Four years ago, I appeared on the cover of Time magazine. I was breastfeeding my son, Aram, who was 3 at the time. A media strom ensued, everything from laughter to outrage to strangly unfeminist takes on my appearance by a prominent feminist writer.
To be honest, I wasn't crazy about the cover either. That shot was taken at the end of a long day, I had expected to see us sitting down. I had no idea it would appear on the cover—it was meant to illustrate an article on Dr. Sears and attachment parenting. I really hated the headline: Are You Mom Enough? (The Internet had a great time with that.)
Friends and family protected me from the unexpected vitriol that image triggered. But the message still got through to me: my parenting choices would have life-long and negative repercussions on my child.
The common refrain went something like, "How could you set your child up for embarrassment like that?" and “That poor boy will be teased in school/in therapy when he grows up a serial killer/etc.”
The Time cover, to me, isn’t necessarily about breastfeeding or attachment parenting—but about how society reacts to the taboo, especially in parenting.
People argued that, because of the power and permanence of the internet, Aram would never be able to escape that one moment's bad decision.
I had so many mixed feelings about it when it came out. Someone framed the cover for us, and I put it under my bed. Aram found it and asked me why it wasn’t up on the wall. I tried to explain my mixed feelings, and he stopped me and said, “Isn’t this the picture that helped mommies know it is OK to nurse their kids?”
“Then we should put it up on the wall,” he said. It went up that day.
Four years have passed, and my son’s enthusiasm for the cover hasn’t changed. He’ll tell kids on on the playground about it sometimes (they always respond, “Cool.”)
Aram is completely proud of breastfeeding and that he appeared doing it on the cover of a magazine. He's proud of me. He's good.
My childless friends could care less, my friends with children all seem to have similar parenting philosophies, and I've grown used to talking about it and seeing the image. One thing that has stuck with me, though, is how people behaved in the comments section and all over in the media. How they offered "well-meaning" advice that was supposed to save my son from me, as if my decision to breastfeed him on my own timeline was something complete strangers felt they should weigh in on. I'm still baffled that so many people had strong enough opinions about a woman breastfeeding her child in a specific setting or past whatever arbitrary timeframe that they felt it appropriate to write about it publicly.
I mean, believe it or not, the majority of the world is too busy actually caring about their own lives and the overall well-being of society to want to take up this non-issue.
That said, I am an anthropologist at heart and being able to have this sort of first-person perspective into our culture (media attention, advocacy, stigmatization, praise) is something else valuable that I got out of the experience. My life has moved beyond the nursing days (my kids are older and I am working on a lot of non-parenting related issues), yet I'm still interested in the topic because of how moms continue to face online and real-life ridicule for their parenting choices. The Time cover, to me, isn’t necessarily about breastfeeding or attachment parenting—but about how society reacts to the taboo, especially in parenting.
No big scary bullies have come to verbally abuse him because he was breastfed at 3.
I'm also willing to discuss this experience because I think built into the supposedly "well-intentioned" advice based on zero science is a bully's mindset and actions. Women feel ostracized for their choices, blamed for everything and can be left feeling insecure, even when they know what they are doing is right (“I guess we won’t know until the kid grows up ...”).
But Aram, hopefully, can inspire other people not to give a flying fuck about what other people think.
I was making shirts for a non-profit breastfeeding group and the graphic designer and volunteers were coming up with funny slogans for the T-shirts that we would be selling. Aram asked me if he could design one for himself. We all loved the idea, and he asked for a cartoon of the Time cover with the words "Let your boobs go wild.” He obviously has never heard the phrase, “Calm your tits,” but we thought his creation was pretty hilarious.
So we made one shirt, just for him, and when it was printed he wanted to wear it that day—at Disneyland.
Our friends chuckled and, once again, no outsiders noticed. Or maybe they did and didn't care. He rocked that shirt the entire day, made new friends and went home super happy.
So the kid on the cover is turning out just fine. Shockingly, he weaned (I know, I was really hoping we’d make it to college but, sadly, he was done at 4). The cover is a non-issue for him, but when he occasionally brings it up it’s positive,
No big scary bullies have come to verbally abuse him about having breastfed at 3. I imagine it’s going to be a pretty normal existence at this point, if he wants it to be.
All this to say, keep on trucking, Mamas. Parent the way you want. You and your children deserve so much more—space, peace, support, joy in what you are doing. No matter what other people think. Or whether it appears on the cover of a magazine.