- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

NEW YORK

“I was shocked to see a giant breast on the cover of your magazine,” one person wrote. “I immediately turned the magazine face down,” wrote another. “Gross,” said a third.

These readers weren’t complaining about a sexually explicit cover, but rather one of a baby nursing on a wholesome parenting magazine — yet another sign that Americans are squeamish about the sight of a nursing breast.

Babytalk is a free magazine whose readership is overwhelmingly mothers of babies. Yet in a poll of more than 4,000 readers, a quarter of responses to the cover were negative, calling the photo — a baby and part of a woman’s breast, in profile — inappropriate.

One mother who didn’t like the cover explained that she was concerned about her 13-year-old son seeing it.

“I shredded it,” Gayle Ash, of Belton, Texas, said in a telephone interview. “A breast is a breast — it’s a sexual thing. He didn’t need to see that.”

It’s the same reason that Mrs. Ash, 41, who nursed all three of her children, is cautious about breast-feeding in public — a subject of enormous debate among women, which has even spawned a new term: “lactivists,” meaning those who advocate for a woman’s right to nurse wherever she needs or wants to.

“I’m totally supportive of it — I just don’t like the flashing,” she says. “I don’t want my son or husband to accidentally see a breast they didn’t want to see.”

Another mother, Kelly Wheatley, wrote Babytalk to applaud the cover, precisely because, she says, it helps educate people that breasts are more than sex objects. Yet Mrs. Wheatley, 40, who is still nursing her 3-year-old daughter, rarely breast-feeds in public.

“Men are very visual,” says Mrs. Wheatley, 40, of Amarillo, Texas. “When they see a woman’s breast, they see a breast — regardless of what it’s being used for.”

Babytalk editor Susan Kane says the mixed response to the cover echoes the larger debate over breast-feeding in public. “There’s a huge puritanical streak in Americans,” she says. Since the August issue came out last month, the magazine has received more than 700 letters — more than for any article in years.

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