Keeping abreast of the issues.

What on earth is wrong with people? Heaven knows that’s a question I ask myself at least five or ten times a day. My friend Colleen thinks that with the way I get so riled up over things, I should just have a blood-pressure cuff installed so that we can monitor the fluctuations as I go about my day. (Hmm…maybe I could have it electronically linked to this site. That would be pretty amusing, now that I think about it.)

But seriously. Once again, Americans have gotten themselves into a kerfuffle over a body part. It’s not the first time, certainly. This particular body part is both much loved and heavily reviled. Here in the land where we are strangely Puritanical and exhibitionistic at the same time, we send some interesting and confusing messages.

In this case, however, the body part in question is being attacked over a depiction of an activity so cherished that treasured artists have been depicting it in their paintings for centuries. There are classical paintings of Jesus indulging in this very activity, but somehow, we get ourselves riled up about it.

I’m speaking, of course, of breastfeeding one’s baby.

Now, there are many who will whinge and wail about all the blatant sexuality that surrounds us. They will become completely outraged that they cannot escape images of women’s bodies being used to sell everything from beer to cars and everything in between. We lost our fool minds when Justin Timberlake sang to Janet Jackson, “Gonna have ya naked by the end of this song” and then attempted to make good on that promise. During a Super Bowl halftime show, no less. In the most Tivo’d moment in history, we all got an incredibly brief eyeful of one of Janet’s breasts, and even though it was only visible for two seconds at most, the country could speak of nothing else for months afterward. We become fascinated when Pamela Anderson gets implants, has them removed, gets them back again. There’s a 2-hour show that oocasionally airs on A&E (and is available for sale in their online store) about chest-pillows, called “Cleavage, Mankind’s Fascination With Breasts”. Boobs are everywhere, running down the beach in slow-mo on Baywatch, hoisted up to their best advantage in just about every movie on the planet these days, and barely covered with a pasty while their owner is presenting awards on MTV and VH1.

Apparently, though, it’s not even the sexual implications that put a twist in our straps, or if it is, we are ever-vigilant and filthy-minded enough to make even the most innocent presentation of a breast into the most dirty, disgusting thing ever.

The latest in the war against such VILE LEWDNESS is the cover of a magazine. But it’s not Stuff or Maxim or FHM. It’s BabyTalk, a free parenting magazine. This magazine, which is aimed at young mothers, should be totally within rights to not only discuss breastfeeding but to occasionally show a photo of it. However, they’ve caught a LOT of heat over their latest magazine cover. Which is, by the way, no more revealing than your average department store catalogue. I’m not even talking Victoria’s Secret here. I’m talking JCPenney. There’s no hint of nipple, not the faintest smidgen of aureola. There’s a big fleshy blob, and a baby attached to said blob. The only way that anyone would know that it was a breast instead of, say, a butt cheek, if the fact that the baby is stuck to it.

The magazine has received a drift of letters because of this cover, and what the letter-writers are saying is shocking and dismaying to the extreme. One woman was “offended” and her husband was made “very uncomfortable” when she left it on the coffee table, for instance. Congratulations, lady! You’ve managed to find yourself a man who’s even more of a prude than you are!!! So glad you’re married. It means that both of you are off the market. One mother of a four-month old commented, “Gross, I am sick of seeing a baby attached to a boob.” One can only hope that she’s being even slightly facetious and is only saying that because she’s tired of breastfeeding her own infant and is anxious for that phase of things to be over. Unfortunately, I’m tempted to think that she’s really serious, and it makes me just want to scream. Yet another respondent to the magazine said that she had to rip the cover off of the magazine, because she didn’t want it “laying around the house”, and also said that she hoped that her husband hadn’t seen it.

This is a magazine distributed to people who have had children. Guess what, sugar! Your husband has already seen a breast or two in his time! It’s too late now!

See, that’s what I don’t get. They send this magazine to parents, for heaven’s sake. In order to become a parent, one must usually go through the horrible ordeal of having sex with one’s partner (though there are exceptions, and some of them even involve turkey basters!). It means that you and your spouse have seen each other naked. It also means that the female half of things has had her bits poked, prodded, and rummaged about in by a whole pile of different doctors, nurses, midwives, residents, and whoever else happens to wave credentials under her nose. Being pregnant and giving birth are largely not something that one can do all by one’s self. It requires a staff, the size of which depending on personal preferences and who happens to be your insurance company.

We’ll not even concentrate on the fact that even though the makers of infant formula don’t want you to be reminded that breastmilk is the best thing for the health (both physical and emotional) of your child. That’s something that just about everyone knows, whether or not they choose to have children. That’s neither here nor there, however, when one is discussing this brouhaha over a photograph that’s more tame than most of the religious paintings I’ve seen.

Remember the woman whose husband was “very uncomfortable” upon seeing the magazine on the coffee table? She started her letter talking about how she was “SHOCKED to see a giant breast on the cover…”, even though the breast in question is, in fact, much smaller than the baby’s head. The infant’s noggin takes up way more space on the cover than that horrible, awful, wretched, homewrecking boob.

Thankfully, Lisa Moran (executive editor of BabyTalk) has stated that they are not put off by this reaction and won’t shy away from doing such a thing again. I may be childfree, and this may be a free magazine, but I’d be half tempted to buy a subscription from them based on that stance alone. The people who are writing in ought to be ashamed of their own behaviour, and might want to consider therapy since they’ve manifested such a seething hate of their physical selves. Are they going to teach their own children such shame? If a single, tame photo of a breastfeeding baby can send them into such paroxysms of offense and anger and disgust, I fear for the lessons that they’ll be teaching their children. Modesty is one thing, but this is quite something else. I, for one, am disgusted and offended by such a display.