Sunday, May 24, 2015

My problem with ELLE Australia's breastfeeding cover

Nicole Trunfio was one of the first Aussie celebs whose name I was introduced to when I started working in Sydney seven months ago. Somebody told me she was the model who once pissed off Naomi Campbell enough to get quite the humiliating tongue-lashing from the notoriously hot-tempered diva.

One of the first stories I wrote was about her: She was expecting a baby with her husband, a black American blues musician named Gary Clark Jr. Once her face and name were familiar to me, I noticed that she was one of social media's most gorgeous exhibitionists. A colleague of mine said she knows Nicole's body better than she knows her own.

Now with one magazine cover Nicole has all but ensured that she'll no longer be the relative international celebrity nobody that Naomi Campbell dismissed her as. She appears on the cover of ELLE Australia's June issue breastfeeding her four-month-old son Zion.

ELLE editor-in-chief Justine Cullen explained how the photo came about:

"This wasn't a contrived situation. Zion needed a feed. Nicole gave it to him, and when we saw how beautiful they looked we simply moved her onto the set. It was a completely natural moment that resulted in a powerful picture."

Fair enough. Then Nicole had to go and add her two cents when posting the shot on Instagram. #Groan

"There is nothing more powerful and beautiful than motherhood. The last thing I want to do is be controversial, so please take this for what it is, let us #normalizebreastfeeding there is nothing worse than a mother that is judged for feeding her hungry child in public. #weareonlyhuman I'm so proud of this cover and for what it stands for. I obviously don't look like this while I am breastfeeding but this stands for all women out there, whether you breastfeed or not, we gave birth, we are women, we are mothers. Thank you ELLE for being so bold and making such an encouraging, positive and healthy statement. #womenunite

So let me get this straight: There is nothing worse than a mother that is judged for feeding her hungry child in public? Nothing worse?

I realize that women are put-upon and undervalued. Patricia Arquette made that very clear at the Oscars. Women should be paid the same as men, and they shouldn't be punished for having the nerve to turn 30. (In unrelated news, Maggie Gyllenhaal, 37, was recently turned down for a film role because she was deemed too old for the 55-year-old male lead.)

But did I blink and miss the moment when motherhood fell under attack? We now have to "normalize" breastfeeding because the masses think it's abnormal and want hungry babies to starve?

There will always be some assholes who object to everything, including young children on airplanes and in restaurants. Is that not their prerogative, though? Will seeing a beautiful model breastfeeding her baby on the cover of ELLE change their minds about public breastfeeding? Will "normalizing" it make those detractors OK with it?

Frankly, I'm sick of everything being turned into a front-page issue. I'm over celebrities telling me how to feel about everything. Most of all, I'm tired of seeing Nicole's body parts. Here is a model who is constantly posting sexy shots on Instagram trying to turn an appearance on the cover of a glossy fashion magazine into a moment of utmost sociopolitical importance.

Why is it up to her and to ELLE to "normalize" breastfeeding? I don't think anyone thinks it's abnormal. But in a society where we are constantly touting freedom of speech and thought, whether it's Dolce & Gabbana's or caterers who refuse to serve at gay weddings, do people not have the right to not want to see women breastfeeding in public, too?

Almost exactly three years ago, Time magazine ran a cover of a woman breastfeeding a toddler. A similar pro-breastfeeding argument was made then, but as far as I can recall, without the "normalizing" twist. Though there was nothing "natural" about the Time cover, I wonder if Nicole and ELLE realized that the general concept had already been done...and by a magazine that's far more likely to influence social and political thought.

Personally, watching female celebrities parade around the red carpet in various states of undress for years has numbed me to the visual effects of the female anatomy, with or without a kid's mouth attached. I think if a woman wants to breastfeed in public, it's OK. But what's wrong with a bit of discretion? The baby can still get fed and everyone can enjoy their meal in peace. I don't need Nicole Trunfio and ELLE magazine trying to enlighten me.

Just to be on the safe side, ELLE shot two versions of the cover. There's a safe glamour shot of Nicole and Zion on the one that will be sold on newsstands. Subscribers will get the breastfeeding one. If ELLE was all about making a statement rather than money (and in the magazine's defense, the editor didn't say that they are), they would have gone for the gusto and just sold the breastfeeding cover, potential lost newsstand sales be damned. But we all know what it's really all about in the end.

I wonder if Nicole has thought about how Zion will feel when he grows up about seeing himself sucking his mother's breast while his baby bum is exposed. Maybe she's hoping that breastfeeding will be "normalized" enough by then that he won't care.

As far as cover vs. cover, I prefer the non-breastfeeding one because Nicole looks lovely and you can see the baby's adorable face. I have a feeling that in 10 to 20 years, Zion will prefer it too.

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