The most breathtaking breastfeeding photo many of us have seen today, and perhaps in our lifetime, should be held up as an example of a mother's strength, beauty and the unconditional love she has for her children. But when a photograph of Kassondra Coxson, co-owner of Designed by Geeks and a blogger at Motherhood Community, went viral, showing her nursing both her baby and toddler while relaxing in a bath of milk, many of the comments it garnered were downright vicious.
Photographer Jen Pritchett shot Coxson and her son and daughter in the bath and then posted the photograph on Facebook with a caption that serves as a sad reminder that we know how cruel people can be, though we're still willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. "I have never been more nervous about posting one of my photos as I am in this moment and it's because this one means so so much to me," Pritchett wrote.
In the photo, Coxson, a multiracial woman of color whom Pritchett describes as a "body-positive" person "driven to help normalize full-term breastfeeding while also letting the world know that Black Women Do Breastfeed," looks like a goddess.
Her satisfied smile sends the message that there's only one thing on her mind in this intimate moment: not whether folks are comfortable with the sight of a plus-size woman tandem nursing, but that she is nourishing her little ones and has not a thing for which to feel shame. On that note, cue the critics.
The photo has been liked 8.6 million times and shared more than 1,500 times, so clearly more people love it than hate it, but those who bashed Coxson did so without reservation. Pritchett, who has since deleted most of the hateful comments, said they ranged from "racist" to "fat-shaming and horribly insensitive."
"The comments that affected me weren’t about my daughter being too old to breastfeed or the fat shaming. It was more about why I was breastfeeding a child with different colored skin,” Coxson says. "As a blacktavist, as a woman of color, I’ve developed a thick skin because I’ve been judged my entire life by people who judge without finding out anything about me. I had a thick skin before I became an activist and it has only gotten thicker as I talk to people about breastfeeding."
Coxson's photo didn’t just spark silly debates over whether women larger than a size 10 have the right to bare their bodies and breasts for nursing photos (answer: They sure do.), it also brought up questions — and confusion — as to why it’s important to raise awareness in the African American community about the importance of breastfeeding. The issue is so on the forefront of blacktavists' minds that there's even a Facebook page called Black Women Do Breastfeed. When one commenter posited, "Perhaps it's their culture. African American culture tends to sexualize breasts...well their music and society does,” all hell broke loose, and it became apparent that there are a few misconceptions worth addressing.
“There was a backlash when slaves were forced to breastfeed other people’s babies. They began resenting it,” Coxson says. “None of us can really know exactly what caused something if we weren’t there, but what we can do is work toward raising awareness. My mom breastfed me until I was 3 and I realized when my daughter was born that I had never seen anyone breastfeed.”
To combat that, Coxson stresses the importance of making sure kids learn to view breasts, not simply as sexual parts of our body but as body parts that serve an important function.
Coxson has zero regrets about posing for this photograph and three more that became part of a magical series showing her prior to her son's birth and then after.
“I absolutely loved all four photos and am thrilled with the results,” she says. “Jen and I are both in a photography group and someone else posted a photo they were working on with a milk bath. It was the first time I’d heard of it and it was her first photo with the milk bath."
Lest I give the false impression that these glorious photographs aren't making a lot of people think, sigh, call up photographers to request your own breastfeeding milk bath session and feel a connection with Coxson and an appreciation for her bravery. I'll leave you with Shaka Jamée's beautiful Facebook comment:
"I have 'white babies' too. No one believes they're mine! This is why I love this so much and also showing women with large breasts and large areolas which is almost never seen in breastfeeding photos, it's important to show that you can still breastfeed that way. I relate to these photos so much!! As a woman of color, as woman with white presenting children, as a large breasted woman, a plus size mama. It's just beautiful!"
Indeed, it is.
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