Every day I am bombarded on social media by stories of women being shamed, berated, chastised, and even exiled because they have the nerve to expose the top half of their breast while nourishing their children in the natural, instinctual way females of the species have done for hundreds of thousands of years.
I have to admit, I am confused.
“Have you no self respect?”
It had never occurred to me that breastfeeding my infant in public, when she was clearly hungry, was demonstrating a lack respect for my feminine mystique. Have I been gratuitously parading my nipples through the streets like a traveling sex-minstrel without realizing it?
I found this possibility unsettling and decided I must immediately educate myself on the proper etiquette of modesty. I wanted to observe these fine, upstanding citizens of cyberspace who so kindly pointed out my egregious lack of social judgment. I was ready to discover the error of my ways and impart my newfound wisdom on the world.
There is no better venue in which to witness the grace and beauty of the righteous than a jumbo super-center, one-stop shopping Mecca of consumerism: the big-box store. I was ready to let the sophisticated and sensible fashion trends, respectful parenting styles, and tastefully covered breasts wash over me like purifying baptismal waters.
The first patron I encountered on the threshold of the establishment was a gentleman in his early to mid-twenties whose deep commitment to his body and appearance had resulted in a recent weight loss of what must have been fifty or sixty pounds, as his pants were at least three sizes too large. They hung limply around his hips where his scantily-covered hindquarters strained in vain against gravity to keep the jeans off the floor. He waddled awkwardly toward me with his knees and feet turned out like a penguin with a load in his pants. Clearly he was in the market for some new pants.
I happily observed that his oversized novelty t-shirt, which depicted a large hand demonstrating a rude gesture, fully covered his breasts and nipples. He seemed equally pleased that mine did as well because he spent a great deal of time studying the depth and exposure of my cleavage.
I knew I was in the right place to learn how to feed my children with dignity and gain the self-respect to shroud my distracting fun-bags from mankind’s ever-watchful eye.
Next I discovered a group of teenage girls huddled together near the lingerie bin. They carried mounds of clothes in their arms, presumably to replace last year’s clothes wardrobe that they had grown out of. Their shorts and skirts couldn’t keep up with their lengthening legs and would have exposed their days-of-the-week underpants… had they been wearing any. They must have needed new panties as well, because I could clearly see the bottom half of their shapely backsides peeking out from beneath the material like a pair of upside down breasts. To my great relief, these sweet, self-respecting girls were not showing any boob-flesh. In fact, they had dutifully hiked up their tiny t-shirts to completely cover their scandalous bosoms even at the expense of baring their midriffs and showing the occasional coif of pubic hair. Bless their hearts.
Then I saw them: my people. The self-respecting nursing mothers who knew how to treat their bodies like the private temples they are. I could tell because the flesh of their milk-laden mammaries strained against the unforgiving fabric of their animal-print halter-tops and around to their backs. Their toddlers clung to their legs like koalas on tree trunks. Their babies cried from their seats in the shopping carts, reaching for their next meal as it bounced just outside their grasp.
I froze to the spot, like a nature documentary film-maker hiding among the brush, waiting to witness the never-before-seen mating ritual of the endangered black rhinoceros. This was the moment I’d been anticipating all afternoon: the moment I would be privileged enough to observe the proper, courteous, areola-free method of feeding a baby in public. I could scarcely breathe.
The woman snatched the rejected pacifier from her baby’s mouth and in the same motion reached her hand into the front of her shirt.
Yes. This was it.
But instead of hauling her engorged breast from it’s leopard-skin prison the way a lesser woman like myself would have done, she simply deposited the pacifier in her cleavage for safekeeping before reaching into her purse and producing a sippy cup. I watched, intrigued, as she took a last swig of her Diet Pepsi and poured the rest into the cup before handing it to her screaming nine-month-old.
I gazed at her, in awe of her resourcefulness, as she passed by me in the frozen food section. All these years I’d been using my bra to hold up my milk-swollen boobs when I should have been using it to store pacifiers, loose change, and the occasional Kleenex. Pacifier Lady gave me a condescending smile as if she knew how much she had to teach me.
I returned home that day, my beliefs shaken to their core the way worshipers must have felt after undertaking their first holy pilgrimage; breasts are private parts to be stowed away for safekeeping, reserved only for the purposes of procreation. On the other hand, butts, legs, stomachs, pubic mounds, and on rare occasions, just a hint of a scrotal sac, are completely and unashamedly available for public consumption.
My highly-scientific anthropological journey through the lives and rituals of the everyday shopper taught me that the good people of the internet were correct all along. Clearly women should be shamed for incorrectly hiding the disgusting impropriety of breastfeeding in public. After all, it’s so easy to just cover up, pop open a Diet Coke, and teach the next generation a thing or two about respecting your body.