Sisterhood Blog

#FreetheNipple for the Win

By Elissa Strauss

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Ladies and gentleman, the nipples have been freed. A few weeks ago Facebook quietly changed its policy on allowing pictures of breastfeeding moms.

A Facebook representative told CNET: “We have always allowed breast-feeding photos — it is natural and beautiful and we know that it’s important for mothers to share their experiences with others on Facebook.”

“What we have done is modified the way we review reports of nudity to help us better examine the context of the photo or image,” the representative said. “As a result of this, photos that show a nursing mother’s other breast will be allowed even if it is fully exposed, as will mastectomy photos showing a fully exposed other breast.”

Blogger and activist Soraya Chemaly wrote about the social media site’s policy shift for the Huffington Post, highlighting the “obscenity double standards” that exist on a number of social media platforms.

Among the clearest examples of how distorted ideas about “obscenity” are is the treatment of breastfeeding mothers, off-line and on. While female toplessness is legal in many places, and breastfeeding in public is legal everywhere in the US, it remains “obscene” under many social media rules, and in daily interactions offline. There are entire Facebook pages, such as FB v Breastfeeding and Hey Facebook! Breastfeeding is Not Obscene, dedicated to the issue. Breastfeeding selfies, a trend, could not be shared on the platform. Each time there is news about graphic and violent content allowed in Facebook, the ridiculousness of banning photos of women feeding their children is highlighted.

Chemaly points to the #FreetheNipple movement, which is trying to reframe how women’s bodies are seen as sexual objects in media, pointing to the fact that nearly nude and often degrading pictures of women are commonplace, while a women’s selfie of her own nipple is considered obscene. They are doing this through topless public protests, online campaigns and an upcoming film.

While you will most definitely not see me participating in any #FreetheNipple marches any time soon — I find bras really comfortable and also have a modest instinct that presents itself even in the dressing room at the local Y — there is no question that the fight for more control by women about how our bodies are presented is a worthy one. In this case, it is wonderful that women are not shamed by sharing pictures of some of the most tender and meaningful moments of their lives.

That said, I still think we should look at the impetus to share breastfeeding photos with a critical eye. On the one hand these photos are a chance to share with others the magic of early motherhood, but on the other hand they are part of a current strain of our culture that is increasingly making motherhood a fundamental part of a woman’s identity and breastfeeding is a central part. An article from a few years ago in Time on extended breastfeeding was entitled “Are You Mom Enough?” — an attitude that is increasingly prevalent and has earned its critics in the likes of Suzanne Bartson, author of the book “Bottled Up” and blogger at Fearless Formula Feeder, who argues against how the way we feed babies has come to define what kind of mothers we are.

Facebook pictures are more that just a record of our lives, they are a performance. And when performing it is hard to avoid the scripts offered to us by the world around us. Which is all to say, share your breastfeeding pictures, but do so cautiously and with awareness. Not because of what it reveals of your body, but instead of what it reveals about what we must do in order to be considered a “good” mother these days.


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