What’s All The Fuss About This Graduation Photo Of A Mother Breastfeeding?

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What’s All The Fuss About This Graduation Photo Of A Mother Breastfeeding?

Karlesha Thurman (pictured) had no idea that a simple, yet beautiful photo from her college graduation would turn into a national conversation over breastfeeding and the harsh criticism of those who choose to do it.

The 25-year-old mother was at her graduation ceremony at California State University, in Long Beach, May 22 with her then-3-month-old daughter, Aaliyah, when she opened the top of her gown and began breastfeeding her daughter after she crossed the stage to receive her degree. A former classmate sitting in front of her asked if he could take a photo, and she agreed.

“No one said anything,” Thurman said. “They all thought she was so cute.”

It wasn’t until the following Saturday when she was scrolling down the Facebook page “Black Women Do Breastfeed” that she saw an interesting status update that encouraged her to post the photo of herself breastfeeding in the comments thread. The administrator of the page, Shlonda Smith, reposted the photo hours later, and it was shared hundreds of times that day alone. It was the only place where Thurman posted the photo. She never posted it on Instagram or Twitter.

However, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook went ablaze with men and women, mostly Black, calling her a wide-range of unprintable profanities. And though Thurman graduated with a degree in accounting, people were calling her a “ghetto high school graduate” who shouldn’t have been “hoeing around.”

Other Twitter reactions were far worse, but all of them shocked Thurman because she didn’t actually think the photo would generate that much attention. “I really didn’t know that breastfeeding in public was such a controversy,” she said.

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Lactation experts say that breastfeeding in America, especially in public, is still a very uncomfortable subject for Americans. But according to the American Public Health Association, only 59 percent of Black Mothers breastfeed their children compared to 80 percent of Hispanic women and 75 percent of White women. There are a wide range of reasons why this gap exists, such as lack of education on the benefits of breastfeeding and a woman’s upbringing.

Lauren Powers, a program coordinator at the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association (BMBA), in Detroit, says many of the Mothers she works with were never breastfed themselves, but once she educates them on the benefits of breastfeeding, they are a lot more open to it. But Powers also said that stereotypes over what a breastfeeding Mother looks like can discourage some mothers from considering it.

It is surprising that breastfeeding in public is so taboo, given that 45 states, including Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands, allow women to breastfeed in public and private places. There are a number of popular Twitter hashtags that help to promote images breastfeeding, with #normalizebreastfeedingbeing one of the most popular ones.

Smith, the administrator who manages the “Black Women Do Breastfeed” Facebook page, says that, like Thurman, she had her first son while she was a senior in college and breastfed him while she finished her degree. For her, Thurman’s photo was an image of self-empowerment and a beautiful image of natural child-rearing.

“It just had so much symbolism,” Smith said. “A lot of people are just looking at her outside with her breast exposed. They’re not looking at it as breastfeeding and brain development. Breastfeeding and the bonding. Breastfeeding and women lowering the risk of female cancer. That’s what I am seeing. I am seeing that gift that she is giving her daughter that keeps on giving.”

As for Thurman, the photo has been 24 hours of support meshed with pure aggravation — and imposters. In addition to the insults directed at her, Thurman has had several people on Twitter retweet her photo claiming to be her. She reported those individuals to Twitter.

Despite the unexpected reactions and stress she has experienced, Thurman said she would post the photo to Facebook again.

“I posted it to show that [breastfeeding] is natural. It’s normal,” she said. “People do it all the time. It’s unfortunate that I did get as many negative comments as I did, but the main reason [I posted the photo] is still there.”

So, what do you think about Thurman’s photo and all the negativity surrounding it?


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