In the scenario painted by Emma Mahony in her Daily Beast article about Dita Von Teese’s new line of lingerie for nursing and post-partum moms, a new father enters the maternity ward with gifts for his wife including champagne, balloons, and a box of lacy underwire bras.
He should, according to Mahony, prepare himself to be whacked over the head with such a thoughtless and offensive gift. The last thing a new mother wants is scratchy lace, underwires, or the suggestion that those breasts are for touching by anyone other than her newborn.
While I agree with Mahony that this constitutes the world’s tackiest push present (minus the champagne, which I will admit to having shortly after my own daughters’ births), I have wondered about the uniform wall of derision that met the announcement that she had designed a 'Von Follies' range of clothing for Destination Maternity.
Why do we care so much about rejecting this new product line? Haven’t women largely welcomed developments in maternity fashion that celebrate and accentuate our curves?
I, for one, am glad to see more diversity in the options for nursing mothers. As someone who nursed two children for a total of just under three years, I spent a lot of time in nursing bras. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I wasn’t a huge fan of the “two hammocks made of soft, shapeless cotton sewn together” school of bra design, so I went back to regular underwire bras relatively quickly and just learned to nurse around them.
Perhaps the problem is that we are conflating all of nursing with just the newborn stage. It’s a fact that the post-partum period and the beginning of the nursing relationship are sometimes difficult, often stressful, and always weird.
Pregnancy is radical enough, but I don’t think anything can prepare you for the experience of giving birth and then having your body morph again into an instrument of food production, with said food production happening totally outside your conscious control. I agree with all commentary that says this is not a scenario where most women want to be bothered with pressure to look sexy.
After a few months, though, if you choose to continue nursing, things usually settle down considerably. Your body can even skip a feeding or scheduled pump without it turning into the world’s worst wet T-shirt contest.
This is the time when a nursing mother is often ready to reintegrate the parts of her lifestyle and identity that allow her to look and feel like something other than somebody’s feed bag. This is when it might be nice to have the best of both worlds, a bra that makes you feel like a vixen but still allows for easy access.
I believe the backlash here has more to do with the messenger than the products themselves. The line has Von Teese’s name on it because she comes with a specific feminine image. Yet Dita Von Teese has never been a mother. She's never nursed a baby. In choosing to extend her pin up brand into the territory of the sacred mother, she has wandered into a storm of feminist ire.
Women often struggle with when we're being sexy for ourselves, because it's fun to feel sexy and attractive, and when we feel like we're doing it "for them," because we are not visible or valuable unless we participate in our own objectification.
When Von Teese offers a nursing bra line it feels like she's telling us to be sexy "for them," at a time in our lives when we have quite enough on our plate. She's not a person or brand that new moms can relate to, unlike say, Elle MacPherson, who is a legitimately hot mama with an uncontroversial line of attractive nursing bras.
No, Von Teese is not the yummy mummy role model we’ve been waiting for. But her lingerie may be great, and it may address a segment of the market that’s been overlooked. If part of the issue is that said market is small, then let’s turn our focus to the fact that less than half of mothers nurse past six months. That seems to be more of a problem than Von Teese’s dubious nursing bra design bona fides.
I would love to see a de-escalation in the wars between women, mothers, and the partners who love them. Let's embrace big-tent feminism and make room for a time of our lives when we might want to nurse a baby and appreciate the aesthetics of what will be, for some, our most awesome boobs ever.