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A detail from a cover shoot for Girls Girls Girls magazine, that shows actress Rachel McAdams pumping breast milk. (Instagram/Claire Rothstein)
A detail from a cover shoot for Girls Girls Girls magazine, that shows actress Rachel McAdams pumping breast milk. (Instagram/Claire Rothstein)

Mixed messages

Normalizing breastfeeding is great — but glamorizing it could be letting women down

By WITW Staff on December 21, 2018

When a recent cover of fashion magazine Girls Girls Girls featured actress Rachel McAdams pumping breast milk (while looking ultra-chic in Versace and Bulgari), social media lit up with praise. The image was enthusiastically embraced as part of a broader campaign to normalize breastfeeding, which has also seen swimsuit model Mara Martin strut the runway feeding her baby, and model Valeria Garcia at a London Fashion Week show wearing a breast pump.

Girls Girls Girls editor-in-chief Claire Rothstein posted the McAdams portrait on Instagram, commenting that “breastfeeding is the most normal thing in the world and I can’t for the life of me imagine why or how it is ever frowned upon or scared of.”

Swimwear model Martin, of her spin down the runway with her daughter, wrote on Instagram “I’m so grateful to be able to share this message and hopefully normalize breastfeeding and also show others that women CAN DO IT ALL!”

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Wow! WHAT A NIGHT! Words can’t even describe how amazing I feel after being picked to walk the runway for @si_swimsuit. Anyone who knows me, knows it has been a life long dream of mine. I can’t believe I am waking up to headlines with me and my daughter in them for doing something I do every day. It is truly so humbling and unreal to say the least. I’m so grateful to be able to share this message and hopefully normalize breastfeeding and also show others that women CAN DO IT ALL! But to be honest, the real reason I can’t believe it is a headline is because it shouldn’t be a headline!!! My story of being a mother and feeding her while walking is just that. Last night there are far more deserving headlines that our world should see. One woman is going to boot camp in two weeks to serve our country (@shauntness), one woman had a double mastectomy (@allynrose), and another is a cancer survivor, 2x paralympic gold medalist, as well as a mother herself (@bren_hucks you rock) Those are the stories that our world should be discussing!!!! Just thinking about all that was represented there… I desperately need to give the most thanks to @mj_day for this. She supported me in what I did last night. Without her support this wouldn’t even be discussed!!!! She and the entire Sports Illustrated family are the most amazing and incredible team to have worked with. THANK YOU for letting all 16 of us be our true selves, strong beautiful women!!! Because of you, my daughter is going to grow up in a better world, where she will always feel this way!!!!!! Lastly, to every single woman that rocked that runway with me. Be proud. I know I am of you! You all have inspired me in ways unimaginable. I love you all!!! #siswimsearch

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But, E.J. Dickson argues, in a thoughtful essay for Vox, images like these are skirting a much larger systemic problem — the lack of mandated maternity leave in the United States and, by extension, the lack of respect our society affords mothers in the workplace.

“The idea that women can just cram more tasks into every hour, simultaneously pumping, filing expense reports, and dialing into a conference call, has real allure,” writes working mother of two Annaliese Griffin for Quartz. “[But] the difficulties of being a working parent, particularly when you’re nursing, cannot be solved by consumer choice alone.”

While breastfeeding is associated with a number of health benefits, with the World Health Organization officially recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for at least six months, that becomes a problematic task in a nation like the U.S. that does not guarantee maternity leave.

Dickson goes on to list the parlous conditions under which so many working mothers are forced to pump — a far cry from the glamorized version in the McAdams shot (albeit doing a great service in challenging the stigma around feeding in public.)

“Were it to be truly subversive, she might’ve been shot not with dramatic eye makeup and a cropped designer jacket, but in sweatpants and an ugly nursing bra at 3 in the morning blearily watching Netflix, or desperately trying to eke out one more ounce in a cramped supply closet before a business meeting,” observes Dickson, as she encourages celebrities to advocate for better policies for nursing mothers.

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A million reasons why I wanted to post this picture. Obviously #rachelmcadams looks incredible and was quite literally the dream to work with but also this shoot was about 6 months post her giving birth to her son, so between shots she was expressing/pumping as still breastfeeding. We had a mutual appreciation disagreement about whose idea it was to take this picture but I’m still sure it was hers which makes me love her even more. Breastfeeding is the most normal thing in the world and I can’t for the life of me imagine why or how it is ever frowned upon or scared of. I don’t even think it needs explaining but just wanted to put this out there, as if it even changes one person’s perception of something so natural, so normal, so amazing then that’s great. Besides she’s wearing Versace and @bulgariofficial diamonds and is just fucking major. Big shout out to all the girls ???????? #rachelmcadams for @girls.girls.girls.magazine .com cover shoot ???? @clairerothstein #pleaseshare . . . Side note: I did not look anywhere near as fabulous as this when feeding/pumping. And that’s ok too. . . . Stylist: @alicialombardini ???? #girlsgirlsgirlsmag #girlsgirlsgirls #bringingbackthewoman #nogrungejustglamour #independentmagazine #printisnotdead #normalisebreastfeeding #normalizebreastfeeding #breastfeeding #life #women #versace #bulgari

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Read the full story at Vox.

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