Up in time for Mother's Day, a new billboard on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles showcases a baby nursing from its mother, with the words “Jealous?” written in a thought bubble.
This advertisement for CougarLife.com, a dating website that pairs older women (often single mothers) with younger men, is not their first shocking billboard. Back in July of 2012, the website premiered a billboard that attracted the attention of the Huffington Post. It read, “CougarLife.com… for mother f***ers.”
However, this new sign crosses a line that the first billboard did not. The first billboard used crude slang to show mothers as sexual beings — a fact that, while crass, is true. This billboard instead sexualizes the act of breastfeeding, a natural act between mother and child. This sexualization is appropriates the intimate act of parenting to instead be about the sexual desire of the observer.
Treating breastfeeding as an act for the observer rather than for the child is the reason that breastfeeding in public remains such a controversial issue to this day. Breastfeeding in public is a declaration that women’s breasts exist for a purpose other than the pleasure of men. This ownership of one’s own body as a female is an act of defiance against the constant treatment of women’s bodies as sex objects in the media. This ad works against this empowerment and returns breasts to their position of sex objects, in the process sexualizing a baby.
This isn’t the first time that breastfeeding has been sexualized in the media. A year ago, Time magazine released a cover of a woman nursing her four year old son, along with the caption, “Are you mom enough?”
The article received instant backlash. While a less crude version, this magazine cover reinforces the same disempowering version of breastfeeding as CougarLife.com’s billboard. In both cases, the maternal act of breastfeeding has a purpose not of nurturing the child but of instigating desire in the observer. The female body is appropriated and sexualized in order to sell something.
These examples aren’t as shocking as they should be when the sexualization of women’s bodies is a prevalent advertising tactic. But the extension of this sexualization to an act as natural and private as breastfeeding undermines the empowering nature of breastfeeding — the ability for women to give life.
Breastfeeding is a private choice each women should make for herself and her child, but each of these ads make the action about the observer instead. This is a reflection of why women who breastfeed in public are met with protest from those around them. When women breastfeed in public, they are using their breasts for something other than the pleasure of a man, and this act in itself is a rebellion. This billboard and magazine cover twist breastfeeding from a natural and personal act to something sexual — to just another way that breasts exist to tantalize men.