June 3, 2014

Modesty

summer 2011

I spent much of my childhood stripping off my clothes and splashing in mud puddles or terrorizing the boys. I started nude 'life drawing' classes at seven, I was the only kid and the median age was probably fifty. I still have a few of the sketches and they aren't good, but sitting in a room with a group of adults and one naked subject felt (and still does feel) completely natural to me. (It didn't even phase me when one of the models was my father's girlfriend at the time, but that's a story for another night... over a glass of wine).

During college I spent a semester studying painting in the South of France. It was standard practice for all of us to take turns posing for one another, and I so desperately wanted to be a part of the incredible artists' culture... but whenever it was my turn to shed my clothes, I would talk my way out of it. While I appreciate and accept the human body without any reservations, when it comes to baring my own skin, I'm kind of a prude.

I truly can't pinpoint the cause of my shyness; my household was free, my body image has generally been fairly positive, regardless of my weight... but from puberty onward, I have always been the one sporting flowing tunics and sarongs at the beach and darting into the water to avoid standing around in my swimsuit. I'm just very private when it comes to my own body.

So many aspects of motherhood have taken me by surprise, and many of them have been completely transformative. This is so minor by comparison that it feels silly, but I have to admit that the challenge to my personal modesty has actually been a strange struggle. 

There was the initial conflict of feeling proud and beautiful during my pregnancy while also cringing at the new attention to my body, then surrendering to the discomfort of complete exposure during childbirth, followed by the breastfeeding. 

I adore breastfeeding. I think it is such a beautiful and natural act, but if I am being completely honest, I am really uncomfortable doing it in public. With both of my babies, I used a nursing cover initially. At a certain point though, they seem to get annoyed by it, and become determined to expose me to the world. I am way less uptight the second time around, but I still do feel awkward, both at baring myself and at the potential of making anyone else feel uncomfortable. 

I see other women in social media sharing very open images of themselves nursing, some of these I find absolutely beautiful and others make me blush just a little. I know the goal is to normalize breastfeeding so that women don't have to feel uncomfortable about it, and I am certainly on board with that agenda... Until I'm perched on the back steps of a Harvard dorm, trying to find a quiet spot to juggle a three year old and nurse a very social baby, who promptly turns to greet a mortified (freshman?) guy with a milky smile and an eyeful. Personally, I would just much prefer for it all to be private.

And then I'm cleaning out my external harddrive, and I find this picture. A picture taken before I had this journal or thoughts about sharing photographs or normalizing anything. I see myself, tired and pale, thinner and younger. I see my son's chubby thighs that bear little resemblance to the skinny boy I tucked in to bed a few hours ago. I see a moment that is utterly natural and private... and I love it enough to want to make it public.

(Well and it's also pretty modest, I mean I'm still a prude!).

12 comments:

  1. This is a beautiful photo Lilly...there is nothing more natural than breastfeeding. I don't have any photos of breastfeeding my children, not that I want a gallery of them but one or two would have been nice to have tucked away x

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    1. Thank you Jane. Once I saw this picture, I realized that I don't have any with my daughter. It is nice for posterity!

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  2. I agree that the photograph is beautiful, and I love the honesty of your sentiments. I think the whole debate, if it can even be called a debate, about breastfeeding, is about the mother's comfort. If she wants to do it in public, then she should and she shouldn't be made to feel bad about it. And if she wants a quiet, private place to do it, that space should be available and maybe, ideally, not just be a dirty bathroom stall.

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    1. I completely agree Rachel, thank you. I definately think if a woman is comfortable, she should be able to feed her baby wherever she chooses. I wish I was personally a little more comfortable sometimes, but I've definately sought out a dirty bathroom because I could relax enough to get things flowing in a more public space ;) My brain says it's beautiful and normal and who cares, but I'm just super shy. I like to think it's just my personality and not succumbing to societal pressures, but who knows.

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  3. A lovely picture!! I feel remarkably similar on the whole debate; I think it should be up to the woman how she feels about breastfeeding in public. And I don't even think twice about seeing a woman feeding her baby in public. But some of those instagram pictures make me feel a little pink in the cheeks, too!

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    1. It's true that I take much less note when it's in person, I think I only notice in that I think how I would struggle to do the same so confidently. Thanks Ruthie!

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  4. Beautiful shot, Lilly! I always covered up, but never blink an eye when I see a woman uncovered. It's so normal nowadays anyway... as it should be! I really miss the experience now that I'm out of that phase. It is such a beautiful time!

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    1. It's funny because it isn't super common here, at least i don't see it all that much. Definately we all bf openly when there's lots of babies around like playgroups and school, and obviously think nothing of it... But among some of my friends who don't have kids, I can tell they feel embarrassed when they realize what I'm doing, even when I'm pretty covered. I don't think it's judgement, just surprise because they aren't used to babies. I think us New Englanders are just uptight! And I know I am going to be so nostalgic about this time when it ends, it's such a special bond. I guess that's why I love the picture so much :)

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  5. This is so sweet! I am a labor and birth nurse and I LOVE breastfeeding, birth, all of it but I too found it hard to nurse in public. I did it because a mama has to do what a mama has to do but goodness it can be uncomfortable some time. Thank you for sharing such a special image.

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    1. That's funny that you also weren't totally relaxed breastfeeding in public when it must be something so commonplace in your life. There are times when I want to be more open for convenience, but then I'm just shy. Birth definately is the one time I was forced to throw all modesty out the window! That must be an amazing profession.

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  6. That's a lovely photo! I'm pretty private about my body too. Breastfeeding was important to me and I never did pump much so I had to nurse in public too. But I tried to find a quiet bench usually and I covered up with a light blanket. :)














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  7. i am so glad that you have this photo and that you shared it and your story - i too am very private and whilst i loved bf my children and would happily sit at home exposing all to the world, i shuddered when i had to do it in public. i just felt very uncomfortable. i don't think i have any photos of me bf and now i wish i did.

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