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May 15, 2012

BEAM: As ‘Time’ goes by: A magazine’s maternal ploy

FLOYD COUNTY — Time magazine is brilliant. Last week, they placed a provocative photo of a blonde bombshell breastfeeding her 3-year-old son on their cover for the May 21 issue. Voila! The media went mad, and Time became relevant, at least for the moment, once again.

Too bad the much-discussed photo constitutes only a small part of the accompanying story, one detailing the life of Dr. Bill Sears and his attachment parenting philosophy. The cover characteristically illustrates the old bait-and-switch. See. I told you the magazine was brilliant.

Unlike some, the photo of a woman feeding her preschool age child does not disgust me, per se. Sure, I must admit to being embarrassed looking at such an intimate act. That’s my problem.

Babies need to be fed, and sometimes moms must nurse them in the most unlikely of places. Mothers and fathers should parent in the way they see fit, as long as their offspring does not suffer emotional or physical abuse in the process.

Extended breastfeeding, in my mind, does neither. As a mother who nursed her children, two of which past their first birthdays, I see the allure. By 14 months, I also felt the pain of their incoming canines and opted to stop for fear of raising little vampires.

What does disgust me is the way Time used the cover photo to paint an inaccurate picture of attachment parenting and, some could argue, motherhood. Wearing skin tight fitness apparel, the mother looks like a goddess with her tanned and toned biceps and flawless face as the suckling child stands atop a chair nuzzling her breast.

When I nursed, I had hairy armpits, sour milk-smelling hair and a postpartum gut hanging out from my shirt that was consistently one button off. Not something you would want to highlight on a magazine cover, except for maybe National Geographic.

Why not post a more accurate depiction of a seated mother nursing her child, one that preferably looks like your average size 14 American woman? Nursing mothers of all sizes exist. Maybe Time should have concentrated on that concept rather than trying to stun audiences with an overly posed pin-up and her child prop.

Likewise, the nature of the photograph goes against the very attitude mothers who subscribe to Sears’ attachment parenting try to emulate, most notably lovingness and responsiveness to their child. The cover image feels cold. The subject, Jamie Lynne Grumet of California and her child stare at the camera, daring someone to comment, her erect stance a warning rather than a caring affirmation.

Photographer Martin Schoeller states in the magazine that he positioned the mother in this way not only due to size restraints of the children, but “to underline the point that this was an uncommon situation.”

In other words, he wanted to surprise the reader with something new.

While they should have rested on the laurels of the writing and the interesting subject matter of the article, the magazine used the marketing tool of daytime talk show hosts like Jerry Springer — shock and awe. I doubt if a cover photo highlighting the other attachment parenting components, like co-sleeping or wearing your child, would have garnered as much interest.

Instead of covering the news, Time made news. The editors knew a beautiful woman doing something many consider taboo, the nursing of an older child, would bring in the readers. They were right. But instead of the discourse being about the topic at hand, the discussion centers on the staged photograph itself, one that reveals little about the true nature of attachment parenting.

Shouldn’t a news magazine’s cover be an accurate depiction of the story inside?

Apparently not. But, as my friend Amy said, at least the photograph has opened a dialogue about the acceptance of breastfeeding. Maybe other magazines will devote time to discuss mainstream nursing options instead of sensationalizing the extreme fringe. That’s a start.

Both Time and the times, they are a-changin’. Yes indeed.

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at hoosiermandyblog@gmail.com or visit her blog at HoosierMandy.com.

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