Why Won’t Facebook Let them Nurse?

January 3, 2009 | By | 6 Replies More

Facebook apparently used its no-pornography policy to justify removing a photo from a woman’s page – of her breastfeeding her infant daughter.  She crossed the line, according to the Facebook spokesperson, for allowing the tiniest peek of her areola to show next to the baby’s mouth. 

According to the spokesperson, they don’t go trolling through people’s photos looking for this sort of thing – that would be quite the job, wouldn’t it?  Who’s on nipple-patrol this week?? – but if someone lodges a complaint, they act upon it right away.  They allow photos of women breastfeeding, as long as the significant parts of the breast don’t show.

OK.  I get the fact that lines have to be drawn somewhere.  I appreciate that Facebook has a no-pornography rule – my daughter just started her own Facebook page, and I sure as heck don’t want her running into naked pictures of her friends, teachers, or anyone else, for that matter.  

But as long as a breast has a suckling infant attached to it, who cares which parts show?  Are young boys truly titillated – pun only slightly intended – by this?  Or old boys?  Or girls of any age?  Intrigued, I get.  Fascinated, curious.  Fine.  Good for them – so normal.

Due to the current level of puberty hormones in my own home, I may be hyper-aware of the cultural obsession with breasts.  And I’d really like to see them put into a more realistic perspective.  

As one of the women in the article points out, people who use Facebook would be hard-pressed to duplicate their large collection of connections on a smaller social network with looser rules.  Which means that Facebook is not at risk of losing its audience to an areola or two.   

Which also means that Facebook could, if it so chose, be on the cutting edge of establishing a more reasonable norm, shall we say, for human breasts. Allowing them to be seen doing what they exist to do, in natural context, might help us get over being shocked at seeing a mother nursing her infant.  It might help us remember that this particular body part is there for reasons well beyond impressing males.  

Maybe more girls would learn that boys who are attracted only to their body parts aren’t really good mates after all, because those body parts aren’t there solely for said boy’s enjoyment.  Maybe more women, especially those with less education, would begin to see nursing as normal and healthy, instead of something only granola moms do.  Trust me, that is still the view of an awfully lot of young, uneducated single moms, who could use all the help they can get to nurture and feed their babies.

But no, Facebook is still being reactionary and provincial, as if tiny bikinis are somehow less “sexy” than nursing a baby.   


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Category: American Culture, Censorship, Culture, Current Events, Education, Health, ignorance, Media, nature

About the Author ()

I am a writer and communication professional in St. Louis, Missouri, a crafter of jewelry, a disorganized optimist and most importantly, the adoptive mom of two China-born daughters.

Comments (6)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Here we go again. Images of full breasts apparently belong on porno videos, not in places where women need to feed their babies.

    It seems as if we Americans (though the Australians are catching up) crave a clear cut line for knowing when too much pleasure is enough. Yes, breasts are displayed and celebrated in America. Just check out our cheerleaders. We’ve set our tripwire at the areola, though. Once we’ve seen an areola, we are outraged and defiled. Unless it’s our OWN areola, of course. Or unless it’s our wife’s areola. Or unless it’s the areola of any man (which should be more repulsive than a woman’s areola because it is a broken breast—one that doesn’t provide food to babies! At least WOMEN's breast have a real function. [Who knows why God gave breasts to men! Or is it that Darwin was right?]

    Of course, there’s only one thing worse than an areola (according many Americans) and that’s a nipple (see the above exceptions).

    Notwithstanding the above, I understand the political problem faced by all forms of media. They are worried that fundamentalists speak for the rest of us. They fear that most of us are horrified at the sight of areolas and nipples when, in reality, we are bothered far more by prudes who work hard to stamp their vision of propriety on everyone else.

    Yes, Facebook is one of the media providers that feels that it must cater to the prudes. Too bad. I understand the politics, but too bad.

    I recently read an article called "Mother's Milk: An Existential Perspective on Negative Reactions to Breast-Feeding." (Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2007 Jan;33(1):110-22) (I have not found a link for getting a copy of this article online). This is an article written by four researchers who are well-published in terror management theory (TMT), which I have posted about several times. See here and here.

    [TMT] suggests the juxtaposition of the biological predisposition for continued existence combined with the uniquely human awareness of the inevitability of death gives rise to the potential for extreme anxiety, or terror. This potential for terror is managed by the development and maintenance of cultural anxiety-buffer composed of a cultural worldview and the self-esteem derived from living up to the standards of one's worldview…. individuals can clean protection from anxiety associated with the awareness of their own mortality and gain a sense of symbolic immortality.

    TMT is more than an idea: "mortality salience effects have been replicated in more than 300 separate studies have been conducted on TMT in 15 different countries."

    What does any of this have to do with breast-feeding?

    Because people are motivated to adhere to cultural standards to transcend fears associated with death, many cultures are prone to regulate and offer standards for the physical body, an aspect of human existence particularly tied to death… the physical body may be a proverbial slap in the face to a cultural worldview that raises people above the level of other animals.

    The authors found that this negativity toward human mortality is "typically directed more toward women than men." For instance, in some cultures "menstruating women are not allowed to touch food or water that others will consume . . . worship gods or ancestral spirits . . or come into contact with men's hunting tools.. . women often are expected to hide or conceal evidence that they are menstruating by using menstrual products and disguising packages and masking the order with "powder fresh" sense. In an experimental context, both men and women respond with disgust to a tampon."

    On the surface, breast-feeding is highly valued, but in some cultures, mother's milk is considered "polluting and inimical to man.

    In contemporary Western societies, such as the United States, there is evidence that some people perceive breast-feeding as an indecent and animalistic act . . . and are revolted by the possibility of an adult and just in human breast milk . . . although the benefits of breast-feeding are well-established, and many people consider the behavior admirable, there are physical aspects to this behavior that, similar to menstruation, women are expected to conceal (e.g. covering the breast and the expression of milk).

    The authors suggest that these pressures to conceal breast-feeding "result, in part, from the glimpse into the animality of our existence that breast-feeding behavior threatens to unveil." In other words, breast-feeding and threatens us because it shatters the facade that we are gods.

    The authors suggest that in many traditional societies that live "closer to nature", breast-feeding does not have any stigma. Many industrialized nations are different, however. The authors suggest that part of the western industrialized attitude results from the availability of alternative store-bought formulas for feeding babies. It also might result from attitudes (especially in the United States) were breast have become highly sexualized and where their exposure is highly regulated (cleavage is welcomed but exposed nipples and areolas are off-limits).

    Based on four studies conducted by the authors (described in this article), they conclude that their research has contributed to “a growing body of empirical evidence adjusting that people are threatened by that which blurs the human-animal boundary due to existential mortality concerns." They express surprise that there is so little empirical research regarding attitudes toward breast-feeding, given that it is such a fundamental aspect of human behavior "and so healthy for mother and baby."

    To answer the question in the title of the post, then, I would suggest the following: Facebook won’t let us see beautiful acts of babies taking sustenance from their mothers because too many Americans are screwed up when it comes to thinking about their bodies. I think that TMT has it about right: when they see humans breastfeeding their offspring, “civilized” Americans become offended because it reminds them too much of other mammals breastfeeding their offspring. It stresses and strains their world view that we’re not animals. If only people could get over this hang-up, we could stop wasting so much time on heated arguments about areolas and nipples and so many other things that I've been pointing out on this website.

  2. Mindy says:

    Thank you, Erich, for this – I'm always relieved to know that science bears out what I feel in my gut! I believe these researchers are absolutely right, that too many people cannot reconcile the animalistic aspects of humanity with the emotional and intellectual sides – and somehow believe that because we have the latter, we must abandon the former. Ridiculous – and not surprising at all that it is based in fear.

  3. Mindy says:

    I read another article on this matter this evening, on the Washington Post website, and was reading the posts afterward. More than half the 110+ comments were in favor of breastfeeding. but several people jumped all over this woman for her "exhibitionist tendencies," and warned how dangerous that would be to her child, etc. And lambasted the breastfeeding moms for making a big deal out of this, because having photos on Facebook is certainly not a "right."

    True enough – but again, an entity like Facebook has the power to establish norms. If breastfeeding moms can be part of that cultural norm, isn't that better for everyone? It's not like these photos are just posted out there randomly, where you'll come across them accidentally – you have to visit someone's page to view their photos.

    So strange, how hung up people can be . . .

  4. Mary says:

    As Erich hinted at above and my husband pointed out upon hearing of this story, what is Facebook's policy about showing male areolas and nipples? If showing these parts on men is okay, then Facebook is simply being sexist. Period.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Hannah Rosin writes at The Atlantic ("The Case against Breast Feeding") that breast feeding is not as glamorous as it might seem, and not nearly the fountain of health that it is portrayed to be in the popular media.

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