I’m not sure why it took me so long to get good photos done of my son & myself but he will be 3 in May & I finally got some beautiful pictures taken just before Christmas this year. I never did professional photos when he was born; I was too busy bucking mainstream mom stuff I suppose, but now I wish I had. My mom gave me a gift card to a Sears Portrait Studio last Christmas & I was excited to get some good pictures of my son; I gave him his first legit haircut recently & he has gotten taller so he is looking very much like a child instead of a baby these days–a bitter-sweet fact for me that I really wanted captured on film.
I also wanted some photos of us nursing. I feel so fortunate that I have been able to breastfeed my son for over 2.5 years. My school schedule has worked so that I never need to be away from him for more than 3 hours at a time– which is in itself rare, as 1-2 hours every other day is the average during the school year thanks to online classes. With the maternity leave allowance in the U.S. in such a dismal state, I am glad that the fact that I am a single parent hasn’t hindered our nursing relationship at all. I will breastfeed my son until he stops & it is clear that this will be sooner than later. I know that a child really begins to wean the moment they start solids, but this is a noticeable recent change & another bittersweet time. Even though I try to wear him for as long as he’ll tolerate & I’ve been extending our bedtime ritual by at least an hour so we can lay down & read together, our physical closeness, our skin-to-skin contact that started the moment he was born has diminished significantly without our longer nursing sessions. Such is life, but it is still somewhat of a loss.
I have seen some gorgeous breastfeeding photos & I love to see it featured in art, so I was excited for this opportunity but I also considered that this could prove to be controversial. I wasn’t even sure if my energetic toddler would be still long enough to get a nursing picture, but I thought I would call Sears & check to see what their policy was. I wish I could say that I’m the type to just show up & do it– & I am when it comes to everyday breastfeeding or nurse-ins!– but I didn’t know how it would go down if the photographer, mid-shot, stopped & told me that I was being obscene & that I couldn’t nurse my child on camera. I tend to get less powerful, more tearful when people are so thoughtless in person & I wanted to at least know what to expect. So I called Sears.
I told the woman that answered that I wanted to make an appointment but that I also wanted to know their policy on taking breastfeeding photos. She responded, “You mean. . . like. . . covered up with a blanket?”
“Um, no. Definitely not like that at all,” I replied.
She continued on to say that they had a No Nudity policy & that breastfeeding is nudity so, no, they don’t do breastfeeding photos. I pointed out that breastfeeding is actually protected from nudity laws in most states, so it doesn’t count as nudity & doesn’t violate any No Nudity policy.
It was at this point that I discovered that I was somehow on the phone with a photo lady from JC Penney, not Sears. So I hung up & called Sears & basically started the same conversation all over again.
I was told that breastfeeding photos aren’t possible because of their No Nudity policy. I told her that breastfeeding isn’t possibly violating any No Nudity policy, by law. Then things got interesting.
“Well, how old is the baby?” she asked.
“He’s not a baby, he’s two-and-a-half years old.”
“Oh, well that. . .” she said, “that is not something we would consider appropriate. . . because of his age.”
She said it. The typical, American, I-live-inside-a-cultural-bubble-&-I-have-no-idea-what-normal-breastfeeding-is response.
I find this type of attitude to be a swift kick in the heart. After reading stories like this, where women transform into breastfeeding champions & fight through incredibly challenging situations to provide their babies with the best possible beginning, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to throw another obstacle at a breastfeeding mother. It isn’t just someone not wanting to take our picture, it’s risking a fragile infant’s health by feeling forced to make an emergency breastfeeding stop in a filthy public bathroom. It’s a mother who pumped for hours on end to cup-feed a NICU baby & is finally able to nurse her child being told to move because what she is doing is “gross.” It’s any woman, anywhere, having to place the arbitrary, uninformed sensitivities of a stranger above the health, comfort, & safety of her child. It’s the overall shaming attitude toward nursing women that is no doubt part of the reason that the breastfeeding rates in the U.S. are nowhere near the recommendations of the AAP or the WHO.
The major health organizations in the world recommend breastfeeding for at least 2 years. This is said to be paired with complimentary foods, which means that breast milk is to still make up the bulk of the diet. This information is not optional to some women. That means, Sears & citizens of the world: you will see breastfeeding.
But I didn’t relay those sentiments to the Sears lady. I tried to keep sounding like I was smiling because I really didn’t want to argue with this woman. I just wanted to calmly explain to her how wrong she was. The law in this area is very clear that breastfeeding, no matter the level of discretion or exposure, is not nudity & that I shall not be asked to cover up or move. But does that mean that a photographer at Sears has to take my picture while breastfeeding? It is what she would be getting paid to do, but I don’t know. Can they choose what to not take pictures of, even if it is in no way violating any of their policies? Would they take a bare-pregnant-tummy picture? Would they refuse to take a picture of a baby drinking from a bottle? If not, it sounds & certainly feels like discrimination to me.
I don’t know if legally Sears has a right to deny me. But the thing is, they just shouldn’t do it, morally. Choosing formula can have life-long health consequences for children but breastfeeding can sometimes be a substantial challenge. Women do not need further condemnation, they need support. I was heartbroken to be rejected. Breastfeeding is not obscene or gross or something that should be hidden instead of treasured. Yes, some people are uncomfortable around breastfeeding. My job is not to cater to them, my job is to normalize breastfeeding so that, among many other benefits, the next generation has the option to use their Sears gift card at Sears, for photographs that include nursing.
But that is not what I did; I did not get photos from Sears. After being told via messenger that the Disctrict Manager had simply said “no,” I was contacted by a lovely & awesome doula/photographer/LLL leader that is local to me but who I had not had the pleasure of meeting before this incident. She offered to trade the Sears card, which can be used throughout Sears, for a photo session & it was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better solution, except that Sears would have recognized their lameness, understood that it was nearly 2011, & apologized for their petty discrimination. But I also feel that Sears couldn’t have given us such a beautiful product as we ended up with, so for that I am thankful.
This is the obscenity that Sears was afraid of:
About Kristen Tea
I am a 27-year-old single, attached, informed, lactivist, intactivist, peaceful Minnesotan mother of almost 4-year-old Sun Ronin a.k.a Sunny Boy. I am an artist & lover of expression. I’m also a student with many things to learn, including nutritional therapy, lactation consulting, doulahood, yoga instructing, & more. I believe that unplanned pregnancies do not have to equal uninformed motherhood, & women have the power to restore humanity to everything we touch.