and I respected that. Nothing is wrong with her pic but it would’ve been better served if placed on a lactation website….to encourage our women that breast is best!

  11. MoMo says:

    I will say, when I first looked at the picture, my first thought was, “I hope she has a good latch…ouch!” Really, I wish I was so bold when I nursed my two kids. My son was just because I had an older sister who gave birth 2 months earlier and speaking with other new moms who nursed, I thought it was the best. I cried when I had to stop…his greedy self could care less.

    I nursed my daughter due to many reasons, of the top reason, it was her being a preemie. My daughter was born at 31 weeks and since the sucking mechanisms do not come in until 35 weeks, we had train her. Well Miss Greedy was so anxious to eat (unlike most preemies), that she would get a big gulp of milk and get the suck, swallow, breathe out of order and choke. After weeks of me pumping and us freaking out when she eats, the doctors allowed me to finally breast feed. At first, because she was used to instant gratification, I would have to pump and then put her on the breast. She was a pro! In fact, she was better a breast feeding than bottle.

    When she got home, I took her to church and had to nurse. Due to not having a nursing room, I asked a greeter where I could nurse…she suggested the bathroom (as if I or she wanted to sit in a room where people eliminated). It is sad that people don’t think of breast feeding as the same as eating a meal…IT IS THE CHILD’S MEAL TIME!

    I wish women of color would see the benefits of breast feeding. It is not something that only the rich and white do. The bonding time for mother and child is something you cannot replace. Thank you for this picture. Maybe we can take the shame out of breast feeding so by the time my daughter has to make that choice, she can do so without being told to go to the bathroom or have to hide as if they are doing something wrong.
    (Sorry for the monologue, I’m a little passionate about this subject).

  12. Marilyn says:

    As a mother who breastfed her child for 14 months, this just angers me. Whether Ashley intentionally posted the photo to make a statement or not, a statement was made. Looking at this photo, I see nothing but love. The fact that I was able to nourish my child fills me with pride. If anything, this photo objectifies women in a POSITIVE light. Breast feeding is the most natural thing a woman can do for her child and in my opinion, the more people see it, the better.
    Every time I pass a mother breastfeeding their child in public, whether frantically covering up, or out and proud I feel a great sense of pride as a woman.

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