What is the TIME magazine cover on breastfeeding really saying?

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    I’m not the first to chime in with a critique of the controversial Time magazine cover, showing “attachment parenting” mom Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her 3-year-old son. I’m sure I won’t be the last, either. I won’t go into the pros and cons of attachment parenting, nor will I touch the audacious “Are you mom enough?” headline. And, I’m sure whatever conclusions I draw from the cover and accompanying stories are colored by my own experiences as a woman and a mother. But to me, here’s what that cover is about: entitlement, envy, and ultimately, male gaze.

    A smug sense of entitlement

    I tried to like Jamie Lynn Grumet. I really did. Or rather, I tried not to dislike her. But as I read her Q & A on Time’s website, I admit, it was a struggle. She praises Dr. Bill Sears, the guru of attachment parenting, as being “nonjudgmental,” yet in the next breath, says that when attachment parenting doesn’t work for a family, “it’s in vain if there’s emptiness about how they’re living their life.”

    Yup, I was 26 once, too. I thought I had all the answers. And apparently, Ms. Grumet suffers from the same affliction, peppered with a strong sense of entitlement. For her to suggest that families for whom attachment parenting doesn’t work or is not an option are somehow living with “emptiness” in their lives speaks volumes to how little she understands about working families.

    Attachment parenting is simply not an option (for those who would choose it) when a mother must work outside the home. Or perhaps she also cares for an elderly parent, or a child with a disability. There are countless reasons why women who would choose attachment parenting and extended breastfeeding can’t do so, and I imagine very few of them involve “emptiness” in their lives.

    The TIME magazine cover that is causing the stir. (Time Magazine)

    Grumet is a stay at home mom. I don’t resent her for that, not by a long shot. But the cover photo (she didn’t pick the photo, I realize, but that look of smug self-satisfaction is hers to own) and her blog “I am not the babysitter” speak of a woman who does not appreciate that the majority of women do not have the privilege of staying at home with their children (if they would choose to do so) and blogging about their lives as moms. Does she know how lucky she is? From reading her blog and her interview in Time, I don’t think she does.

    You will never be her

    Grumet is one of four women photographed for the Time article. Photographer Martin Schoeller told Time that he sought to pose the four women in different breastfeeding vignettes, because, “It was important to show that there’s no stereotypical look for a mom who practices this kind of parenting.”

    But instead, a stereotype is just what he created. All four women are white, young (none appear to be much older than 30, if that), slim and attractive. All four wear wedding bands and diamond engagement rings. Their children are fair-haired and rosy-cheeked.

    It makes me wonder: where are the overweight women who practice attachment parenting? Where are the blacks and Latinas? Where are the moms with frizzy hair and imperfect noses and double chins?

    All four women featured in Time are stay at home moms, which suggests they have a high enough household income to be able to afford not to work. Perhaps they all take Dr. Sears’ advice to heart when he urges women to “quit their jobs and borrow money to make up the difference” so that they can practice the round-the clock-breastfeeding and nearly constant contact with their babies that attachment parenting calls for.

    Related: I was a really good mom, before I had kids

    Woman breastfeeding

    Surely this type of realistic photo would not have been appealing to the male readers of Time magazine / Photo: Shutterstock

    Even if the content of the article talks about the “extreme measures” to which attached parents will go in the name of child-rearing, and depicts these women as outside the norm, there is still an undercurrent of envy inspired in these photos. These young, attractive, affluent women are what most mothers will never be. The diamond rings on each of their hands, even if intended to signify the privileged lives of these women, still say to the average reader, “Look what she’s got.”

    It’s still about the guys

    There’s another factor, and perhaps the most critical one, at play here. Time magazine chose to put a hottie on the cover. Though I acknowledge that concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, Jamie Lynne Grumet is, by most standards, a very attractive women. She’s blonde and slim, and looks like she pulls her toddler away from the breast long enough to work out several times a week. She’s posed in skinny jeans and a tank top. And even though her son’s mouth is covering her exposed breast, it’s still an exposed breast.

    The cover was intended to be titillating (pardon the double entendre) to male readers, plain and simple. Otherwise, why wouldn’t have Time chosen a cover model who represented a more average American mother – a little overweight at size 12 or 14, with less perfect skin, hair and bone structure?

    The Time magazine cover comes in the midst of a national debate on breastfeeding in public. Surely attachment parenting moms are proponents of it, as are most mothers who’ve ever needed to breastfeed their infants in a public place. But because the breast has become so sexualized, there’s still something scandalous about a naked breast, even when there’s a suckling baby attached.

    Time could have tried to un-sexualize breasts and breastfeeding. It could have showed a breast with a suckling toddler attached in close-up, minus the intent gaze and perfect lips of Ms. Grumet. It could have showed a number of women, of all different shapes and sizes and colors, breastfeeding their infants together. It could have shown a woman breastfeeding with a lot less breast exposed.

    Instead, Time set the debate back a few years, at the very least, by making its cover all about the male gaze. Attachment parenting (and consequently, the right to breastfeed in public) takes a back seat to the beautiful blonde on the cover, who just happens to have a toddler attached to her naked breast.

    Now tell me, who is that photo for? For new moms like me, who have imperfect skin, need to touch up their grey roots and lose 20 pounds, and who haven’t had a pedicure in a really, really long time? I don’t think so. Ms. Grumet may think she’s on the cover to promote attachment parenting. But that’s like saying the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is all about selling swimsuits.

    Time wins the day

    Ultimately, with every outraged, reflective or supportive blog post and op-ed written about the Time magazine cover, the magazine wins. (Who was it that said there’s no such thing as bad publicity?)  I’m pretty sure the editors at Time knew what pot they were stirring when they chose that cover photo. Because that cover is selling magazines, even if the photo itself is a sell-out.

    You may follow Elizabeth Heath on Twitter or her blog, My Village in Umbria

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