Just before Mother’s Day, TIME grabbed America’s attention with a cover image accompanying the headline “Are You Mom Enough?” Its photo featured 26-year-old Jamie Lynne Grumet nursing her 3-year-old son.* The image electrified the blogosphere. With 24 hours there were over 18,000 comments on one site alone. LA Weekly called her a MILF and reported that internet traffic flooding her website caused it to crash.
Within no time, spoofs of the cover appeared. Tiger Mom made a reappearance. “Are You Phone Enough?” plays on the idea of attachment, but between user and electronic device. One site offered “magazine makeovers” and generated a “make your own TIME magazine cover” template.
The responses, though, were mostly negative. In a TODAY.com poll about the image, more than 131,000 people weighed in; 73% saying they would have preferred not to see the image. Saturday Night Live wasted no time in skewering both mother and child. Purportedly, some newsstands covered up the image and when it appeared on some news shows, Grumet’s breast was blurred.
For those for whom the image was offensive, Grumet’s physical attractiveness and her exposed body conflate feeding with sexiness, hence constructing the image of her suckling son with creepy or incestuous undertones — exactly the kind of one-note misconstrual of the breast (for sexual appeal rather than nutrition) that breastfeeding advocates revile. Objections to the image included revulsion that a child — clearly still not a baby — would be connected to his mother’s body this intimately, alongside a fair share who claimed he would surely later be scarred — if not by the experience of cognitively remembering breastfeeding, then by this image circulating through his future school yards. One commentator claimed deep concern that Grumet’s son may “never be better-known for anything than for being a breastfeeding 3-year-old on the cover of a national magazine,” and that the image was one of “psychological abuse,” as well as “an act of media violence against a child” perpetuated by manipulative journalists.
Breastfeeding advocates (so-called “lactivists”) seemed torn. On the one hand, the image drew attention to their cause: the benefits of long-term breastfeeding, including both nutritional benefits and mother/child bonding. On the other hand, it was clear this was being done for shock value and exploitative purposes. Grumet’s hand-on-hip, defiant stance and her son’s stepladder perch hardly convey the sense of intimacy that breastfeeding can offer. Most agreed that TIME‘s choice of a 26-year old, blonde, white woman who looks like a model was a deliberate move meant to provoke. In a “Behind the Cover” online sidebar photographer Martin Schoeller admits that he posed Grumet and her child upright in order to “underline that this was an uncommon situation” (i.e., to be provocative). The story accompanying the article doesn’t mention Grumet at all; instead, it profiles 72-year-old Dr. William Sears, the “father” of the attachment parenting movement. All this exacerbated the sense that the sensationalistic pose of Grumet’s lithe body and her son’s latch was generated just to move copies of the magazine.
By capitalizing on shock value and American squeamishness about breastfeeding, there is no doubt the image will continue to generate reaction for a while longer. And it likely sold magazines. It inspired a few “print is not dead” articles, with one writer calling the cover “a shocking stroke of genius” that serves as a testament that a powerful image can still generate buzz and boost magazine sales.
Unfortunately the image may ultimately harm the cause it represents. The relationship between media and activists is a fraught one. Activists need media attention, but far too often media attention can warp and undermine activist projects. It remains to be seen whether the cover will be a net good or bad for lactivists.
*A few people wondered about why TIME didn’t feature Grumet’s older, adopted child, who she also breastfeeds. One guess is that bold as the cover image is, even TIME‘s editors were afraid to take on the implications of a white woman nursing a black child.
Elline Lipkin, PhD, is a Research Scholar with UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women. She is the author of Girls’ Studies and The Errant Thread, recipient of the Kore Press First Book Award for Poetry. She lives in Los Angeles and has written for the Ms. magazine blog, Salon.com and Girl w/Pen, as well as other contemporary publications. She tweets at @girlsstudies.
Guest — May 30, 2012
Speaking from personal experience, as the child of a family where the children nursed well into toddlerhood, the image looked extremely odd to me. While I don't remember nursing, I do remember my brother nursing, and even at the age of three or four he was cradled on my mother's lap in bed, not standing up for a quick snack. By that age it was definitely not about food at all actually - the warm milk helped him sleep.
myblackfriendsays — May 30, 2012
My problem with the photo was the staging. I do remember from the documentary "Babies" that kids do sometimes nurse standing up, but the mom bent over to reach the baby's mouth.
I also didn't like the headline. the whole point was to pit mommy against mommy--and I'm over that, for reals.
Robinliebman — May 30, 2012
To play Devil's Advocate: at what age would the most ardent pro-nursers argue that it's time for their kids to be weaned? In other words, if a kid wanted to nurse at the age of 30, is that 'ok'?
MichelineHilpert — May 30, 2012
I am torn by this photo. I am not against prolonged
breastfeeding and I am very much for public breast feeding.
That being said, I am against a prolonged infantile period in which children do
not learn independency. My mother nursed me into toddlerhood, and I believe it
was out of the need to keep me dependent on her far longer than I otherwise
would have been. So I have grown up both exceptionally healthy and still
struggling (at nearly 40) to express my my individuality from my mother.
I know my mother isn't alone in this behavior. In the store last month I saw a
tantruming six year old. She was sitting in the baby seat in the shopping cart.
Usually I wouldn't have thought very much of it, except that her mother had one
of those plush shopping cart covers on the seat. So not only was the child
expected to sit in the cart, the mother wanted to make sure her daughter was
protected from the germs of the shopping cart. (yes, i understand the child
could have had a compromised immune system and/or motor impairment) however I
do not believe that was the case. I believe this woman, like so many others are
just being over protective and fearful of letting her daughter grow up.
In a culture where all a parent's hopes and dreams rely on one or two children,
I think that this overprotectiveness is an understandable but sad byproduct.
Drjoy97 — May 30, 2012
I agree that the staging of it sucks. Cuddling is part of breast feeding, even long term. My personal idea about when a child is old enough is when they can drink easily from a cup, or when they start to grab at a boob and ask for a drink.
eduardo — May 30, 2012
"[...] Grumet’s physical attractiveness and her exposed body conflate feeding
with sexiness, hence constructing the image of her suckling son with
creepy or incestuous undertones [...]"
The thought never crossed my mind, but if someone looks at a picture with incest in his mind he's obviously going to find it. Is this exploitative? Yes, even the photographer admits that much. Incestuous? Doth protest too much and all that... Stuff for the morality police, perhaps? Personally I find it unusual, but to each his own I guess.
mclicious — May 30, 2012
I don't understand why people are offended by public breastfeeding (I think it's ridiculous that there is such a term) for babies, because eating in public is certainly allowed, and babies cannot be held to a schedule. But whether or not it's physically/nutritionally healthy for mothers and children to prolong breastfeeding past two years, you can't say that it's not socially harming in our society, for both the mother and the child. I think that should be reason enough, and I think it's the parent's responsibility to initiate the weaning before it becomes harming. I think that's no different than how parents socially harm their children by naming them ridiculous things like Moon Rocket or John Johnson. Just because it seems benign doesn't mean it won't have a longterm effect on the child, and you can't say that effect is mitigated by its good effects nor is it inevitable psychological harm the way something like divorce might be. It's also not biologically necessary in our society, since we have access to healthy regular food.
Guest — May 30, 2012
I have no problem with mothers breastfeeding their children as long as they want to, but I do have problems with parents exploiting their children for magazine sale purposes. I think any time a person below the age of 16 or so is used in a photograph that will be displayed publicly, and ESPECIALLY when money will be made from that photograph, they are too young to give full consent. This is especially the case for a three year old! Since the child cannot consent, the parent must consent (or not) on his/her behalf. And I have a problem with a parent giving consent for the use of her child's image for the sole purpose of shocking viewers into buying a magazine.
Even though I don't have a problem with toddler breastfeeding, the magazine cannot have been unaware that the photo would generate controversy, and in fact it seems they tried to exaggerate this effect, by dressing the child to look older than three, by dressing the mother to look young and sexy, and by the staging in the unusual position (which I think was at least partly designed to increase the perception of the child's height and contribute to him looking older). So no one can argue that the photo was not INTENDED to shock viewers, and I think it's sad that a three-year-old was used for this purpose.
Alex Odell — May 30, 2012
Aside from the breastfeeding/formula debate, the tagline itself "Are you mom enough?" seems suggest some kind of challenge or competition among women, i.e. who's the most hardcore mother. Or maybe that's just me....
Ruthreally — May 31, 2012
The absurdity of this photo is the mother and child's eye contact with the camera. Breastfeeding photos usually portray an intimate moment between mother and child. The more I look at the pic, the funnier it becomes-- the child having to climb to his mom's boob, the cargo pants. I wish they had a mother/daughter on some of the covers and weighed the difference in response.
Deb Christina — May 31, 2012
"Most agreed that TIME‘s choice of a 26-year old, blonde, white woman who looks like a model was a deliberate move meant to provoke." Is it safe to assume that if she were not thin and attractive people's reactions would not have been so negative? Hhmmm
I feel that people should be allowed to do what they feel is right and good for their families but I have to agree that this photo may cause a lot of unwanted emotional distress for this boy. I just feel it was a bit extreme to put his face out there like that and pretty much making him a target for bullying when he is of school age.
jessica mattingly — May 31, 2012
For I site I read for its critical thinking and academic content I must say I'm dismayed at the lack of either in most of the comment thread. How did it somehow become okay to police women's bodies and behaviors based on personal biases and "ick factors" when there is *zero* research indicating harm in long-term breastfeeding and that much points risks for both mother and child in not doing so? Again I would turn to the work of Dr. Dettwyler who has taken the time to compile the research that was available when she published the book http://www.amazon.com/Breastfeeding-Biocultural-Perspectives-Katherine-Dettwyler/dp/0202011925/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1338524076&sr=8-1. She also does a fabulous presentation on Beauty and the Breast and on breast/commercial milk advertising that are worth seeing if you ever have the opportunity.
The "Are you mom enough?" headline was awful and is back to public policing which I will call out regardless of the source - but that was not at all what these families were told would be the spin of the article. The mother in question gave a great interview on the Today Show where she pretty much directly said that the picture that was used was an outtake, shot the second after her son had dropped his arms (he had previously been holding her around the waste) and that she was unhappy that that was the photo they choose. You can read interviews with each of the mothers at http://kellymom.com/blog-post/time-apmoms-interview/. I would also suggest checking out their individual blogs as there is much to be learned from the varying perspectives. And if you read those blogs you will find that these mothers rarely come from a place of "if you don't do this you aren't a good mother". Many of the most outspoken attachment parenting advocates are also critical theorist and/or feminists who have no desire to engage in mother-blame or mother-shaming at any level.
There is growing body of critical work (from a social science perspective) done on the subject of breastfeeding for anyone who is interested:
The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business
Milk, Money and Madness: The Culture and Politics of Breastfeeding
Mother's Milk: Breastfeeding Controversies in American Culture
Xiao Mao — June 1, 2012
Poetrygirl — November 26, 2012
First i want to start by saying when I first saw this picture I was disgusted with this mother and both worried about the growth of the child. Steve Harvey not to long after this image apeared used it as his top 10 punch lines on his radio show, he called "the top 10 ways you can tell that your child is to old to be breastfeed", if I recall some of the jokes were ( when your child can pull down your shirt and help him or her self, when lunch time at school comes around and he or she is crying for breast milk instead of actual food) and the list goes on. But I have to say Steve Harvey wasn't the first to make jokes about a situation such as this; if you've seen the movie "Grown ups" then you would know that there is a young about the same age as the boy in this times magazine cover also being breastfeed, the only difference is that the movie put it in as a joke as for this mom I guess just to get attention because I see no cause for this mess that she has displayed.
Mita Son — December 5, 2012
I have no problem with mothers breastfeeding, I encourage it. But I felt kind of weird when I saw that it was a grown 3 year old breastfeeding instead of a baby or an infant. At that point, at the age of 3 he could probably walk, go to the kitchen and pour himself his own glass of milk. I also didn't like the title or the hook for the magazine, "Are you mom enough", is sounds like a challenge. Like women who don't breastfeed aren't "mom enough" and the mothers who do and go onto breastfeeding their kids till they're 5 are the "strongest moms"
Sam F — May 16, 2013
My fiancé and I are thinking about having a baby in the Future and breast feeding has always been a choice for us, however I never knew that breastfeeding a child for two long can be abuse. I am also very shocked to see that the magazine “Time” has put a picture of a model and a three year old being brest feed. Shit that is like intimidating the whole point of a women by saying “ Are You Mom Enough” are you stating to the world that your child has to be nourished for ever is humiliating and disruptive to those who choose to breastfeed their kids. The magazine is sending a message to women stating that they are not women like if they don’t stick out their breast and feed their kids not matter how old they are. The message is even worse that the child has to stand on a stool while the mother facial reaction states that is ok to do so. The magazine is also saying that women who don’t breast feed their child till that age are doing the wrong thing. Society believes these messages not knowing that its not the right thing to do.
joefuss — June 18, 2013
Why do so few women on here see nothing wrong with breastfeeding a boy of 8 ?
Minnie — July 12, 2013
With my breasts the boy would not need the chair.: )
Tatiana Kohanzad — December 3, 2013
I don't believe that anyone should be offended over the fact that this woman is breastfeeding her child, I believe that breast feeding is a natural act. The problem that I do have with the photo is the way it was staged. I don't like how the child and this intimate moment between him and his mother is being exploited for attention for the magazine. It feels as though the magazine tried as well to exaggerate breastfeeding with the way the photo is set up, the child is standing up and looking at the camera with huge eyes and the mother isn't even paying attention to him. It's all exaggerated to shock viewers and it doesn't look right.
Quick hit: Shifting discourses of motherhood: the Victorian breastfeeding photo fad - feimineach — January 3, 2014
[…] year Lynne Grumet set the internet a-flutter when she appeared on the cover of TIME magazine breastfeeding her toddler. Reactions were largely negative, often reflecting unease at the open display of a sexualized body […]
Christopher C. — July 30, 2014
The fact that she is breastfeeding her child is not the problem with the image, more so HOW the breastfeeding is advertised is the key problem. If you look at a woman breastfeeding her child, almost all of the time, you will never see a woman breastfeed her child in this type of way, in this type of pose. The woman is assuming a dominant and obsessive stance in the photo. This, coupled along with the headling "Are you Mom enough?", is enough to take breastfeeding, or being a mother for the matter,and turn it into some sort of game or competition. Public breastfeeding shouldn't be the issue, but rather the fact that it being sexualized and turned into a competition between mothers should be the one that is being looked at.
George Soros — January 7, 2015
I'd love to be that kid in the picture, but I'm probably not the only one. I call dibs!
Kimberly Dsouza — September 28, 2018
I agree with most others here. The only problem with this pic is how it is staged. It would have been better if it was done in a natural setting.
Just the other day, I noticed a beggar nursing her baby outside a restaurant. That would have made a great picture. She was definitely "mom enough"!
Why it's a good thing that my child seens unhappy to see me at Pick up - Conscious Living Labs — November 6, 2018
[…] Controversy Re: TIME’s “Are You Mom Enough” Cover https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/05/30/controversy-over-times-are-you-mom-enough-cover/ […]
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Anonymous — April 12, 2021
What is happening to decency, in no way is anything about this picture ok. What is that smug look for, idiots like that shouldn't be allowed to have children. Her son is going to have the worst time growing up,,if he doesn't take his life. Disgusting lady, you should be arrested.
Anonymous — June 21, 2021
I think this is an awesome display of love, and moms should have every right to show their breasts in public or wherever while breast feeding. Don't be ashamed to be a woman and who you are. And yes there are many of us men who would love to be that child...
sarahroxon — January 19, 2022
I'm also astonished to see a photo of a model and a three-year-old being breastfed in the magazine "Time." That's like undermining a woman's whole point by asking, "Are You Mom Enough?" Are you telling the world that your child has to be fed for the rest of their lives? It's demeaning and disturbing to parents who choose to breastfeed their children. The publication is delivering a message to women that they are not women if they do not thrust out their breasts and breastfeed their children slope game, regardless of their age. The message is made worse by the fact that the youngster is required to stand on a stool while the mother's facial expression indicates that everything is OK.