Suzie Blake is a photographer and Mum to two boys. While breast feeding her sons she found that images of women breast feeding in the mainstream media didn’t look like her own experience of breast feeding. So she set about challenging those ideals with her photography project “What Does Breastfeeding Look Like?”.
How did the project come about?
Frustrated with the disconnect between her lived experience and what she was seeing in the media, she took a photo of herself feeding her son and posted it to social media with the hashtag #whatdoesbreastfeedinglooklike and the response astounded her.
Suzie believes there is a place for all breast feeding imagery in the media but felt that what she was seeing was either very clinical or too idealised, and she wanted to “show breast feeding with a little bit more honesty”. So when her self-portrait went viral across social media, she seized on the opportunity to keep the conversation going.
Putting a call out on Facebook for other women to be photographed, she was inundated with messages from women who wanted to be part of the project. Since then she has travelled to various parts of Australia, to Europe and South America photographing women for the project.
Cultural responses to breast feeding
Suzie found the culturally diverse responses to breast feeding really interesting. It wasn’t that certain countries were more tolerant or intolerant of breast feeding, but rather the more urban the environment, the less tolerance there was towards breast feeding.
When she was photographing women in rural Brazil there was an element of confusion as to why she would want to photograph women breastfeeding, as breastfeeding your child is considered an everyday occurrence, and nothing out of the ordinary. This was less so in the urban areas of Soa Paulo.
This gets to the heart of the project; breast feeding needs to be normalised.
Why take photos?
While the project is an act of activism for Suzie, being a photographer she naturally seeks to document. So the project, while it harnesses her voice as a passionate advocate for breast feeding, it is also an historical document that can be used to learn from. Having met with substantial online vitriol she believes that those vehement responses come about because “we are reminded that we are animals…and they don’t like the primal aspect of it”. Documenting this fact makes people uncomfortable.
Suzie explains that she asks the women that she photographs to look at the camera, as way to make a statement that they are allowed to take up their space in the world. Looking into the camera means that the passivity is taken away from the act, and it challenges the viewer to look back at the mother. While the images portray this, they are equally about the places that they breast feed, as she wanted to show the myriad environments that women breast feed in.
Whatever your response to the images, since 2015 Suzie has produced a fascinating body of work and intends on continuing with the project indefinitely. I was lucky enough to view her work at the Medela Symposium, which was a conference held by Medela in an effort to break down breast feeding stigma, and as a way to actively support women who are breast feeding.
Jarrod Percy, Managing Director of Medela Australia said “Collaborating with Suzie at our recent Breastfeeding conference and showcasing Suzie’s ‘What Does Breastfeeding Look Like’ exhibition has been a fantastic way to raise awareness of breastfeeding challenges, and remind the public about the sometimes harsh realities of life as a new mum. The first steps to empowering the next generation of mums is starting conversations like these; giving mums the support to make the best decision for their baby. Breastfeeding is not always glamourous but it is real, and Suzie’s images perfectly highlight these realities of motherhood.”
You can visit Suzie’s website to view the full body of work.
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