The TIME cover mom, Jamie Grumet, is breastfeeding on another magazine cover. This time it’s Pathways to Family Wellness, and instead of “staring defiantly at the camera” (per Lisa Belkin), Jamie is gently cradling her now four-year old nursing son, surrounded by her loving family, her face radiating a quiet tranquility and warmth. Of course, the Pathways image is much more fitting of Jamie, her family, and the act of breastfeeding than the far more controversial and confrontational TIME cover (which Jamie didn’t choose–see her interview at Kellymom.com). Unfortunately it’s also serving to resurrect the same “extreme parenting” reaction (2,300+ comments on Huffpo!), and the same ugly comments are spewing forth . . .but don’t get sucked in! Read on.
As annoying as it is to have our chains yanked, again, and as hard as it is to see how much intolerance and even hatred there is towards nursing mothers, towards breastfeeding (i.e. health!) advocates, and especially towards full-term breastfeeding (letting children wean naturally when they are ready–see our article about actress Kelly Preston) we do think there is a social marketing value to the covers and the conversation they have generated. Only “time” will tell, but here’s how we see it:
1) USA Today quotes anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler: “It’s not perverted, it’s not sex, it’s not women doing it for some perverse need . . . It’s normal like a nine-month pregnancy is normal.” This fantastic article appeared in USA Today. Not the blog “Life in Lacta-ville”with a readership of 30; but the most widely read print newspaper with 3.1 million online readers.
2) Jamie Grumet is an attractive, well-spoken, smart, strong young mainstream mom. Like it or not, image is everything in our culture and new behaviors are more easily adopted when people identify with a role model or covet his/her looks and status. If a company wants you to eat more chips, they’ll make a commercial with a hot chick in the laundromat*. So, thank you, TIME, for giving us a smart, beautiful breastfeeding cover model that doesn’t resemble the crazy stereotype feverishly imagined by a bottle-biased culture. Thank you Jamie for persevering with your positive parenting messages despite rampant ignorance and nastiness.
3) Attractive, provocative images can normalize new behaviors. In the context of the shocking TIME cover, the Pathways cover is a welcome relief. Remember the outrage over Demi Moore’s nude and very pregnant body on the cover of Vanity Fair? Now the female form with child is celebrated and embraced (belly casts! photo shoots! $4.8 billion industry!) and we yawn when yet another celebrity bares it all for VF, Bazaar, or Elle. As we told TMZ.com, we’d love to see a celebrity glamorously breastfeeding on a magazine cover a la Angelina Jolie . . . Alanis Morissette, isn’t it your turn?
4) Instead of 6 months, 2 years of breastfeeding is becoming the new normal. We’ve noticed that the “reasonable critic” aiming to represent the forward-thinking mainstream in the comments section of media coverage sounds something like this: “Hey, I think breastfeeding is important, and I breastfed for two years, but come on, 3.5 years is going way too far.” It’s all about context, and this is progress!
5) The media is becoming educated about the multi-faceted breastfeeding issue. As the media looks to approach the issue from new angles (and milk the knee-jerk reaction), they are learning things they didn’t know; amazing facts about breastmilk, the devastating Booby Traps, the benefits of full-term nursing. They are becoming desensitized themselves and can hopefully become our allies; viewers of the Dr. Drew show with Jamie and Harley Jennette noted that Dr. Drew started to throw nasty callers under the bus, instead of breastfeeding (that’s gotta be a first!). For the full video segment of the show, click here.
We all know the negatives about the TIME breastfeeding cover, but those are the positives, and we think they are worth considering.
Hopefully soon all the fuss will die down and instead of reacting to another “extreme parenting” headline (unless it’s someone beating or starving their child), mainstream America will start to focus on following our Credo of cheering all moms on, whether they breastfeed for 2 days, 2 months, 2 years, or more, or less, or not at all. At the end of the day, parents generally do the best they can, they do what they know, and they do what they’ve gotta do to make things work. If we really want to help parents, we’ll stop telling them what to do, and judging them for what they do. We’ll start removing the Booby Traps that keep them from making informed decisions, carrying them out, and enjoying the reduced risk of diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease and life-threatening infections that come with breastfeeding and donor milk. And we’ll need savvy social marketing (like a better TIME.com cover, this time about the Booby Traps), to hit that message home.
In the meantime, we’re glad that Mothering.com‘s Peggy O’Mara reminds us that “a new idea is first ignored, then ridiculed and finally attacked before it is assimilated.” If that’s the case, then we can’t have far to go.
Social marketing experts (not to be confused with social media marketing experts!), what do you think? Do the Jamie Grumet magazine covers hold a silver lining for breastfeeding?
*Actress Ali Landry who famously appeared in the Doritos commercial, has been wonderfully outspoken about her breastfeeding experience.