When Louise Burns tweeted a photo of herself being made to cover up while breastfeeding in Claridge’s last week, little did she know it would kick up such a media storm.
A week later, and Nigel Farage has added fuel to the fire by refusing to condemn Claridge’s actions and saying some people find the sight of breastfeeding mothers “awkward and embarrassing”. In response, 25 women united in protest on Saturday by staging a mass nurse-in on the hotel’s front steps.
For once, it seems that boobs are indeed news.
Let’s put this in context: we live in a society in where it’s completely fine for children to walk into their local newsagent and be confronted by topless women on the front page of The Sun; to have to sit next to someone on the bus or in a café looking at what is essentially soft porn in a national ‘newspaper’; where Kim Kardashian’s oiled and enlarged naked backside almost did #breaktheinternet; to be subjected to inappropriately – or hardly at all – dressed women all day long in music videos, films, TV programmes, celebrity selfies on Instagram… the list goes on.
But it’s not OK for a woman to nurse her child in public? That’s embarrassing and awkward? You couldn’t even see her nipple.
In a culture where it’s so acceptable for woman’s breasts to be openly ogled in so many contexts, it seems amazing that breastfeeding – the one thing that boobs were actually designed to do – could be considered somehow offensive.
Breastfeeding is completely natural, and hugely beneficial for both mother and child. Nonetheless, many mothers find it hard – for lots of different reasons. The NHS spends millions of pounds on initiatives to promote it, attempting to tackle misconceptions and encourage mothers. If you’ve ever done it, or thought about doing it, you’ll know there are many barriers to breastfeeding, not least the fear of being embarrassed by someone asking you to cover up or sit in the corner, while having to breastfeed your child in public.
But let’s get one thing straight: it’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Our bodies were wonderfully and fearfully made. Designed exquisitely by a maker who planned every single function and form. What is shameful is that our society has such a corrupted view of sexuality and the human body that we manage to be offended at the slight glimpse of a breast being used for the purpose it was created for, while we are seemingly oblivious to the over-sexualisation of women portrayed every day in our media.
Boobs are not news – or they shouldn’t be. Let’s celebrate them for their function and not merely for their form and get on with being embarrassed and feeling awkward about things that really matter – sex trafficking, gender inequality in the workplace, the fact that Page 3 still exists at all in 2014, the increase in the use of porn amongst our young children – and leave poor breastfeeding mothers like Louise alone.