by REBECCA SPARROW
Sesame Street? I have a bone to pick with you which is frustrating because I’m a bit of a fan.
So there I was last week, sitting on my couch watching Sesame Street with Ava and Fin when a lovely little song comes on about babies. Babies! We love babies in our house… which is lucky since I have one.
But at four-years-old, Ava in particular is something of Mother Hen and loves nothing more than seeing pictures and videos of gurgling pudgy smoochalicious bubs. And saying “HELLOLITTLEBABY HELLOLITTLEBABY” about two centimetres from her baby brother’s face. Like a stalker.
So. There we are, sitting together as we watch images and clips of babies sleeping, crawling, mashing food into their mouths and smiling all pop up on the screen. There are babies in prams. In cots. In their parent’s arms. And there are images of babies being bottle fed. And then the song finished and Super Grover came on and crashed into something yet again (dude, get some glasses).
But while Ava happily went back to colouring-in, I sat there dumbfounded.
Not once did they show an image – even a discreet one – of a baby being breastfed by its mother.
How do you do a video montage of babies being fed and not show a baby being breastfed? I mean, COME ON!
Let me be clear, Sesame Street is a show for which I have great fondness. A show that has talked children through racism, a show that has gently broached the impact of September 11, a show that tackles poverty and cultural differences. And a show that somewhere along the way decided that breastfeeding is ‘inappropriate’ to look at.
When did we all get so squeamish about breastfeeding?
When did Big Bird decide that breasts were ‘rude’?
Sometime in the 90s, apparently. Up until then, the show regularly featured breastfeeding mothers. In fact long-term cast member Sonia Manzano (Maria) breastfed her real-life baby daughter on the show. “She’s drinking milk from my breast,” Maria told the young children around her. And when asked by a small child if that’s the only way a baby can be fed, Maria answered:
“Oh no, sometimes I feed her this way and sometimes I feed her with a bottle … But you know, I like this way the best. It’s natural, it’s good for her and I get a chance to hug her some more.”
That was in 1988.
A decade later and boobs were banned.
I mean if you were going to ban anything on Sesame Street, you’d think it would be The Count because he’s, you know, REALLY, REALLY CREEPY.
Or Cookie Monster because…hello…obesity!
But of course Sesame Street’s behaviour is but a microcosm of society. Frankly, Sesame Street is just behaving the way everyone else is behaving. Somewhere along the way we all decided that breastfeeding was a bit rudey-nudey.
We decided that watching a mother get her norks out to feed a child made us squeamish. Whereas seeing enormous barely covered bazookas in TV, film, on magazine covers and websites was perfectly okay. Sure we might roll our eyes at times and think “EXPLOITATION” but we don’t feel uncomfortable watching Miranda Kerr in the Victoria’s Secret Parade. But show a pic of Miranda breastfeeding her son (where she shows the exact same amount of breast or maybe even less) and suddenly we’re a bit twitchy.
In turn this leads to breastfeeding mothers – maybe just me - feeling like they want to hide under a tablecloth whenever they breastfeed in public.
We fold ourselves up like origami trying not to be noticed. We sit in corners or toilets or back rooms. We cover ourselves in wraps and sheets and essentially try to make ourselves invisible so as Not. To. Offend.
As a mother who has also bottlefed one of my children, I know that bottlefeeding mothers can still feel a certain amount of judgement in public. But – in my experience at least – it’s not the same. There’s something about breastfeeding in public that can make you feel like you’re causing offense. Which is, of course, ridiculous.
So I asked author, social commentator and UNICEF Australian Patron for Breastfeeding, Tara Moss what she thought the answer was to this on-going breastfeeding taboo.
“Visibility is acceptance. If we don’t see breastfeeding as a normal part of our everyday lives – in our families, our communities and our culture – if we don’t see it at all, we have little hope of raising our breastfeeding rates and encouraging more women to continue breastfeeding once life inevitably involves leaving the house with a hungry child.
“Over 90% of Australian mums want to and can breastfeed, yet statistics tell us that more than half quit before they chose to, largely due to external pressures and lack of support. Enough. Breastfeeding is natural, normal, free, and a legal right in this country. It’s time to take away the public breastfeeding taboo once and for all.”
Now those of you who know me, know that this post is not designed to spark a breast versus bottle debate. Frankly, I don’t care how you choose to feed your baby. That’s your decision and as someone who has both breastfed and bottle fed my children, you will get no judgement from me.
But surely we can all agree that this stigma against breastfeeding needs to stop – especially on a kids’ TV show of all places. What message are we sending our kids about breastfeeding? It’s time we stopped subtly telling women they should feel embarrassed to breastfeed and that what they’re doing is gross or offensive.
And as for Sesame Street? Well this post has been brought to you by the letter D. For Disappointed.
Do you think Sesame Street has gone soft? Would you like to see more representations of breastfeeding in the media?