TIME Cover Features Breast Feeding Three-Year-Old. Is This "Sexualized"?

Health & Wellness on 05.11.12
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Photo: TIME/Publicity Photo

The other day, Time Magazine tweeted out a photo of their latest cover - which hits the newsstands today. Featuring Jamie Lynne Grumet nursing her 3-year-old son, the image has certainly succeeded in generating publicity, but it has done so by igniting a fierce and sometimes nasty debate over attachment parenting, nursing past infancy and the "sexualization" of breast feeding.

From the controversy over whether nursing can ever be public nudity to the process of weaning a toddler, breast feeding is obviously a regular topic here on Parentables. But while the idea of breast feeding infants is fairly uncontroversial (as it should be!), it seems that toddlers are an entirely different matter. Some advocates for attachment parenting believe it is healthy and natural to nurse well past infancy, but other people are adamant that it will create spoiled and messed up children. Alice Gomstyn at ABC News delved in to the controversy over the TIME cover:

Time tweeted out the cover this morning and the buzz has been building on Twitter ever since. One apparent supporter of attachment parenting called it “inflammatory” and “an insult to AP (attachment parents) moms everywhere” while another Tweeter criticized it as “sexualized.”

Whether or not the image is "sexualized" is a question of persepective. Breasts are, after all, primarily a mechanism for breast feeding. Yes, the image is provocative and challenges what is, and what is not, appropriate behavior. But the notion of sexualization has more to do with how we portray women (and breasts) elsewhere than it does with what is going on in this photo.

As commenters to Gomstyn's piece noted, however, there are a couple of different levels of controversy here. One is the legitimate debate over whether or not to breast feed past infancy. The other is whether to expose your children to international media coverage for a practice that many people - including the child's peers as they grow older - will find unusual and possibly distatesteful.

I don't have any answers to that question. There is always a tricky balance between undue pressure to conform and the basic respect of social norms - especially when kids and the media are concerned. Either way, judge not is the first rule of parenting. This mother is doing what she believes to be right.

Update: The original headline of this post incorrectly stated that the child in the photo is two years old.

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