Today, we are surrounded by images from the time we wake-up until we close our eyes at night and those who make these images, image-producers, provide the public with a majority of our information. Just look at the field of news, where television and photography have strangled the written word almost completely. Sometimes I think we’re turning the book of life into a picture book.
This week, the image du jour is that oh-so controversial Time cover of a woman breastfeeding a 3-year-old standing on a chair next to her. I can only imagine how much the buzz surrounding this image is profiting Time-Warner, the owners of Time, even if most of the people buzzing about it will never actually read the story inside. A picture is now worth more than a thousand words if it can sell more than a thousand dollars worth of product in a day. I’m not sure this is any different when selling a so-called news publication than Gatorade.
As a woman who just finished breast-feeding her second child, a 2-and-a-half-year-old who still has her hand in my shirt as often as she can, I could care less about that photo. It means nothing real to my life or the things I find important.
But what I do value is the way much of the chatter has risen, or not risen actually, to the challenge it provides. It seems that as image-consumers, we may be becoming much better at not getting goaded into spending energy and money on images clearly meant to create fake-hype.
When I first saw that Piers Morgan was going to have Amanda Peet on to talk about the cover, I recorded it, worried about what I’d see. Would Peet take the bait to toss her kindling into the women vs. women, media-manufactured, “mommy-wars”?
To her credit, the actress and vaccination advocate quickly tossed the cover-shot aside, saying, “You know, I think it's best to leave these decisions up to the individual mom. And it would be good of we didn't get overly zealous about these things.” Then she quickly took the opportunity to discuss her own agenda.
Then I read New York Times columnist, Lisa Belkin’s Huffington Post piece, “No. I Am Not Mom Enough,” and cheered when Belkin wrote, “I am not Mom enough to take the bait. To accept Time's deliberate provocation and either get mad at this woman for what I think I know about her from this photo, or to feel inferior, or superior, or defensive, or guilty…”
She then explained that although the article inside the magazine does hint at some of the complexities of the real issues involved, “…an important and nuanced conversation about nutrition, and workplace policy, and government responsibility, and gender relationships.” The issues can’t “…be boiled down to a simplistic, unrepresentative, staged photograph.”
The popular mommy-blog MomsInMaine posted a similar rejection, in a piece titled “Wake Up Moms—You’re Fighting the Wrong Fight.” Here, alongside devastating statistics showing that most all of the other industrialized nations but the US provide paid maternity leave (39 weeks paid in the UK!), the post asked, “Why are we so busy fighting over what some mothers decide to do with their boobs? Why are we not more worked up about this!”
The MomsinMaine blogger also described the real ways in which loop-hole-ridden maternity policy in our country has affected her own life. “I had to return to work before Charlie was even capable of sleeping through the night. I had to return to work before Charlie and I could establish proper breastfeeding. I had to return to work before my post-partum bleeding had stopped…”
If you’re asking yourself who cares if women can’t establish proper breastfeeding because she’s lucky to have a job, if you’re about the utter the “w” word (rhymes with swine), consider this: In addition to the countless health benefits for both baby and mom with breastfeeding, a new study indicates that breastfed babies may be less angry and hostile even into adulthood.
These are just some of the complexities Lisa Belikin is hinting at when she says, “The breastfeeding conversation is not titillating. The Time cover is.”
So, Time cover, it looks like your 15 minutes of fame are officially over. The credit market continues to plummet, Syria is murdering its own people, and a domestic-abuse legislation is being challenged in congress.
I say, and I see I’m not alone here, it’s high Time to get back to what actually matters.