So much has already been written about the May 21, 2012 cover of TIME magazine, which featured Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her nearly 4 year old son. People are outraged by the headline and the subtext. Some are appalled that a mother would breastfeed a preschool-aged child and call it obscene. Others are happy that extended breastfeeding and attachment parenting (AP) is in the spotlight. And everyone has an opinion about the photo.
When social media sites first blew up over the cover I read some pretty astounding accusations that made me realize that many people don’t stop to think before they speak (or type). Most atrocious were the accusations that this was a model with a random 8 year old perched at her breast! What?! But surprisingly, even attachment moms were attacking the photo saying that “it didn’t illustrate attachment parenting.” The woman is breastfeeding her almost 4 year old son on the cover of a major magazine that circulates the world over! How much more AP can you ask for? Sure, it’s an artificial setting and likely a little awkward to be breastfeeding in front of cameras and lights and strangers on a set, but it’s still a picture of a real mom nursing her real child.
But rather than focus on the negative, I want to show you what I see.
Look at the cover photograph again. (Ignore the words for now.) Notice the expression on Jamie’s face. Notice the bend in her arm. Notice her blue shirt and how her hair is up. The first thing I see when I look at this photograph is Rosie the Riveter. I see a symbol of feminism and great resolve. I see a strong woman determined to give her child the best nutrition and comfort she has to offer no matter what anyone else thinks of it. All that’s missing is the yellow background and red and white polka dot bandana. Not to mention that this photo will likely be viewed for many years to come as a source of strength and a call to action for parents who practice and advocate for attachment parenting.
Now look at the original photo again. Look at Jamie’s expression again. What do you see? Does she look happy? Angry? Determined? Content? Relaxed? Uncomfortable? Stubborn? Is she snarling? Smirking? Maybe she’s just waiting for someone to say something negative so she can pounce? Or she’s trying to imagine herself as anywhere but there? Or maybe she’s so comfortable with herself while breastfeeding her son that she doesn’t care who’s watching? It’s interesting that there’s a seemingly endless list of interpretations of her simple expression and posture. I can’t help but compare it to the many interpretations of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. She could be happy or sad; silently yearning to break out of her canvas prison or contentedly taking in the scenery while entertaining some simple Zen haiku.
It seems as though the individual interpretations of Jamie’s expression are but a reflection of the individual’s own view of extended breastfeeding and attachment parenting. The absence of any real expression allows the viewer to read more into the cover and ascribe emotions to the situation that are not actually there. If you’re uncomfortable with extended breastfeeding and feel like those who do it think you’re a quitter (which I assure you they do not), then perhaps you see a woman who’s challenging you and smugly looking down on you. If you breastfeed an infant and are unsure whether you’ll continue breastfeeding beyond the first year or two maybe you see a woman who’s urging you on, showing you that it can be done. If you practice extended breastfeeding (like I do) maybe you see a woman who cares more about her relationship with her son than what anyone else thinks.
What do you see?
Brandy Van Vossen studied Environmental Biology at Saint Xavier University. She is currently a stay at home mom to her two beautiful breastfed children (C. nearly 3 years and P. 8 months) on Chicago’s south side. She is also on the Board of Advisors for Breastfeed, Chicago! and enjoys helping and encouraging moms to breastfeed their children for as long as is mutually desirable.
And a big shout out to the wonderful Angie Helwich who took my artistic visions and turned them into real pictures! Thank you for your hard work and for not laughing at me. You’re the best!