London raises eyebrows, and heads, with unconventional campaign to ‘destigmatize’ breastfeeding

(Video screenshot)

Knife-hating Mayor Sadiq Khan’s city of London is all about breasts — or breastfeeding, rather.

On Sunday four enormous inflatable breasts were installed around London, but not as part of some elaborate April Fool’s joke. Designed to coincide with the U.K.’s Mother’s Day, the boobs were part of a “FreetheFeed campaign launched by Elvie, a company that produces breast pumps.

**Warning for ‘adult’ content.

The goal of the campaign is to reduce the stigma around breastfeeding in public.

“The #FreetheFeed campaign is an invitation to everyone to stand with all those women that have felt shamed or confined when breastfeeding or pumping,” CEO Tania Boler told HuffPost.

“We know the giant boobs will raise a few eyebrows, but we want to make sure no one overlooks the way that this stigma has been used to repress women.”

OK …

Apparently,  breastfeeding stigma is a big problem in the U.K.

“Sadly, stigma is still rife when it comes to breastfeeding and women are still being told to cover up while feeding their child in public,” HuffPost reported. “A survey from earlier this year found one in three breastfeeding mums have been forced to use the toilet at work to express milk.”

“It is hoped that the inflatable boobs – which are stationed at Tanja’s Roof, in the heart of east London, Neutral on Colombia Road, Ely’s Yard in Brick Lane and Huntingdon Estate, Shoreditch – will help kickstart conversations around breastfeeding and, ultimately, normalise it.”

Conversations about public breastfeeding have in reality already been occurring for years, not that there’s anything wrong with jump-starting another round of these important conversations.

Back in 2014, the conversation roared into life here in the states after the parenting magazine Hip Mama posted a preview of its next cover image to its Facebook account. The image contained of a woman breastfeeding a child. Her nipple was exposed.

According to the magazine’s senior editor, Ariel Gore, the photo sparked outrage among vendors: “This isn’t Europe,” one vendor reportedly said. “Open breastfeeding is not OK.”

Facebook wound up pulling the post because of its “nudity.”

“Ariel Gore’s Hip Mama Magazine was censored on FB for putting an image of a breastfeeding supermom on the cover feeding her super kid (dressed as Spiderman),” the anti-censorship group Project Censored noted in a press release at the time.

“FB censored the image (which shows the child breastfeeding), and now newsstands want to censor it, too. There is no shortage of breast pics on the newsstands, on billboards, and storefronts plastered for all to behold, and they are deemed acceptable, normalized (and promoted because sex sells)…but if breasts are shown for what they are actually for- nurturing children- censors abound.”

Dovetailing back to the complaints by Hip Mama’s vendors, note what they said about Europe. It’s a fact that Europe tends to be far more accepting of public breastfeeding than America. This also applies to the U.K., where it’s been legal since 1975 for women to breastfeed in public, including in restaurants, cafes, and libraries. No such federal law exists here in the states, though America does contain relatively recent state-level laws permitting public breastfeeding.

Because public breastfeeding has been legally accepted in the U.K. for so long, some feel as if Elvie’s very ostentatious campaign is “ridiculous” and pointless.


Others instead think the campaign is worthy of jokes:


Not everybody agrees that public breastfeeding should be legal. Over at the community debating website, a 33 percent minority have voiced opposition to public breastfeeding on the grounds that it’s “disgusting,” it’s “indecent” and it’s “inconsiderate.”

“Plenty of things are ‘NATURAL,'” one debater wrote. “Actually sex is natural too doesn’t mean we do it in public…It’s natural, but so is Urinating, Defecation, Sex, and Nudity. Discretion should be used, whats the big deal about carrying around a breastfeeding blanket to cover her breast. Natural or not…Everyone doesn’t want to see that.”

Fair argument?

Over on the other side, one debater argued that women should be allowed to breastfeed in public but maintained that they should at least “cover up.”

“Most mothers, Especially single mothers, Can’t afford to either have sitters or pre-pump bottles for on the go. And you can’t just expect a newborn to go hungry,” the debater wrote.

“But just for the sake of everyone else, Bring a small blanket or something to cover up for pure decentcy [sic]. Nobody who isn’t a pervert wants to see your [breast] hanging out.”

To participate in the debate, look here.



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Vivek Saxena


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