The act of breastfeeding, considered essential for growth and nourishment of infants, unfortunately also draws stares of perverse curiosity when done in public in India. Ask any lactating Indian mother and she will tell you the number of times she has been made to feel awkward and embarrassed for feeding her child in the open. In a culture that rampantly sexualises women's bodies, public breastfeeding is often reduced to the fact that a breast is semi-exposed in public. Leery men aside, it also draws horrified and disapproving stares from several women. Some well-meaning men too sometimes tend to get unnerved at the sight of women breastfeeding in public, thanks to years of conditioning.
Actually in India, even leering men struggle for a glimpse of an exposed breast -- what with layers and layers of dupattas and pallus draped around nursing babies. There's no proof that babies like to be smothered by a cloth while feeding, but discomfort of infants is nothing compared to the apocalypse that a mother might trigger by simply doing her job.
A 'good' woman's breasts, like her legs, back and who knows, even finger nails, should ideally constantly strive to be invisible. So when the World Breastfeeding Week arrives, you expect at least a murmur of protest against this policing of women's bodies.
When Nestle India's 'Breastfeeding Song' was released on YouTube earlier this week, I was glad that an organisation that sells baby food and processed milk among other things, is promoting breastfeeding. The cocky, borderline-irritating animation babies in the ad didn't immediately put me off, which I took as a good sign. For all you know, these animated babies might be able to convey what real babies wrestling with dupattas cannot.
The jingle explains what makes 'superbabies'. The CGI babies shake their cute little butts to declare that it's breastfeeding. They thank fathers, grandmothers, bosses and all the people who let their mother rest so that she can feed more.
However, throughout the three-minute grinding audio-visual, you can't help but wonder, where is the breastfeeding that they are talking about? Apart from the lyrics of the song, the CGI mother is not once shown breastfeeding a child. One baby is shown being burped, one is shown getting his nappy changed - but no, no breastfeeding on show in a commercial about breastfeeding.
It's almost a quiet endorsement of the idea that breastfeeding is an activity that should best be kept away from the public eye. Considering that the target viewers of this commercial are most obviously adults, if the organisation indeed wanted to raise and spread awareness about breastfeeding, the least it should have done is not make breastfeeding mothers invisible.
Reducing breastfeeding to a juvenile chatter of animated babies doesn't help normalise the activity, which unfairly, has been stigmatised by the patriarchal gaze of societies across the world.
While one can see that the commercial, among other things, is urging workplaces to support lactating mothers, a part of the reason they don't, is because of the various reservations surrounding the activity of feeding in public spaces. When the commercial itself seems awkward and uncomfortable depicting a nursing mother, how does it expect to encourage others to make space for them?
You can watch the video below: