Boobs are for Sex: The Sexualization of Pregnancy & Breastfeeding in Advertising Part II

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By Elizabeth Ganley-Roper and Julia Fuller-Kling

 In our first article, we explored how breastfeeding mothers feel about their bodies, the portrayal of breastfeeding celebrities in the media, and how these representations can have negative and positive effects on mothers. In this second article, we’ve chosen to focus on specific advertisements and their portrayal of pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as the role that men play during this time.

Nursing lingerie advertisements offer the perfect examples of both degrading and empowering representations of women during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and depictions of men ranging from equal partners to sex fiends.

HOTmilk, a nursing lingerie company popular with celebrities, takes the classic “women as sex objects” approach in their advertising. HOTmilk claims their lingerie is for “the sexy woman inside the loving mother,” which in theory sounds great. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look sexy and wear beautiful lingerie while pregnant and nursing — in fact it’s a great and healthy thing for expecting or new mothers to feel sexy and sexual — the problem is the way this is represented to make profit. Not a single baby is shown in the company’s advertisements for nursing bras, yet pregnant women are shown in languid, enticing poses, primping themselves in front of the mirror, or with legs spread and straddling men. In all of these images, thin (except for the pregnant belly) and toned women are presented as objects, ready for sex.

In 2011, HOTmilk uploaded to YouTube the “Sexy Bra Fitting Guide” — their most offensive and disturbing portrayal of men and women yet. In the commercial, the professional bra-fitting expert is a white, muscular boxer-clad young man who continually snaps a measuring tape as if it were a whip, magically removing the bra from the pregnant woman. While explaining the features of the bra, the “expert” first feels up the woman, then stands behind her while she bends over to adjust the bra, in a clearly sexual position. Then with a simple snap of his fingers he magically changes the color of the bras of the smiling, sexy model. Here the woman needs “help” from the “expert,” the man, who is the one in control – physically, sexually and intellectually, since apparently he knows best when it comes to breasts, bras, and breastfeeding. And again, HOTmilk fails to mention the word “baby” or “breastfeeding” in their commercial. The only reference to breastfeeding is when the narrator (who’s voice sounds like an old British gentleman – what’s up with that?) says that the bra has “clips for easy access,” which when used in the commercial has a sexual connotation.

A 2009 commercial isn’t much better, showing a man coming home to his pregnant partner, who performs a strip tease, breaking anything that comes between her and her man – dishes, photographs, lamps, you name it. The woman is presented as clumsy and laughable, and at the same time sexual and alluring. You wouldn’t know that it was a commercial for maternity bras; we see her pregnant belly only once, at the end when she poses in her HOTmilk bra.

Unsurprisingly, the website is just as bad. Particularly disturbing is the “Men Only” section, meant to be old school and funny but in reality is degrading and offensive to both men and women. Here’s an example: “When a woman’s body gets hijacked by a baby it changes. Things swell. Sometimes most things and quite often for the better.” Did they really say hijacked? And we’re pretty sure the only positive swelling they’re referring to is of breasts. Here’s another one: “To be fair, the biggest challenge before you is getting the size right. Too small and she’ll think she’s fat. Too big and she’ll think that you think she’s fat.” Is this supposed to be helpful advice? Or a final example: after listing every special occasion when a man can “spoil your special lady” they go on to say, “But hey, to be fair you don’t need a reason, ‘cause you’re a man, and a man’s purpose is to buy women stuff.” Really? That’s a man’s purpose?

Marjorie Ingall of Tablet, comments on the sexualization of breastfeeding in advertising in her article ‘Selling Sex to Nursing Moms.’ Referring to brands like HOTmilk, she notes, “The manufacturers of sexy nursing wear claim to be all about women’s empowerment, but they’re really about selling sex.”

Ingall’s explanation for the sexualization of breastfeeding is, “just look at how breastfeeding is portrayed in advertising that aimed at the mothers themselves; of course people (particularly those who, um, aren’t equipped to breastfeed) equate it with sex.”

At least HOTmilk’s products are actually related to pregnancy and breastfeeding. Advertisement campaigns all over the world have used disturbing breastfeeding imagery to sell their completely unrelated products, ranging from hair removal cream to advertising agencies to Big Macs, furthering the notion that breastfeeding is sexual. Just look at the recent ad from South Korea for Oreo cookies, which is wrong on so many levels.

Milk and Cookies, anyone?

Why not show strong and empowered pregnant and breastfeeding women and supporting and loving partners instead of over-the-top sexual images? A great example of a company successfully doing so is Bravado! Designs. Here, babies finally come into the picture and real moms and non-professional models are used, showing a wider (although still restricted) range of shapes and forms. While this company focuses on comfort and practicality for breastfeeding mothers, they also include a “Date Night” section, offering a selection of sexy nursing bras in complete contrast to the images used by HOTmilk.

What’s more, there’s an entire “Breastfeeding Info” section offering advice and support for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, including articles on “Breastfeeding and the Working Mom” as well as for new fathers. Unlike the offensive “Men Only” section of HOTmilk, Bravado! Designs offers a “The Man Behind the Milk” section including advice and tips from other fathers and, our personal favorite, “Breastfeeding: 15 Ways New Dads Can Help” with wonderful, supportive advice which encourages fathers to be just as engaged and participatory as mothers.

Another great portrayal of new mothers and fathers is by the Italian company Chicco. The commercial in Italian not only portrays breastfeeding in a completely natural way, showing a child nursing and stating, “Breastfeeding is always recommended, but when it’s not possible it’s important to make the most natural choice” while panning to an image of the male partner lovingly holding and bottle-feeding the baby. This was such a refreshing portrayal to see after the distorted TIME cover. Like Bravado! Designs, Chicco also offers a section of the website dedicated to breastfeeding with information and support.

So once again, we see there are examples out there of positive, natural and non-sexual representations of women in advertisements who choose to breastfeed. Hopefully, there will be more companies that create advertisements like Bravado! Designs and Chicco do, which show that a woman can look sexy and feel sexual, and be pregnant and breastfeed their baby. And that a man can be sexually attracted to his pregnant or breastfeeding partner, and be a supportive and loving father. It’s not either or.  It’s both and and we like it that way!

Related Content:

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The Breast Wars: Why Time Magazine is Part of a Bigger Problem

Stop Fanning the “Mommy Wars”: Enough with the “Breastfeeding Bullies” Articles, Jezebel!

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Comments

  1. that’s something i don’t get – why do they insist that all women have to be all like supermodels? the book the stepford wives comes to mind………..

  2. christina says:

    The ads are pure sexist crap. The one with the kid refering to milk and cookies, yuck. I’m tired of seeing women’s boobs being ok for sexual purposes only. But, it’s wrong to have them breasfedding, the way it was meant to be, not for men’s pleasures.