Shame to breastfeed in public as a fat woman
The first time I was embarrassed to breastfeed in public as a fat woman was on a train with my three-month-old baby. It was our first big day together after a difficult birth, a painful recovery and six to eight weeks of still traumatic lockdown struggles. My body was still sore, but my mind was even more tired. I was sleep deprived, sure, but I had also led an incredibly insular and withdrawn entry into the maternity ward. Luna and I had barely left the house, and I knew my sanity could benefit from a trip to the nearby town – a day away from piles of dirty laundry, beds stained with that incessant yellow newborn poo and a laptop that hadn’t been opened for work or pleasure in months (always the reminder that I felt like I had next to no time to do anything outside of safekeeping ).
Of course, I hadn’t been out of the house in a while and hadn’t thought about planning a super-nurse ensemble afterwards. I wore a T-shirt and leggings, which meant that when my daughter needed to eat, I had to lift my top in a less than “discreet” way.
Related: I’m a Fat Mom. This is how I talk to my daughters about obesity.
“Nobody wants to see that,” I heard a not-so-so teenager whisper from the seats directly across from mine in the hallway. “Ugh,” his girlfriend replied. “I would never undress if I looked like him.”
If I hadn’t been in the throes of postnatal depression and anxiety, I might have told them something – something about the importance of nurturing my child, or bodily autonomy, or on the right of fat people to exist, to procreate and to breastfeed their children. offspring, or the fact that breastfeeding in public is not an invitation to treat someone’s body as a public good. Instead, I choked back my tears and tried to make it through the rest of the thankfully short trip.
After five years and two children in the maternity ward, I realized that these hateful manifestations are not uncommon. They exist as prime examples of the intersection of breastfeeding shame and grossophobia.
This was the first but certainly not the last instance of discordant public ridicule associated with my choice of nurse. I met an old man at the doctor’s office once who, seeing me nursing my child, said, “A woman your size should really do that in the bathroom, honey.” As my daughter’s first birthday approached, I took her to the park. It was there that a group of thin, conventionally attractive mothers (some of whom breastfed their own babies) snickered and giggled in my direction as I lifted my own clothes. The sight of my roulades doubtless scandalized them.
After five years and two children in the maternity ward, I realized that these hateful manifestations are not uncommon. They exist as prime examples of the intersection of breastfeeding shame and grossophobia. I would like to believe that as conversations about nursing rights become more and more discussed in public dialogue, the stigma around this very typical act diminishes. Luckily, I know plenty of thin moms who have never been judged for it. Sadly, I don’t know any fat mothers who have never been criticized for daring to show part of their body while feeding their children.
Combined with a lack of representation of plus size breastfeeding in the media and the difficulty of finding plus size nursing-appropriate clothing, the message seems clear to me and, from an experiential point of view, unforgettable. From a socio-cultural perspective, there are many people who simply don’t want to see or think about fat people’s bodies, let alone fat people’s bodies lightly exposed while breastfeeding a child. It took decades of activism for the act of breastfeeding itself to be seen as appropriate for public settings. It took decades for the idea that nursing was not ‘dirty’ or ‘unfortunate’.
Even in an era of more and more fat or body positive influencers, journalists, actors, musicians, authors and educators, one could argue that the idea that fat people are dirty, unattractive, imperfect and bulky is still alive and well. The people who shamed me during my two breastfeeding experiences with my daughter never specifically shamed me for breastfeeding in public, after all, but for breastfeeding in public. in my size.
Related: Women’s Bodies Are Not Open To Judgment
Maybe it’s not just about seeing fat bodies on light display in a culture that hates fat. If I dive deeper into people’s compulsions to poke fun at heavy breastfeeders, there might be something even more sinister at play. In the vast majority of cases, obese people who breastfeed have likely given birth to their children. Obese people who gave birth to their children usually had to engage in intimate encounters to get pregnant with those children in the first place. This means that all over the world there are fat people who have sex – fat people who express their sexuality, fat people who are desired and desirous, fat people who refuse to deprive themselves of pleasure despite their existence in bodies so regularly condemned.
I don’t know how aware the vast majority of people I personally met were of their biases. I never really know how aware someone is of the biases they hold, especially when it comes to the ubiquitous fat-busting variety. I know I hope to see more conversations about the intersection of grossophobia and breastfeeding shame. There weren’t many when I had my oldest daughter, and it was pretty easy to get paranoid over exaggerating or imagining those interactions that had made me so terribly uncomfortable. I was not. The same way people fought for their right to breastfeed in public, I hope we can fight for our right to breastfeed in public, no matter how “pretty” or “fit” we are. “.