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Time Magazine Cover Shot of Woman Breastfeeding Toddler Sparks Debate

Posted on the 11 May 2012 by Periscope
Time magazine cover shot of woman breastfeeding toddler sparks debate

The Time cover: Extended breastfeeding sparks controversy

The Background

A Time magazine cover showing a woman breastfeeding her three-year-old son has provoked a storm of controversy – not to mention squeamishness in some quarters.

The shot is for a feature in the magazine by Dr Bill Sears on “attachment parenting”. But instead of opening a debate about parenting methods, the photo of 26-year-old Jamie Lynne Grumet has most commentators talking about the highly-charged issue of breastfeeding.

“Breastfeeding, which is both natural and encouraged for women who are physically able, has become taboo in some corners of American society,” wrote Brian Balker on a Guardian blog. Earlier in the year, Facebook was targeted by “lactivists” for apparently removing photographs of women breastfeeding their children.

So does the Time cover challenge attitudes, or is this just publicity-seeking sensationalism?

Normalising extended breastfeeding

There are those who see breastfeeding a three-year-old as “child molestation”, said Jamie Lynne Grumet on a Time Q&A blog: “But people have to realize this is biologically normal.” Extended breastfeeding may not be socially normal yet, but Grumet hopes to change attitudes:  “The more people see it, the more it’ll become normal in our culture. That’s what I’m hoping. I want people to see it.”

Picture may overshadow real issue

“I worry that the provocative nature of the pose will actually obscure some of the real issues surrounding breastfeeding in this country,” wrote Stephanie Hanes in The Christian Science Monitor. Hanes pointed out that a recent Save the Children report put the US in last place out of 36 industrialised countries in terms of supporting breastfeeding.

Shock tactics that do nothing for mothers

The problem is not that the picture shows a woman breastfeeding her toddler, said Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon; it’s the way the editors have framed the debate that has caused such uproar. “The entire Time cover story is framed in a way to make the viewer be simultaneously repulsed and aroused,” wrote Williams. “Congratulations, editors. You’ve added to our already rampant cultural dismissal of motherhood as a kooky cult.”

Just stop lecturing parents

Theory-following parents can use whatever child-rearing techniques they want, wrote Karin Klein in The Los Angeles Times, “as long as everybody else doesn’t have to hear about it all the time. Especially those of us who are finished with theories and are settling for just doing what seems best each day for each individual child.”


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