Victoria's Secret model Candice Swanepoel might be best known for posing in her underwear, but even she isn't immune to breastfeeding shamers. The new mom posted a photo to social media Monday that made an important statement about the importance of normalizing breastfeeding, and it was so necessary. Candice Swanepeol's breastfeeding Instagram is a close-up, black and white shot of the model mom feeding her 2-month-old son, Anacã Nicoli, and in the caption, Swanepeol pointed out that, while nobody seems to bat an eyelash at her posing topless in magazines, she — and countless other breastfeeding moms — have been made to feel uncomfortable or have been told to cover up when feeding their children in public, even though there is no reason why they should have to do that.
According to The Daily Mail, Swanepoel wrote that she has "been made to feel the need to cover up and somewhat shy to feed [her] baby in public places," even though she literally makes a living off of showing off her body. The notion that it's considered totally fine for her to pose in underwear or a bikini or even topless, but suddenly offensive when she's using her breasts to feed her son is a ridiculous double standard that seems even more obvious in the context of Swanepoel's modeling career. But Swanepoel noted that the world had become "desensitized" to sexualized images of breasts, and argued that anyone who has a problem with women using their breasts for their actual primary purpose needs to rethink their position:
The world has been desensitized to the sexualization of the breast and to violence on tv...why should it be different when it comes to breastfeeding? -Breastfeeding is not sexual it's natural- Those who feel it is wrong to feed your child in public need to get educated on the benefits breastfeeding has on mother and child and intern on society as a whole. 💪🏼💙 👫👭 #mothernature
Many of Swanepoel's followers were supportive of her photo and comments, especially other new moms who wrote that they could totally relate to her experience being shamed for nursing in public. One commenter wrote, "As a new mom with a strictly breastfed 8 month old, thank you for writing this!" while another breastfeeding mama commented on Anacã's awesome latch, writing, "You know you are a breastfeeding mom when you can tell when a baby has a good latch!" Others though, weren't quite so complimentary: some accused Swanpoel of posting the photo for attention, while others suggested that covering yourself while breastfeeding is a "classier" option.
To anyone who has ever felt uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public, those negative comments are hard to hear. Even though mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their children, and even though we are constantly told that "breast is best," there is still an awful lot of judgment surrounding public breastfeeding, and that can be especially difficult on new moms who are still adjusting to motherhood. Even those who advocate so-called "discretion" through the use of cover-ups or blankets don't seem to understand that a lot of babies don't actually like being covered up like that, and that it's not always easy or possible to find a private place to feed your child (and don't even think about telling a woman she should be feeding her kid in the bathroom, OK?).
Swanepoel isn't the only celebrity mom who has noticed that it's considered totally acceptable for breasts to be sexualized, yet not acceptable when those same breasts are used for breastfeeding. According to People, new mom-of-two Mila Kunis told Vanity Fair in July that she had felt judged for breastfeeding her daughter, Wyatt, out in public. Kunis said,
There were many times where I didn’t bring a cover with me, and so I just did it in a restaurant, in the subway, in the park, at airports and in planes. Why did I do it in public? Because I had to feed my child. She’s hungry.
Like Swanepoel, Kunis argued that the sexualization of breasts is a big aspect of why so many people still feel entitled to shame breastfeeding moms:
...I think it’s unfortunate that people are so hard on women who choose to [breastfeed] and do it in public. In the States and in our culture, we sexualize the breast so much that there’s an aspect of it that people just don’t know how to wrap their head around the idea of showing your breast in public. But I respect the opinions on both sides. If it’s not for you, don’t look.
Both Kunis and Swanepoel are totally right: breastfeeding is literally the primary function of breasts and shouldn't be seen as weird or indecent at all. But Swanepoel's Instagram feed in itself is a huge testament to the fact that people are totally accepting and supportive when she posts "artistic" nude or almost nude photos of herself, telling her she looks beautiful and that she's such a talented model. But when she posts a photo of herself feeding her son? Suddenly she's doing something wrong.
Back in March, North Carolina mom Maria Corry shared a photo on Facebook of herself breastfeeding her son, and was surprised to learn that it had been reported multiple times for violating nudity rules, according to The Huffington Post. It didn't (her breast wasn't even visible in the photo!), but in a follow-up photo, Corry made a statement about the same hypocrisy Swanepoel referenced. She was photographed once again breastfeeding her son, except this time she held up a photo of — what else? — a Victoria's Secret Angel in front of her exposed breast. In the caption, Corry wrote,
I bet this won't be reported, because you can see this picture in every mall you step into, huge and blown up outside the store. This is not frowned upon, or ever reported, as it is seen everywhere. But a women nurturing and feeding their baby is looked down on.
It's hard to believe that there is still a debate over whether breastfeeding in public is appropriate, but it's one that moms of young kids know all too well. There's no question that the constantly sexualized imagery of breasts has normalized the idea that breastfeeding is something that should be done in private to avoid offending others, and yet, given the fact that breastfeeding is actually totally normal and not even slightly sexual, it seems like if anyone does feel uncomfortable, it should really be up to them to deal with that — or, at the very least, just look away and mind their own business. After all, there is already so much judgment involved in motherhood as it is. Trying to feed your child shouldn't be included in that.