Let’s try a thought experiment.
Imagine I told you a story about a 16 year old girl who committed suicide because she was bullied for being overweight. She felt herself to be surrounded by messages that women who aren’t thin are worthless. She was surrounded by peers who claimed she was ugly and worthless. Everyone in her life, including her parents and her doctor, told her that she could be thin if she only tried harder. She drown herself because she could no longer bear the pain.
I have yet to see a single lactivist acknowledge that pressure to breastfeed was a significant factor in Leung’s tragic death.
Would your first response be to insist that she needed more support in dieting? Or would you conclude that she needed more support in recognizing that her weight was not a marker of her worth?
I’d conclude the second: that the societal pressure to be thin was toxic and that young women should be taught to love themselves regardless of weight.
The first response is a form of gaslighting. It’s denying the lived reality of the young woman who died. It’s denying the pernicious effect of the pressure to be thin. It’s refusing to take a hard look at a society that relentlessly undermines the self-worth of young women by judging them on their appearance first and foremost.
I’ve conjured this example in the wake of the lactivist response to the suicide of Florence Leung, a young mother whose lived reality was unbearable pressure to breastfeed when she could not do so exclusively. I have yet to see a single lactivist acknowledge that pressure to breastfeed was a significant factor in Leung’s tragic death.
All I’ve seen is gaslighting.
It wasn’t pressure to exclusively breastfeed in the face of her inability to do so that led to her suicide;
…if she had only received more lactation support she could have breastfed exclusively.
…if only she had received more mental health support she would have persisted and ultimately breastfed exclusively.
…there must be more to the story. Pressure to breastfeed was not the reason she took her own life.
Or even more egregious:
Facts are facts; if she wasn’t breastfeeding exclusively she wasn’t giving her baby the best.
I had difficulty breastfeeding; I persevered a was ultimately successful.
Or my personal favorite, the repulsive humble brag posted on the Leung’s memorial Facebook page:
Breastfeeding 18 months and still going. I feel for the mothers who are unable to nurse their babies, no need to make them feel bad about it.
Lactivists seem to be unable to come to grips with scientific reality: the benefits of breastfeeding in first world countries are trivial.
In the face of lactivist insistence that breastfeeding is lifesaving, I’ve challenged them to point to the term babies whose lives have been saved. No one can do it.
In the fact of lactivist insistence that “breast is best,” I’ve pointed out that dehydration and starving from insufficient breastmilk is unhealthy for babies and guilt is unhealthy for mothers. No one has a response.
In the face of lactivist insistence that breastfeeding pressure led to Leung’s suicide, I’ve pointed out that they are gaslighting, denying the lived reality of a suffering women. No one appears to care.
It’s remarkable when you think about it. Lactivists, the same people who insist that failure to breastfeed is caused by lack of support, the same people who have rearranged the world to blare support for breastfeeding in the face of every mother and every healthcare provider, the same people who have banned formula gifts in hospitals because the mere sight of formula could undermine a woman’s will to breastfeed are suddenly denying that breastfeeding pressure could impact a mother’s mental health.
How ironic that the same people who are relentlessly “normalizing” breastfeeding so that some mothers feel supported could claim that is impossible that those efforts could make other mothers who can’t or don’t wish to breastfeed feel unsupported, worthless and suicidal.
It makes sense, though, when you realize that breastfeeding is not about what’s good for babies and mothers. It’s about what’s good for lactivists, their profits and their self-image.
We’ve come to realize the pernicious effect that idealizing thinness has on they psyches of young women. It’s long past time to recognize the pernicious effect of idealizing breastfeeding has on the psyches of mothers. How many more babies and mothers have to be harmed before lactivists acknowledge that breastfeeding “support” can be toxic and even deadly?