The Cover of TIME and the Blessed Virgin Mary

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Ok, so I promised I wouldn’t talk about sex for awhile after my two-part ramble on contraception, etc. But then I saw this TIME cover:

photo credit: TIME magazine

You guys know that I’m a huge supporter of breastfeeding in public. Breastfeeding is not a sexual act. Breasts are not merely sexual. Breastfeeding in public IS NOT immodest. So, why does this image look so sexual? Some might claim that nursing is an intimate act and therefore should be private, no need to plaster images of it everywhere. I disagree. I think breastfeeding should be in the public eye. It is intimate, but it doesn’t mean that it should be tucked away in lonely corners. I think images of breastfeeding are so beautiful (maybe that’s why I post pictures of nursing Lucy all over my blog). So, what’s the problem with this image? It’s not the fact that she’s nursing and some breast is exposed (grow up, people!) and it’s not the fact that the nursing child is three years old (the WHO recommends that ALL children are breastfed until they’re at least 2, I’m all for extended breastfeeding). The problem is difficult to nail down but I think we can do it by comparing the image to images of another lady breastfeeding:

Artist: Da Vince (from

In this image, the Blessed Virgin is nursing Our Lord as a toddler. He’s big, squirmy, and looking straight at the viewer (just like the child is gazing at the viewer on the magazine cover). And there’s definitely a lot of breast showing. So what makes it different? The difference is in the Blessed Virgin’s pose and face. She is looking lovingly at her precious son. She is cradling him with love. She is not detached from her child and striking a “modelesque” pose while looking provocatively at the viewer. She’s not self-promoting. She’s not putting on the sex appeal. She is immersed in this act of love for her little son.

Sadly, TIME took an act that is so beautiful and natural and has presented it as extreme, sensational, and sexual. I hate that. Breastfeeding (and extended breastfeeding) are none of those things. I know TIME wants to sell magazines, but that doesn’t exonerate them from this incendiary journalism.

And the title is the icing on the cake: Are You Mom Enough? Again, the focus is completely on the mother, rather than the child. As if women who choose to practice AP and extended breastfeeding are doing it to prove that they’re better moms than other mothers or to impress other people. I hope that’s not the case for the woman who posed for the picture and I think she is being misrepresented. TIME is also misrepresenting all of us who practice AP and extended breastfeeding.  Mothers try their very best and agonize about what’s best for their families when they make decisions about parenting styles. Most mothers aren’t making any of those decisions because they have anything to prove.

What do you think? Am I overreacting?

EDIT: A reader noted that the mother on the cover was not trying to look sexy. I think this is probably true and I hope my post doesn’t sound too critical of her. When I’m describing her modelesque pose and “provocative gaze” I am criticizing TIME and the way they are portraying this mother and child which is probably not at all the fault of the mother.

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  1. says

    Definitely agree! I haven’t even read the article, but just the breastfeeding cover shot must be made purely for shock value. I think if anything its going to make women even more self-conscious about breastfeeding in public which is a total shame! I think its so awful that women are made to feel badly about choosing to breastfeed for whatever length of time they feel to be appropriate for their own child. I really don’t think there can be mothers out there who do this just to show the world they’re better than other mothers, breastfeeding is too much of a personal sacrifice to do it purely for vanity don’t you think?

    • Haley says

      I absolutely agree. Most mothers are doing their best to do what’s best for their kids, not to appear “mom enough.”

  2. says

    That cover really burned me too. Attachment parenting is not for show, it is tough and it is beautiful. As a doula I can’t shut up abut these things:
    Native Inuits breastfeed until age 7, Mongolians until age 4. The Talmud says it is every boys birthright to breastfeed until age 2. The WHO recommendation is to breastfeed until AT LEAST age 2. Our country? Most babies are not breast fed AT ALL, and a hospital is considered “successful” at encouraging breastfeeding if 25% of it’s mothers are still breastfeeding at 6 weeks. Women’s bodies provide babies with food all over the world and for many millennia. That is except for in our country in the last 80 years. Now we’re too sexy and too civilized to give our children what they need.

    • Haley says

      I remember being shocked the first time I heard that the WHO recommended breastfeeding until age 2 (at least). Because that’s so rare here! I haven’t gotten many odd looks about nursing Lucy in public but I’m pretty sure once she passes the year mark that I might…

      Being a doula must be awesome. Wish we got to see more of each other, Jessica.

  3. says

    Did you read the article? I thought it was a very thoughtful look at attached parenting. As writers, many times we use “shock value” to bring awareness to the issues we hold dear, not that I thought anything about this image was shocking or provocative. The same with your article about Awesome Family Planning (which I loved, by the way), some might find it shocking you were speaking so openly about sex and intimacy, even if in the context of your marriage. But you got your ideas out there and that’s what’s important.

    I thought she was brave to put herself in the line of fire to take a stand and advocate for attached parenting.

    • Haley says

      Thanks for chiming in, Natalie! I absolutely agree that just because something might shock some people, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be written about, photographed, etc. And willingness to represent a controversial aspect of parenting you believe in is brave. My problem is not that many people find various aspects of the image shocking (the exposed breast, the age of the child, etc which I don’t find shocking at all) but that I think the INTENT of TIME magazine was to sensationalize and sexualize. Intent is important here, because, as you mentioned on FB, we’re not shocked by pictures of women nursing toddlers from across the world, but their confidence wasn’t sexualized as I think TIME did here. I think you make a good point there to consider whether a more…shall we say matronly? woman instead of a young very beautiful gal would have caused less of a stir. But I think that the hand on the hip pose and what appears to me as a provocative gaze (I know there’s room for disagreement here) was used by TIME to sexualize something that isn’t sexual and I think (as I read more about the model) misrepresenting her and many of us by making something seem “extreme” when it’s simply natural. I think she meant to appear confident, but they made her appear sexualized. I’m completely with you in thinking that she should be applauded for her dedication to her biological and adopted son (how great!). Thanks for adding to the conversation! Did you see the other images in the article? I thought some of them were GORGEOUS. I loved the one of the mother nursing an infant and a toddler at the same time. Awesome.

  4. says

    {Kathy} This is an awesome comparison. I always said, “If it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for my kids!” I love how you compared the two mothers. I love noticing that Jesus is a toddler. And what is she doing? No, not looking at us. That would defeat picturing a nursing baby and child. Obviously, the artist got it right, Time magazine wrong.

  5. bekah says

    I totally agree with you. That is exactly how I felt when I saw the cover–it made me upset, but I couldn’t put it into words. It’s the “hot mom who is perfect at everything” vibe, not actual motherhood with all its quirks and personhood.

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