Breasts on display in pop culture: socially acceptable.
Breasts used to nurse babies in public: controversial.
Why the divide? Ricki Lake, executive producer of the new documentary Breastmilk, has some thoughts on the matter.
“There are so many forces in our culture that make breastfeeding a huge challenge — not the least of which is a bizarre public anxiety around exposed breasts!” Lake, who also co-produced 2008’s The Business of Being Born, tells PEOPLE.
Timed with National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, the movie is newly available on iTunes and Lake believes it will “definitely make waves with the general public, simply due the fact that breastfeeding has become such a lightening rod topic.”
Indeed, in the last few months alone, one mom made national news for nursing at her college graduation, another took on Instagram for censoring breastfeeding photos, and new mom Olivia Wilde joined the ranks of celebrities who’ve publicly posed while nursing their babies.
But many women still feel uncomfortable nursing outside the home. In an independent poll of more than 1,000 mothers conducted by Bravado, only 17 percent responded that they are extremely comfortable breastfeeding in public. One-third of the women said they are somewhat to extremely uncomfortable breastfeeding in public, and nearly 20 percent had never breastfed in public.
Still, Breastmilk, says Lake, is not “a pro-breastfeeding manifesto, but more of a keenly-observed examination of the obstacles so many mothers face when attempting to nurse their babies.”
“After our theatrical screenings there were heated conversations among the audience about what the film was or wasn’t saying. People want a clear message that is easily digested and the beauty of this film is that it shows the messy reality of the situation without pushing an agenda.”
Still, the imagery in the film and its promotional materials may be pushing the envelope when it comes to the general public’s comfort level. The movie poster, for example, is widely considered NSFW (not safe for work), and the movie features several tight shots of breasts dripping and spraying milk. But the intent, says Lake, is to educate and inspire, not to shock.
“The filmmaker, Dana Ben-Ari, chose to use some very graphic and playful images of lactating breasts,” says Lake. “To me, those shots feel humorous and celebratory from a feminist perspective. We hope that brings positive attention to the film and incites awe and wonder at the capabilities of the female body!”
But considering that #normalizebreastfeeding is a trending topic on social media (“It is rather crazy that breastfeeding is something that needs to be ‘normalized,'” says Lake), our society may have a ways to go before a film like this one isn’t debated.
“My hope is that the film gives the world a deeper and more compassionate insight into the challenges and joys of breastfeeding,” says Lake.
“The focus of this film is on new parents and their intimate experiences. I think both nursing and formula-feeding mothers will whole-heartedly relate to the film and society will gain a new appreciation for the intricacies around the lactating breast.”
— Rennie Dyball