STFU Parents: The Great Breastfeeding Photo Debate

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For as long as I can remember, women have been fighting Facebook for their right to post breastfeeding images on the social networking site. And for as long as I can remember, Facebook has said, “We have certain policies against images with nudity, but as long as the woman in the picture is actively breastfeeding, we see nothing wrong with it.” Still, as is the case in real life, glitches occur. Photos have been removed. Accidents have happened, and continue to happen when users flag photos. And for every picture that gets taken down, at least three “Screw you, Facebook!” protest pages are created. In the three years since starting STFU, Parents, this is one of those subjects that has yet to be weaned from my inbox. As a matter of fact, it would seem that it’s only getting more coverage (so to speak) in the past couple months as more breastfeeding advocates and groups align to protest the Almighty being that is Facebook.

My stance on the topic is usually, “Someone please hand me a stiff drink.” I’m unsure as to why the subject matters so much. As a woman, I feel guilty for thinking this way, much as many women who choose formula over breastfeeding are made to feel guilty, because I’m afraid that it somehow makes me less of a woman or less of a “fighter.” I like to think of myself as being part of the crusade against the conservative regime that’s attempting to trip up women’s reproductive rights and rights to affordable health care, and a part of me worries that by coming out and saying that women on Facebook are acting “silly,” I’m just linking myself to the larger problem. I’m minimizing how hundreds of thousands of women feel when Facebook removes one of their photos and accuses them of posting “pornographic” content. I’m taking the time to speak out against women’s rights while criticizing those who are taking the time to fight Facebook and demand rightful changes in their policy (or something). So until now, I’ve pretty much remained mum on the topic.

But alas, people continue to send me articles and links and photos saying they want to hear my thoughts on the subject. I’ve spoken about “breastfeeding on Facebook” before, such as in this column, but those examples were more about what I think is appropriate to share about breastfeeding on Facebook, rather than what I think about this never-ending photo debate. (I had an urge to call it a “charade” just now, actually.) The truth is, I don’t really know what I think. I think it’s a shame that Facebook has removed photos that do not conflict with their policy, which, for the record, is this:

I think it’s unfortunate that some people think breastfeeding is “too provocative” for public consumption (pun intended). I even think that a photo like this, which has been sent to me well over a couple dozen times in the past few years, is for the most part “fine” and shouldn’t be such a big deal.

STFU ParentsBy the 20th time I received an email about this viral photo, which recently had its fourth or fifth circulation on the Internet since it first appeared online, I found myself oddly arguing more rigorously in favor of it. A part of me wanted to think that it was because I think breastfeeding is natural and beautiful, like a yoga pose or Mother Nature herself. But another part of me wondered, “If the woman in this photo didn’t have such a conventionally attractive body, would I still be preaching the same thing?” Most of the women whose pictures get removed from Facebook do not look like this, whether upside down or right side up, and several of the pro-breastfeeding photo groups on Facebook feature comments from people saying things along the lines of, “Maybe if I looked like a supermodel Facebook would let me keep my photos up!” The whole purpose of these women’s mission is to showcase the “beauty” of feeding a baby naturally, whether a woman has a beautiful body by traditional standards of beauty or not. And I can get down with that….I think. Still, my reaction gave me pause.

With that in mind, there is something sour about the Great Boob Debate that I find highly annoying. It’s the vehemence, the hostility and the accusatory way in which some groups react that induces several eye-rolls from me. Cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood? Now that’ll get me enraged. But removing a photo from Facebook? Eh, who cares. No matter how many times I read an article about various staged nurse-ins at Facebook’s offices around the world (which occurred this week, by the way), my stance doesn’t change. I think, “How does this matter when there are bigger problems to focus on?” and my mind doesn’t shift from there.

This isn’t Vietnam; it’s Facebook. And the photos that are being removed are hosted by a free website with its own corporate policy and complex inner workings. Read this article about Facebook’s de facto IPO, and then read a page like “Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!” (featuring close to 6,000 photos of women breastfeeding) and the issue appears somewhat minute, at least if you think of it from Facebook’s perspective. What else can the company do or say that it hasn’t already done or said? And do the advocates in these groups believe that by “fixing” this “giant” problem, more women will be inspired to breast feed? Because I’m not so sure they will. Will a flood of (even more) breastfeeding photos on Facebook change the “stigma” that surrounds breastfeeding? I’m not convinced. Sometimes I think mothers are exploiting their babies/children by posting these images online at all. It’s one thing to post a picture in which you happen to be breastfeeding, but it’s another to post dozens, sometimes hundreds of photos of your baby at your breast to prove some kind of point.

In other words, no matter how many times women post pictures of themselves breastfeeding on Facebook, and no matter how many protests are staged outside Facebook’s worldwide offices, nothing substantial is likely to change. So, what do I think about all the drama over breastfeeding censorship? I think it sucks. But I also think it’s time to move on.

STFU Parents