Awhile ago I interviewed the fabulous Chloe Jo of The Girlie Girl Army. While arranging to get photos from her, I stumbled into this beauty of the new mom breastfeeding:
I was dumbstruck by the sheer raw beauty of the photo, taken by Amanda DeCadenet for Italian Elle, and I immediately dashed off this gushing email to Chloe:
You’re not going to believe this, but I was doing a post-interview follow up with the designer of Cake maternity lingerie and nursing bras and I couldn’t get that photo of you breastfeeding out of my mind…
I was still all “OOooh, let’s talk about the Madonna/Whore life of women!” Sorry if that sounds crass, but the photo is so beautiful in both the sexy confident way and the mother earth way… And there’s still so much fuss (here in the US anyway) about breastfeeding (in and out of public) that I thought it would be a great discussion in terms of individual women’s feelings of beauty, body image, identity, etc.
Perhaps a bit about gift giving, such as “Is it appropriate to give maternity lingerie or nursing bras?” and “How to support a mother-to-be or new mom” thing. (I still think giving a gift certificate for such maternity lingerie along with a lingerie bag would be the BEST! What a great way to honor the new life, the new life stage, and still let mom be a woman!) Anyway, would you be interested in adding your thoughts?
Chloe, every gracious, wrote back the following:
Women are SO deluged with bullshit expectations of what a body looks like after having a baby and nursing. (Obviously, we aren’t talking about the women who don’t want to f up their bodies so they hire surrogates and formula feed, because I have nothing aka too much to say to them.)
Your body stretches and shifts to accommodate life and it isn’t the same again. I’m okay with it. I had 30 years of a firm-pre-body baby. Now I have a new curvier body. A Mommy woman body. When my kid/s are a little older, I’ll get hardcore with my working out and clean raw eating again, but now I’m eating enough to nurse (lots of healthful organic vegan food!) and my work outs consist of chasing a very active toddler. And I still turn it out when I put on my heels and face, with a different level of confidence.
I will say, my style since becoming a Mom has certainly changed. I only wear lower cut (or buttoned up) or v necks for easy boob access. But more than that, I feel so much more secure in myself, I have nothing to prove. I want less eyes on me, I don’t feel that drive for attention that I had in my twenties. So out went the sequin minis and see through shoes (what was I thinking?!) and in came more architectural and elegant designs. When I watch Snooki show her girlparts on Jersey Shore dancing in a club, I want to take her under my wing and say, “Oh honey, been there – done that. You aren’t accomplishing anything.” (Okay, I never officially showed any parts, but certainly acted like a drunken jezebel.)
I think an image of strong sexy femininity is empowered and mature. The “sexy” we are being sold in the form of 9 year olds in hot pants is selling frailty (not to mention pornographic.) Read a brilliant book on this called Female Chauvinist Pigs that blew me away. This book explores “the role models women aspire to emulate. We are not pursuing the confident, self-determined, powerful, free ideal the women’s liberation movement would have dreamed for its daughters. Instead, our icons are porn stars and strippers and prostitutes. Paris Hilton and Jenna Jameson flaunt their successes in the pornography industry, and in doing so seem to earn our adulation.”
Then I discovered that Cake Lingerie had experienced a strong reaction of it’s own on this subject a few months ago when The New York Times wrote a piece discussing the functionality and fun of maternity bras. And by “strong reaction” I mean people jumped to all sorts of conclusions about bras and women — pregnant &/or nursing women, that is.
Many felt that “sexy” bras and lingerie at these times was just more pressure for women, specifically pressure to “be sexy” i.e. sexually available to the men in their lives as a time when many women are too exhausted and busy and exhausted (did I mention moms get tired?) to even lie back and think of England (although I always heard it as “to lay down and think of the queen”; tomato, tomatoe).
Some were legitimately concerned, I suppose; I remember the days after giving birth when I was more exhausted (and insecure) than my mate. But some saw an agenda where there was none. Among the comments, this salient gem by one “tom kolovos” (at the time of this posting, 110 folks had “recommended” his comment):
I quite frankly think it’s pathological to make women feel that they have to be sexy at every possible moment of the day and their life and no matter the activity. STOP THE INSANITY. Nurse your baby. It’s not supposed to be sexy. It’s supposed to be nurturing. END OF STORY.
But, Tom, that’s not the end of the story. Far from it.
No one’s saying that anyone is trying to “make” women feel sexy while pregnant or nursing, let alone satisfy someone else’s needs, sexual or otherwise, before their own needs or those of their children. In fact, who says this idea of “sexy” has anything to do with anyone else other than the mother-to-be or mom herself? You know, her own self-esteem, her own delight?
My friend Deanna said it best:
Saying that a woman wearing a sexy bra is being forced to be sexy for her mate is akin to saying that she drags a comb across her head, brushes her teeth, or even gets dressed at all is for someone other than herself. It’s just stupid to think that everything we do is, or ought to be, for a man’s attention. Or done for anyone else, for that matter. Sometimes we just have the gall to care for ourselves.
Right on, sister!
Maybe if we (the collective “we”) had all been using the word “beautiful” instead of “sexy” there wouldn’t be so much confusion. Sometimes a woman just wants to wear pretty things. If that makes her feel pretty, if that makes her feel confident — and those things, I firmly believe, are part of what is “sexy”, so what? It’s her choice.
All lingerie shown here is from Cake. And I should tell you that Cake Lingerie designer and dounder Tracey Montford officially responded to all the fuss with this:
Using sexual references and innuendos to promote maternity bras just adds pressure to women, who are already facing a period of great upheaval & adjustment. Of course some women find this a “sexy” time, but many may not. We respect that at Cake Lingerie.
Cake Lingerie has never intentionally created provocative imagery or marketing content with sexual reference. If pretty, luxurious nursing bras make women feel sexy, empowered, gorgeous and boosts their self-esteem then that’s great. However, it needs to primarily fulfill its function, provide support and enable great shape.
I’ll be back soon with the more practical advice I originally mentioned above; I got too distracted with my rant. *wink* Meanwhile, here’s some suggested reading:
Bra fitting expert Ali Cudby on maternity and nursing bras: Fab Fit: A Formula For Your Best Bra Fit Before, During and After Baby.
Chloe Jo on breastfeeding: Bloody Breastfeeding! How Nursing Discrimination Made Me Believe In Goddesses.