Shaping Breastfeeding Norms Digitally
It is critical for Black women to see images of themselves and their bodies in ways that are not sexually exploitative. The media is a pervasive tool that has the ability to shape our societal views and norms. This is obvious, but the audio and video representations that Black women are subjected to from birth can have a profound impact on how we shape our identities and view ourselves within this society. Black women have been represented by satirical images, internalized and passed down through generations, creating a pathology of inferiority. The affects are evident in colorism, of course, and more broadly when we accept western standards of beauty, while viewing our own phenotypes as less desirable. In essence, we accept satirical images of black women as our truth.
I am raising my nine year old daughter to love the diverse representations of beauty found in people across the diaspora. Even though she is constantly instilled with affirmations of self love and pride in her heritage, she once said to me "My nose is too big.". We unpacked this statement and I asked her to explain to whom she was comparing her nose shape and size, While people of African descent have diverse nose shapes and sizes, the features of a nose she associated with normality were largely Eurocentric. After our discussion, she followed up with a slightly perplexed revelation. "Oh. I thought noses were suppose to be pointy!". Her innocent understanding of what is normal led to my own revelations, that even with all of our conversations and demonstrations of Black is Beautiful, it is difficult to completely escape the ideas imposed through dominant cultures in society.
What does this have to do with breastfeeding? The profound impact of media in shaping norms underscores the importance of seeing images of black mothers breastfeeding on social media and other forms of media. In one study, African American breastfeeding mothers discussed their use of social media as a means to gain breastfeeding support. Participants, however, noted the absence of African American mothers on different breastfeeding webpages (Asiodu et al., 2015). In another study, mothers discussed beliefs that negative images of sexuality associated with Black women’s bodies conflicts with the idea of breastfeeding as nurturing and health promoting (Spencer, et al, 2015). Our use of social media has the ability to not only challenge dominant cultural discourses in the US and re-normalize breastfeeding within our communities, but can also challenge the narratives constructed without our voice that have been ascribed to black women and motherhood.
1. Asiodu, I. V., Waters, C. M., Dailey, D. E., Lee, K. A., & Lyndon, A. (2015). Breastfeeding and use of social media among first-time African American mothers. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs, 44(2), 268-278. doi:10.1111/1552-6909.12552
2. Spencer, B., Wambach, K., & Domain, E. W. (2015). African American Women's Breastfeeding Experiences: Cultural, Personal, and Political Voices. Qual Health Res, 25(7), 974-987. doi:10.1177/1049732314554097.