Celebrity Booby Trap: Bethenny & Rachael Ray Frown on Public Breastfeeding

Bethenny is a mixed bag when it comes to breastfeeding.   On the one hand, we love that she has been outspoken about how rewarding (though challenging) breastfeeding was for her, and were glad that she brought her star power to Ameda’s I Breastfeed Because . . . campaign for World Breastfeeding Week last year.    She also stood up for a lot of moms when she commented that Gisele Bundchen’s statement that “breastfeeding should be a law” was “absurd“; and we couldn’t agree more, since moms don’t need more pressure.   What should be illegal are the booby traps, like poor healthcare practices that keep moms from breastfeeding!

Yesterday, however, we saw the flip side of Bethenny during her appearance on the Rachael Ray Show, and it makes us think that Bethenny isn’t really an advocate for moms.   An audience member was invited to ask a question.  

 Shea:  “I’m expecting my second child and strongly thinking of breastfeeding.   What are your rules for public breastfeeding, like where is it appropriate?”

Bethenny:  “I think, unless you are Pamela Anderson, you shouldn’t be showing anyone your breasts besides your husband and your baby.”

Rachael Ray:  “Exactly.”

Bethenny:  “I really do. I think you should find a corner, or there is always a back room, I just think it makes other people uncomfortable.   When you are a mother you think everyone is ‘in on’ what you’re ‘in on’, [. . .] but they’re not.  Because I didn’t know anything about [breastfeeding] until I was pregnant and I was sensitive to the fact that it would have flipped me out.  So I think, just keep it private.  But definitely breastfeed and do things your own way,  but in that one way, I would keep it a little bit private. Whipping out your boob at the dinner table is a good diet tip for everyone else. 

On some level I understand where Bethenny is coming from.   I’ve shared openly that when I was pregnant, I was freaked out by breastfeeding, and probably at that point seeing someone breastfeed in public would have made me uncomfortable too.   (And I’m sure, living in New York City, I did see people breastfeeding, I just didn’t notice it.)

Bethenny shows more boobage in this magazine photo, viewed by millions, than any woman I've ever seen breastfeeding in public. And her skinniness makes me feel guilty! (LOL)

But what Bethenny doesn’t realize is that the reason breastfeeding makes people uncomfortable is because they don’t see it enough.    In coming around to the other side of this issue, as a woman who once thought breastfeeding was gross, I have come to realize that the best thing for the health of our children, ourselves and our society would be to see MORE breastfeeding.  Seeing breastfeeding in public normalizes it (see PhdinParenting’s 50 reasons for breastfeeding anytime, anywhere).   Not only that, but it is extremely instructive for women, because we all learn by watching; and if we want to change behavior, the most powerful thing we can do is NOT TELL other moms what to do, but to be role models for other moms.   It’s like learning to ride a bike:  if you’ve never seen someone do it, you can’t imagine doing it yourself.   But if you’ve watched your friends go whizzing by on their shiny two-wheelers, you’re going to be motivated to get through the fear and the occasional skinned knee, especially if you have someone who has already mastered bike-riding by your side, cheering you on and coaching you.   Breastfeeding is exactly the same.   If young women see other women nursing in public, going about their normal lives, enjoying dinner with friends AND enjoying their baby, they will be motivated to get through the learning curve and the first few challenging weeks to reap the rewards.  If they have role models cheering them on and coaching them, they will succeed faster and be able to achieve their personal breastfeeding goals.

I get that Bethenny is trying to be a breastfeeding moderate and avoid being branded as a breastfeeding extremist like Gisele.    Unfortunately, her advice to the pregnant woman on Rachael Ray goes to the other extreme; it undermines women because it perpetuates several awful stereotypes that are completely false:  that breastfeeding is disgusting (when actually it is amazing and beautiful);  that breasts should be private unless they are put on display like Pamela Anderson’s (sexual breasts are okay but functional breasts are not); that women “whip their boobs out” (when actually most of the time they show far less skin than Bethenny herself).    By nodding her head and chiming in “exactly”, Rachael Ray furthered the damage.   Both of these women are powerful and influential and should be using their voices for good:  to cheer moms on to achieve their personal breastfeeding goals, whether for 2 days, 2 years, or not at all, and to help break down the cultural barriers that keep breastfeeding from being embraced and celebrated, much like exercising, eating healthy, or any other positive lifestyle decision.    Imagine if I said, eat your salad, Bethenny, but do it in a corner?  
What’s especially sad is that the pregnant audience member who asked the question is African-American, and the African-American population is at greatest risk for not achieving their personal breastfeeding goals and for suffering from diabetes, obesity, heart disease or asthma.  These are diseases that breastfeeding is associated with protecting against, and one reason why resources such as Blacktating and the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association are so important.    Unfortunately, this woman looks up to Bethenny and it would have been great if Bethenny had applauded her and told her to breastfeed whereever and whenever she needed to and to be proud of it!  It would have been great if Bethenny had explained that it’s perfectly easy to “compartmentalize” the way we use breasts, the same way as we compartmentalize the way we use our hands, as Christie Haskell pointed out so brilliantly.   Instead, she hung her out to dry.
I hope Bethenny will read consider adhering to the Best for Babes Credo:   

ALL moms deserve to make a truly informed feeding decision and to be cheered on, coached and celebrated without pressure, judgment or guilt. ALL breastfeeding moms deserve to achieve their personal breastfeeding goals without being undermined.

 What advice do you have for Bethenny on how to be a better role model and advocate for moms?

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198 Comments | Last revised on 02/10/2011

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