Are brelfies transgressive, traditional or sexist?

Taking selfie portrait photo on smart phone concept

Breastfeeding selfies are now so ubiquitous that they have their own nickname, “brelfies.” Women offer them for public consumption on social media sites, often positioning them as transgressive and often with the stated objective of “normalizing breastfeeding.” But the reality of brelfies may be somewhat different. Their true purpose may be as personal branding and to re-inscribe traditional motherhood as a woman’s highest calling.

According to Boon and Pentney, writing in the paper Selfies| Virtual Lactivism: Breastfeeding Selfies and the Performance of Motherhood:

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#ffbc01″]Brelfies are a form of personal branding.[/pullquote]

Situated between lactivism and narcissism, the breastfeeding selfie must … be understood as both a personal gesture and a political act. The two tangle into one another in complex and sometimes contradictory ways. However productive the breastfeeding selfie might be as a space for self-realization and lactivist engagement, it is an inherently ambiguous space. The corpus of images we surveyed … while intriguing, nevertheless appears to reinforce—rather than undermine—the status quo.

There’s no question that brelfies are situated between lactivism and narcissism:

Like other selfies, breastfeeding selfies offer individuals the possibility of microcelebrity, the opportunity to present carefully manufactured and managed online selves across a range of social media platforms, with the “audience” imagined as fans. Furthermore, their socially mediated presence enables the possibility of virality, offering a wide audience for those who might otherwise not have access to a public in an unmediated space.

Brelfies are a form of personal branding:

If … participation in social media is modeled on corporate branding strategies, particularly active self-promotion and status-seeking behavior, then the selfie may be the most obvious example of the self as brand commodity. Certainly breastfeeding selfies can be read as instances of self-branding… [W]hile breastfeeding selfies may be decidedly—and often determinedly—unprofessional self-portraits, they are still highly constructed sites of self-making; that is, their informality belies their staged nature.

The authors analyzed a collection of brelfies found on

As a whole, this collection of selfies and their commentary reflect the concerns and attitudes of normatively privileged social groups, demonstrative of the larger flavor of BabyCenter … For instance, the majority of BabyCenter’s fixed and advertising images portray white, heterosexual couples and white babies. Additionally, the site’s “2014 Best Overall Baby and Toddler Products” guide (2014)—amassed by “real moms”—features high-end products priced at or above $300…

But, as is the case with nearly all aspects of natural parenting:

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the vast majority of breastfeeding selfies posted … feature white mothers and children and reference cisgender, heterosexual family structures. While most images do not include the full body, the bodies that are shown appear to align with standard body ideals; for example, there are no visibly fat bodies included.

Are brelfies really transgressive? Or are they the opposite, re-inscribing traditional views of thin, white, well-off women whose proper place is attached, literally to her children.

Is public breastfeeding a feminist act, in opposition to the typical sexualized view of breasts? Or is public breastfeeding just the contemporary iteration of “a woman’s place is in the home,” and visible expression of the belief that women should be judged by the performance of their reproductive organs, not the power of their minds or the breadth of their talents?