With a come-hither look and a hand in her hair, actress Jaime King sprawls on a bed with a breast bared to her feeding child.
"Breastfeeding should not be taboo," she Instagrammed.
A host of celebrity moms have shared photos of public breastfeeding their young, ostensibly to make the practice of nursing a baby more publicly acceptable. Like Olivia Wilde, sporting a designer dress while posing for a major magazine shoot. Just like you and I, right?
Although celebrity breastfeeding photos can extend a campaign’s reach – singer Erykah Badu’s Facebook post about a breastfeeding campaign aimed at African American women reached 2 million social media users last year, according to the U.S. Office on Women’s Health in Washington, D.C. – they don’t help normalize the practice
"The extent to which the images are sexualized and rendered objects for cultural judgment means that public breastfeeding remains taboo," writes Spring-Serenity Duvall, a communications professor at the University of South Carolina-Aiken, in the Feminist Media Studies journal published this June. The study examined the effect of Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek’s breastfeeding. Namely, she concludes: Not much. (Duvall declined, via email, to be interviewed for this story.)
Despite widespread praise of celebrity breastfeeding photos, everyday women still face controversy when they nurse in public.
Weeks before King posted her breastfeeding photo on Instagram and got more than 20,000 likes, science writer Tara Haelle blogged about a barista who called her “disgusting” and told her to “go somewhere else” to feed her crying infant in a mostly-empty coffee shop.
"If I were as beautiful as Salma Hayek or Angelina Jolie, would I have been called out in the coffee shop for breastfeeding? Honestly, I don’t think so,” she tells Yahoo Parenting.
Another mom admits she gave up nursing after three months, and seeing photos of star moms like Gisele Bundchen easily breastfeeding made her feel insecure.
"It felt like one more reminder of my inability to nurse," Alexis Kowalsky says. "Look! Gisele [Bundchen] is not only gorgeous but she can breastfeed."
Such celeb pics can mistakenly imply that breastfeeding is as simple as throwing on a robe.
"For a lot of women there is a pretty steep learning curve and denying that that learning curve doesn’t exist or that they may encounter challenges, does a huge disservice to women," Kowalsky says.
While celebrities who breastfeed can help advocacy efforts, they won’t cause real change like family-friendly policies would, says Kimberly Seals Allers, author, advocate and director of the First Food Friendly Community Initiative, which tracks communities in the U.S. that lack breastfeeding support.
Race also plays a role. She cites what she calls a “parade of white women” in magazines touting breastfeeding — but a lack of black women role models doing the same.
"They don’t see women like them doing this or women who they can aspire to breastfeeding, so it perpetuates the myth that black women don’t breastfeed," she says.
Then there’s the sex. In an age of augmentation and fashion tape, barely-there coverage of women’s bodies sell everything from magazines to movies to sports tickets. We live in a “culture that uses breasts to sell chicken wings and beers,” says Seals Allers. “It’s a society response, and that’s very sad for all of us.”