Neha Chopra’s photo campaign draws attention to the issue of breast-feeding in public by young mothers.
While models and actors wearing dresses with a plunging cleavage splashed across hoardings in any city fail to raise eyebrows, a mother breast-feeding a child in a public space becomes the cynosure of many eyes.
So not surprisingly, until recently, breast-feeding was a topic limited to doctor’s consultation chambers or the modern version of a zenana. Till Neha Chopra, a photographer and mother, decided to shake things up a bit. “If nobody is telling us to cover up or stop, the staring is enough to make us feel uncomfortable,” she said. Chopra has started a photo campaign to normalise breast- feeding in public. “I didn’t want the discussion to be limited to the World Breastfeeding Week, which was from August 1 to 7,” she added.
A graduate from of the Film and Television Institute of India, she said, “Normalising breastfeeding in all its diversity and inclusivity is the end goal.” When her photography company became the first to be represented on Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project (PBAP) forum of worldwide photographers, she decided to start a dialogue on this burning topic, for which women get criticised despite it being normal as eating food — at least that is what it is for the baby.
“For the campaign, we told women to dress in their everyday wear. They are not models but real people. We requested one person to wear a sari because it’s a convenient garment when breastfeeding,” said she. “One woman wanted to do the shoot in an autorickshaw because that is something she does in real life too.”
The campaign doesn’t want to limit itself to public breastfeeding, which is a taboo, but to other issues as well. For example, there is body-shaming that plagues some of the new mothers. “Those with large breasts find it difficult to breastfeed in public,” said Chopra, who also faces this problem. She claims that the hormones, which go haywire after pregnancy, can affect women and many end up gaining weight for which either they themselves or peers and close ones might end up shaming them.
“Women have to take charge of their bodies and not let others dictate what is right for them. Husbands or in-laws should not be telling them not to breast-feed after a certain number of months. Rather it should be our choice entirely. Women have to be confident about their bodies,” she added.
“Many times doctors, who are ob/gyns, would say that one shouldn’t feed the children while lying down as the child could be smothered but that’s just not possible because mothers are on a high alert and for those with larger breasts this can be the best way possible without hurting the back. We start depending on experts and ignoring instincts and overriding them,” she said. “Lactation experts are much better in this regard because they have specialised knowledge.”
The shaming or the lack thereof can be limited to certain sections of the society. “In the urban landscape, for the middle class or upper middle class, we tend to get more conscious about breast-feeding and wonder whether it’s acceptable. In the same demographic, well-informed mothers take charge. One mother I met through the project, Deepa, said she feeds in malls, restaurants and flights. Often her friends would say ‘why do you need to do this? Use a bottle’ but she doesn’t find it embarrassing. It’s easier to just breastfeed my child instead of sterilising bottles and going through that drudgery. Those from a lower strata ignore the stares and just do it because they have no access to formula and breast-feeding is all they can do. That way, ignorance or lack of privilege is bliss,” she said.
The images of breastfeeding women, sitting in parks, in vehicles, on streetsides and cafes, are empowering, aesthetically done and show them doing something normal and without any fanfare. It doesn’t glorify motherhood or scream of indecency.
The campaign does have a precursor in popular culture where the Malayalam magazine, Grihalakshmi, had actor Gilu Joseph breast-feeding on its cover which invited a petition. This was dismissed by the Kerala High Court, which said that there was nothing obscene about it. It is time that the mainstream realises this fundamental truth and accepts it as something as regular as — well, eating.
Writer: Asmita Sarkar
Courtesy: The Pioneer