Photo by JoAnne Garza Custer
It started with the soft wail of a baby and a Facebook post. Ingrid Wiese Hesson was strolling through the Beverly Hills branch of clothing chain Anthropologie with her six-week-old baby when he started to make those unignorable hungry-cry noises. But when she sat down near the back of the store to nurse him, she was whisked away by the store manager, who insisted she finish feeding her baby in the store’s bathroom.
Hesson left the store feeling both ashamed and outraged, so she took to Facebook. “My first time being escorted ‘off the sales floor’ for breast-feeding,” she posted on her page. Eighty-eight comments and 134 shares later, that post started a movement.
Within 24 hours, a gaggle of moms had gathered on the steps of Anthropologie, babies on their hips and breasts spilling out of their nursing bras, in solidarity with Hesson. Media crews heard the story and (forgive me) latched on, reporting that “more than 100 moms” had come together to create “Nipplegate” by staging a “nurse-in” at the store.
But the really remarkable thing didn’t happen at Anthropologie—it happened online.
Women pose with their babies in the Beverly Hills Anthropologie. Photo courtesy of Ingrid Wiese Hesson
If you showed up to the store on Wednesday at 3:00 PM, you’d have seen about 40 women (not 100, as many publications reported) lining the steps to the store. Ashley Wright, who participated in the nurse-in, said there were only eight or ten moms left when she showed up around 3:50 PM. And Hesson wasn’t there at all—in fact, she had nothing to do with organizing the event.
“I don’t know Ingrid,” said the woman who organized the nurse-in, who asked to remain anonymous because of her husband’s high-profile career. “I’m part of a mommy group on Facebook, and a woman posted about what had happened to Ingrid, and in jest, I wrote something like, ‘All lactating moms should get together and go to Anthropologie!’ I saw an episode of Modern Family where something like that happened, and I thought it was funny.”
To her surprise, the other women in the group took it totally seriously.
“They were all like, ‘Yes, let’s do it! It’s called a nurse-in!’ I didn’t know people actually did that,” the organizer told me. “People also wanted to do it in other cities at the same time, kind of like an Occupy Wall Street deal, but for Anthropologie.”
While Occupy Anthropologie might sound like the most privileged social movement of all time, it struck a nerve with moms, who were aggravated—but also empathetic—about what happened to Hesson. Breast-feeding is protected by law in 46 states (including California), but women from around the country started sharing on mommy blogs and Facebook pages about how similar things had happened to them. The internet became a space for women to trade stories of retailers who had shooed them away, those who had insisted they were blanketed in nursing cover-ups, and other women who had shushed them when they heard sucking sounds coming from the bathroom stall.
"I nip and I'm proud," said Ashley Wright, as she posed in front of Anthropologie at the nurse-in on August 20. Photo by Ashley Wright
Wright, who has a 19-month-old baby and attended Wednesday’s nurse-in, writes a blog about motherhood and encourages other women to share their experiences about breast-feeding, as new moms are often shamed and silenced on the subject.
“I was able to feel, firsthand, the shame that most people associate with breast-feeding their kid,” she told me. “So I started putting myself out there online to build my family, my village of people, and then all of a sudden I became the breast-feeding leader of the free world.”
Women regularly email Wright, citing her blog as inspiration for “whipping it out” in places where breast-feeding is legally protected, but where they feel guilty for feeding their babies anyway.
“I had a mom tell me she was shopping at Macy’s and her baby started crying, and then she started crying because she forgot her [nursing] cover,” said Wright. “Another mom told me about crying while she was nursing her baby in the car, because people could still see her.”
Photo by JoAnne Garza Custer
You’d think breast-feeding wouldn’t be such a big deal these days, given the fact that our world is fairly saturated with breasts. It’s not contested when we see a boobie-bearing billboard, but as soon as a mother offers a glimpse of her breast to feed her child (like Olivia Wilde on the cover of Glamour this month), people go ballistic.
And that’s why internet groups have proven so empowering for new moms—for organizing "nurse-ins," yes, but also for being a platform that's created solidarity in a group that's often isolated.
Just days before it happened in Beverley Hills, about a dozen moms held a “nurse-in” at a restaurant in Oregon; About 30 moms had a “latch-on” in a public park in Oklahoma last month. What makes them important isn’t how many women were able to physically be there, with their picket signs and glimpses of nipples, but rather how many women felt like they had a forum to share those experiences. That place is the internet.
“I don’t think that something like this could’ve been organized as quickly if it wasn’t for Facebook… and hormones,” the Anthropologie nurse-in organizer told me.
Photo by Melissa Gould McNeely
Since she shared her story last week, Hesson told me she’s received over 300 Facebook friend requests—many from other new moms.
“When I’m breast-feeding, I have my hand free to scroll through my iPhone and because of that, I’m often on my Facebook,” said Hesson. “To see [breast-feeding] as an issue that mattered to so many other moms to me is an incredible sign of collective power—of both social media, and moms, who are typically an isolated group.”
By the way, Anthropologie never got back to Hesson directly about her complaint. Instead, they posted an apology on the company’s Facebook page. They must’ve figured out that’s where all the moms are.
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