The last 24 hours have really brought home society’s fascination with all things mammary. I can’t turn around at the moment without being confronted by the same issue. Then, when I do turnaround again, there’s yet another (rather stretched and saggy) pair staring right back at me.
It started innocently enough. I generally don’t go out on my high horse, fully-clad for war first thing after the school run, but as it happened, the agenda was thrust upon me regardless.
Yesterday, I was standing with the other mums, braving the icy blasts of wind on the sidelines of a soccer pitch as our collective sons were trained by a kindly, soccer-savvy dad. One of the mums has a gorgeous three month old baby who sat in her stroller, protected from the wind by a mountain of pink fluffy blankets. My clucky goo-goo ga-ga baby love still burns brightly, and I was cooing over this adorable chubby-cheeked baby who was a picture of health. Cue reactionary comment.
“You gorgeous little bubba. Look at your cheeks! Your Mummy has such good milk” said I.
Last week, at soccer training, said Mummy had indeed been breastfeeding said baby so my comment was not totally without basis
Her quick comment back to me was “Oh no, I’m done with all that. I’m a bad mother, but she’s on the bottle now. We’re done.”
This sparked a dicussion amongst the other mothers about the old breast versus bottle debate, how people always tried to make you feel guilty when you stopped breastfeeding and the Nazi-like reactions of baby health clinic sisters to the possibility of early weaning.
I am slowly learning only to give my opinion when it is asked for, so I said nothing, preferring to be enthralled by the cute pink bundle swaddled in her blankets.
Later on, somehow it got out that I wrote for parenting magazines and I was quickly branded. “Oh, you’d be the one who wrote the ‘Breast is Best’ article, wouldn’t you.” My comment that I didn’t actually write that article or any like it was lost in the once-again heated discussion that included words like ‘guilty’ and ‘versus’ and ‘bottles.’
It all became clear that the whole ‘breast-feeding thing’ is used as an indicator by women and society of our ability as mothers. My friend herself told me she was a ‘bad mother’ as she’d stopped feeding her young baby, yet felt angry that the baby clinic sister would try to encourage her to continue nursing and dissuade her from her choice to formula-feed.
Breastfeeding raises a whole lot of issues. Whether or not we choose to feed our babies our own milk depends on so many factors. Sexuality, self-image, attachment, bonding, cracked nipples, mastitis, night feeds, health, culture, allergies all play a role in successful feeding. Whatever other roles they fulfil- and there are a few- breasts are designed for feeding our young, whether or not we choose to do so.
So that was yesterday. Today I saw breasts, quite literally, in a whole other context.
This morning, after dropping my eldest two children at school, I took my youngest son to the doctors. Like most doctors surgeries, our good GP is stuck somewhere in the last century, as indicated by the age of the magazines in the waiting room and the lack of EFTPOS facilities. Yep. I needed the hard stuff. Good old fashioned cash.
We headed next door to the closest ATM at the rugby club. Seeing as it was only 9:30am they were, understandably, closed. The only other ATM in walking distance was at the purple pub on the corner. I’ve withdrawn cash from an ATM in a pub before. It’s no big deal, I thought.
I probably should have twigged that something was up when I saw the hordes of men in hi-vis shirts swilling beer on the back deck. At 9:30am
I found my way in, with my four year old son holding my hand. As I peeked into the bar, I asked a guy where the ATM was. He pointed to his right, and there was a waitress standing not too far away. I thought her shirt was that funny flesh-colour that looks like you’re not really wearing anything, and then I realised that she really wasn’t wearing anything.
My belly jolted with the realisation of what I had stumbled in to. I felt like I had just entered some parallel universe. Call me prudish, but I really wasn’t ready to see a naked breast in a pub at half past nine in the morning. I doubt I would have been ready at any other time actually, but especially in the middle of suburbia on a week day. Here I was, a mum with a pre-schooler in toe, just dashed in to grab some cash and here I am confronted by this woman’s bits.
What a different kind of conversation was occurring in the bar compared to the one where boobs were being discussed on the soccer sidelines yesterday. The tone here was different, the playing field a whole new ball game. This was a place of objectification. Innuendo. Voyeurism. Hunger of a radically different kind.
As I stood stiffly at the ATM, giving out ‘married, clothed and maternal’ vibes, I felt degraded. I was embarrassed and my palms were sweaty and I couldn’t remember my PIN number. I felt sad for the girl. I wondered if those men’s wives knew where they were. And I hoped and prayed like crazy that my son’s attention would be held by the fascinating multicoloured texta I shoved in his line of sight. Thankfully, it was.
Twice in 24 hours the significance and connotations of breasts have hit home. Be they objects of nutrition, beauty, sexuality or fertility, it seems society has a never-ending vested interest in the female body and what it can do for others.
All this serves to make me question the way I feel about my own body. What are my hang-ups? What do I believe is best for me and my family? How am I treated and am I valued? Where do I draw the line?
As I ponder, I realise that I’m at ease with the decisions I’ve made. I don’t feel guilty or regretful. Society might have lots of ideas about the way I should feel about my body and the way it should be used, but I’m glad I get the final say.
Jodie McEwen is a freelance writer, one-time magazine editor and mum of three. She has shamelessly exploited her children for inspiration in blogs, magazine features and web articles for the last five years. Over time, Jodie’s children have labelled her ‘the best mum ever’ and ‘the meanest mother in the world.’ She wears both badges with pride. To find out what she’s up to currently, click here.