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  • Writer's pictureLiz Thomas

Taken 30 years apart, what do these images have in common? A misogynistic backlash.

Photo by Annie Leibovitz

Photo by Schiela Amorim Fotografia

In 1991, actress Demi Moore posed seven months pregnant and artfully nude on the cover of Vanity Fair. Thousands complained, outraged at the immodesty of it all, fearing it was too sexy an image of an expectant mother.

Walmart put the issue in the adult magazines section and insisted it was shrink-wrapped in the same way as pornographic magazines are.

Other supermarkets refused to sell it at all.

The magazine’s editor at the time, Tina Brown, described her decision to publish it as ‘simply a celebration of the essence of womanhood’ and yet many called for it to be banned.

People had become unused to seeing pregnancy showcased in this way and so it seemed obscene.

Thirty years on, that reaction seems ridiculous. The pregnant female form is once more valued as a thing of art and wonder, and this type of image is offered by maternity photographers as standard.

Recently Moore’s photo was hailed by Time magazine as one of the top 100 most influential images of all time and has been replicated by stars and ordinary mothers alike.

Today people react badly to stylish breastfeeding pictures

The reaction to Schiela Amorim‘s high glamour shot of mother Jessic Nunes has swung from anger the image ‘sexualises breastfeeding’ to complaints its not a reflection of ‘real motherhood’.

The former position is bizarre because at a fundamental level, how a woman looks or dresses when nursing is irrelevant. Whether its short shorts or ballgowns – she’s still just meeting her child’s needs.

The latter position is even more bizarre: This is clearly artistic photography. No one is pretending she got out of bed looking this way. Breastfeeding has been vaunted and honoured in art and imagery for centuries – from Babylonian sculptures and Madonna and child iconography to the works of Picasso and Gauguin.

These works probably don’t reflect the reality of breastfeeding for ordinary women in the times they were created.

The public has grown used to seeing and celebrating the pregnancy – it has become the norm to do nude or artful maternity shoots.

Today breastfeeding mothers often get a hard time for nursing in public, but the tide is turning. More and more people accept that soothing your child while out and about is normal.

Yet there’s a caveat – you must nurse within the confines of their expectations. Dare to do it dressed in an ‘unmotherly’ style and it is catastrophic.

Suddenly you’ll hear there ‘buts’…  you know the clause people add to their official statement that really gives away who they are and what they think deep down (I’m not a racist but; I’m not homophobic but;)

If you hear that line, you’ll know the undercurrent of misogyny is still there beneath the veneer of tolerance:

I fully support breastfeeding, but… it should be done modestly

I fully support breastfeeding, but… if you dress like that it is just to get attention

I fully support breastfeeding, but…. people like you give it a bad name

Here’s the thing: Whether you opt for high heels and vampy lips or bikini tops and flowing skirts, your style is your style and that should have nothing to do with how acceptable it is that you’re breastfeeding.

The idea that if you nurse while looking the least bit attractive, edgy, or unmumsy it is a cry for attention, or an attempt to be sexual, is laughable and yet so many still subscribe to it.

Whatever you wear, wherever you are, this simple fact remains: you are meeting your child’s needs .

Almost three decades from that Demi Moore image, celebrating pregnancy is now accepted as normal.

Let’s make sure it doesn’t take 30 years for breastfeeding to be viewed the same way.

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