My Body is not Always Making a Statement

I am an advocate of breastfeeding.  I am an advocate of positive female body image.  I am an advocate of women.

Plus, I’m a writer, so I make statements – literally – every day about the significance of these causes.

And all I have to do is turn on the television, or open a magazine, and I’m reminded as to why these statements are needed.

I see breastfeeding positioned in the media as a divisive opinion topic, whereas formula feeding has been subtly embedded into our lives with such success that hardly without an exception, every baby in every film, show or drama is depicted on screen as a formula fed baby.

I see headlines sprawled across magazines celebrating a celebrity mom’s speedy return to her pre-pregnancy weight…while others point fingers at the famous mothers who have held onto their baby bellies.

I see – and as a woman, I feel – at every junction of life, that the notion of equality between men and women is still so far from our reality.

And so with this platform, I make statements.  I do so through words and through images and make no mistake, these statements of mine are premeditated.  I write articles because I feel called to speak up.  I share images of breastfeeding and beautifully normal maternal bodies because I am driven to change the status quo and encourage women to accept – and to love – themselves wholly, for who and what they are.

Yet sometimes, mostly actually, my supposed statements aren’t planned or even intentional.  Like the time I nursed my four year old on a flight…I was just meeting the needs of my child…making a statement was the last thing on my mind at the time.

And it truly saddens me to think that normal acts, such as breastfeeding a child who can also drink out of a cup, are still deemed unusual enough to be classed as ‘statements’.  Shouldn’t mothering, breastfeeding, changing shapes and weights and dimensions all just be seen as…normal?

If we dare to explore these challenging waters, we will notice two opposing forces.

We notice the haters, unfortunately.  They are usually pretty loud, although not always fully coherent.  We notice their sneers at the mom nursing in public, and their snide comments about the size of a new mom’s life-giving belly.  As women, particularly as new mothers, it’s hard not to feel this widespread objectification of the female body, and even harder not to give a damn.

Because so much subliminal shaming is aimed at women post childbirth - particularly focusing on our bellies and our weight loss and this idea of getting our bodies ‘back’.  For most moms - tired, equally shocked and elated by motherhood, finding our feet in this new role - these messages are subtle and constant enough to seep in without us even realizing it.  We find ourselves hiding our bodies and counting the calories because that’s just ‘what we are supposed to do’, as women in 2016.

Then there is the other side.  The side filled with men and women who stand up and fight the good fight with every ounce of their beings.  Because there is a growing number of people who are openly rejecting this mainstream mantra of ‘conceal’.  We've all seen the articles encouraging us to don our two-pieces this summer, right?  Each one adds gravitas to the cause...just as the women marching through cities and hosting picnics – with nipples out and heads held high – are strengthening the message: Gender Equality is long overdue.

(Photo credit: freethenipple, Instagram)

Change is coming, actively and intentionally, and we can all relish this progress and feel empowered to join these courageous trailblazers whenever we choose to do so.

And therein lies the heart of this issue: choice.

Because it has to be a choice.  It has to be our choice, for it to truly be classed as progress and for us to appropriately use words such as empowerment.

It has to be my personal choice.

It is my personal choice to write a blog advocating for the normalization of breastfeeding and celebrating the female body in all its natural glory.  Just as it is my personal choice to put on a shirt before going for a stroll.  And this clear contradiction between a cause I fully believe in and my everyday reality is something that I suspect most of us can relate to.

Because really, what about ‘everyday mom’?  What about little old me, when it’s cold outside and I’ve only slept for 2 hours and I have the grocery run to do?  At 8am on a typical Tuesday, here in my sleepy town, I don’t really have the drive or the want to march through the streets topless and pour glitter on my belly rolls just to prove a point to ‘Team Conceal’.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t wholeheartedly agree with the messages that ‘Team Expose’ are rallying - it just means that I’m not wearing my ‘rallying hat’ today.

And I think that’s the reality for many moms.  I think most of us fundamentally believe that women should be treated as equals, that women’s postpartum bodies are utterly magnificent, and that having breasts and a belly is something to celebrate, not something to be ashamed of.

Yet many of us still choose to cover that not-quite-diminished baby-bump when we lift our shirts to nurse, proven by the overwhelming success of the Naked Tank, for instance – a concept pitched as ‘midsection coverage for nursing moms’.  Bravely, Jen Hajt and Carrie Charles created a piece of nursingwear that places the comfort level and choice of an individual mom over society’s confusing notions of what we ‘should’ be wearing when breastfeeding our babies.  Should we use a nursing blanket?  Should we buy specific breastfeeding shirts with concealed nursing access?  Should we nurse topless, with nothing but a smile?

Truly, there really are no ‘shoulds’ when it comes to breastfeeding.  Motherhood is challenging enough, without having to consider what other people think about the amount of flesh we happen to be flashing on any given Tuesday...

Because perhaps we don’t want to catch a chill, or perhaps we just don’t want to show our midriffs today.  The point is - it should be an individual’s choice and not a decision that is made for us by the media or the latest celebrity fad, or even by the rallying of a very confident and ballsy few.

Because true empowerment is born of choice.

And to me, that’s what products such as the Naked Tank are delivering.  The choice to keep our bellies warm on a chilly day, no matter how long our baby decides to nurse for.  The choice to wear the clothes we love (and not only super expensive nursing tops).  The choice to be ‘everyday mom’.

(Photo credit: The Naked Tank)

Don't get me wrong, grand statements have their place; they are truly needed.  Yet I’d go so far as saying that it’s the way in which we view ourselves that makes perhaps the grandest statement of all.

Because behind closed doors, in individual homes across the globe, moms are setting the stage for our daughters’ self-perceptions.  You see, with every comment and expression uttered and made about our own figures, we are modeling how our daughters will see their own bodies, as the women of the future.

I choose to show my daughter that I view my body as a body.  Not as good or bad.  Just as a body.  A body that is sometimes concealed and sometimes exposed.  A body that is, for the most part, kept healthy and active and allowed time to rest and recover.  A body that is needed and sacred, just as it comes.

And that’s a statement that I’ll shout from the rooftops.