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Unusual Soul Sisters

My family and my friends often accuse me of being “breast-oriented.” It is true. Being the Executive Director of a breastfeeding center means that I pay attention to breasts. So imagine my fascination when I learned that Playboy magazine will no longer feature photos of fully nude women. My heart went out to all of my junior high friends (boys) who hid tattered Playboys under their mattresses and discovered the wonders of female breasts in a Playboy centerfold!

I have something else in common with Playboy magazine. We were both born in 1953 – a time when American mothers were abandoning breastfeeding for processed cow’s milk formula. A multitude of cultural and social factors influenced this change, including the women’s movement and a burgeoning interest in science and technology.

PlayboyLogo.svgThe first Playboy featured a nude Marilyn Monroe. It sold for 50 cents and its now 89-year-old founder, Hugh Hefner, used his own money to launch the publication. (Hmmmm…reminds me a lot of the founders of MilkWorks. We did the same!) He even hit up his mother and brother for a donation. (Okay….so I have been known to do the same to my family.) In its heyday, Playboy sold 7 million copies a month. (Now that is A LOT of breasts, readers!)

Unfortunately for Playboy, a changing world means that naked women are no longer a novel idea. More unfortunate is that the internet means that images of naked women are not even a dime a dozen. They are free. As a result, Playboy is now going “clothed." As of 2016, its women will wear clothes and its photos will now carry a PG13 rating. Some (many?) will call this progress.

A reporter for CNN commented that in our culture the thing that made you famous won’t keep you relevant in a progressive world. The same is true with MilkWorks. While we may not be famous, 15 years ago, we could not put a photo of a breastfeeding baby on our web site or we would offend people. Moms would quietly walk into MilkWorks and pretend to look at baby clothes we were selling, when what they really wanted to know was, “How the heck do I get breastfeeding to stop hurting!!!!!” They would often ask, “My baby is hungry. Is it okay to breastfeed while I am here?” (Yes, in a breastfeeding center it is okay to breastfeed your baby!)

Along came legislation that made public breastfeeding a civil right, labor laws were amended to facilitate pumping in the work place, insurance policies were changed to provide breastfeeding help and public health campaigns have declared that “babies are born to breastfeed”. While the United States has still not changed our maternity leave policies so mothers do not have to return to work when they have barely left the hospital, breastfeeding has definitely come out of the closet! In a way, breastfeeding has become “undressed,” just as the playmates in Playboy magazine are now being “dressed”.

Along with this undressing of breastfeeding, and the shift in our cultural attitudes, women have started to ask some tough questions. What about those of us who don’t make enough milk for our babies? Are we still good mothers? What if I choose to NOT breastfeed for reasons I don’t want to explain to others? Will I be criticized? What if breastfeeding promotion is linked to businesses that will make money off of breastfeeding? (Ah, if that were only true for MilkWorks! We could do all the things that we really want to do and not worry about money!)

While these questions are causing heated debates, they are also taking women and their choices as mothers to a new level. I have always felt that when we can joke about breastfeeding, when we can argue about breastfeeding in public, when we can start coming up with solutions for the problems that breastfeeding creates (guilt, frustration, sadness), then we will know that we have changed cultural norms.

Just as Playboy starts to “dress” its breasts, MilkWorks faces the challenges that come with “undressing” breastfeeding. Progress is when we expose and discuss all the issues surrounding breastfeeding, in order to learn more about what mothers and babies truly want and need. Here’s hoping that MilkWorks can help lead the way and continue to be part of this important evolution.