Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ample Women in Artwork: Breastfeeding, Part 1


Recently, we did a post sharing breastfeeding pictures of contemporary women of size.

We did it because most of the breastfeeding images published in the media today are of thin white women.  This is one of my personal pet peeves.

We need more diversity in breastfeeding images in so many ways, but particularly in more images of women of size, more women of color, and women who are both. 

We also posted images of breastfeeding in fat women to counteract the common misperception that "obese" women can't or won't breastfeed.

Yes, research does indicate lower breastfeeding rates in obese women, but the reasons for that are complex, and rarely take into account the influence of PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), hypothyroidism, or anemia.  It certainly doesn't mean that breastfeeding is rare or impossible in this group, just lower than in other groups.

Unfortunately, the media message around this has become distorted enough so that some folks have mentally transformed it into fat women "can't" or "won't" or "shouldn't" breastfeed, even though research shows that breastfeeding support in this group can increase breastfeeding rates.

Supporting physiological (natural) birth practices and preventing more cesareans in obese women would likely increase breastfeeding rates in this group. So would more effective treatment for possible co-factors like PCOS, hypothyroidism, and anemia.  So would less body shame towards larger bodies from society. And so would actual images of women of size breastfeeding!

So in addition to posting breastfeeding pictures of contemporary women of size, I've added some scenes of classic and modern art featuring plump women breastfeeding their children too.

[I anticipate that some folks might say that these women aren't truly fat.  I would counter that it's hard to guess someone's BMI from a picture.  Many women who don't really "look overweight" actually fall into the government's "overweight" and even "obese" BMI category. I'd say that most of these women would at least fall into the "overweight" category as defined by the government today, and some into the "obese" category too.]

The point is to counter the idea that being "overweight" or "obese" automatically prevents breastfeeding, or is unusual in fat women.  Yes, progress needs to be made in increasing breastfeeding rates in high-BMI women, but it's not true that fat women can't or don't breastfeed.

I take this misperception personally. I breastfed four children for more than ten years cumulatively, even with PCOS, and I know many other fat women who have successfully breastfed long-term.  We need to counter this idea that "all" or "most" fat women have trouble breastfeeding. Some do, and we need to offer those women understanding and support, learn from their stories, and investigate those issues further. But we also need to stop transforming this into the message that fat women can't and don't breastfeed for long.

Many fat women somehow manage to breastfeed in modern society, and they somehow managed to breastfeed in the past too, as these paintings and pictures demonstrate.  It's time for more diversity of breastfeeding images in the media, and these are a start.


Macierzynstow, 1902

Pieter de Hooch, 1658


Mary Cassatt

Gentileschi, 1628

Edouard Deban-Posat

Albrecht Duerer

Vincente Lopez


Francisco Zuñiga

Paula Modersohn Becker


Baron Leon Henri Frederic

Chodowiecki 1764

Alfred Roll, 19th Century

Mary Cassatt

Tihanyi, 1908

I have more images, but that's enough for one post.  Part 2 of Ample Women in Artwork: Breastfeeding will be coming soon.


Anonymous said...

I breastfed all 3 of my kids, obese & after c-section. Could not nurse both twins at the same time as advised by Le Leche because I needed both hands to position baby & boob. As a result, I did partially supplement with formula, or frozen milk if I had it, when both were hungry at the same time. The issue wasn't so much my weight as that I had extremely large pendulous breasts. Anyway, we made it work for all of us!

Anonymous said...


the first painting in this post is actually by a Polish painter Stanislaw Wyspianski (macierzynstwo means maternity in Polish)

visitor from Jezebel

allie said...

i **LOVE** your collections of artwork here. very inspiring and a wonderful source for meditation (if that's the right word... I think it is).

I am new to your blog and so happy that I found my way here!