Sometimes the internet is the utopia we dreamed it could be, filled with civil, level-headed, thoughtful discussion about important issues – discussion that adds depth and nuance to complex social and cultural matters. Other times, the internet is a sad, knee-jerk, humorless, sniping hell of trolls and griefers, a jabberwocky of angry voices spewing insults and hate. Over the years, I’ve learned to take the Great Good of the internet with the unfortunate Epic Bad of it, and have for the most part stopped reacting outwardly to anger and hate, mostly because the Great Good is oftentimes so very, very good that it effectively obliterates and nullifies all the stupidity and noise of the Epic Bad. I said for the most part. Because occasionally something happens online that gets under my skin to such a degree that I feel like if I don’t say something my head will burst into flames and my brain will melt, and I don’t know about you, but I like my brain un-melty.
This thing with Sam Bee is one of those melty things. Have you read it? And the comments? No? I’ll wait here while you do that, so we can discuss…
Back? Okay. So here’s what I want to say about all of that.
First, in many ways, this debacle exemplifies what I loathe most about the aforementioned Epic Bad of the internet, in that it involves what appears to be the intentional misconstruing and twisting of someone’s words and, moreover, the purpose and point of what they’re saying, in order to stir up drama. (Aside: I was once dubbed “The Mommy Dearest of Baltimore” for this post… yeah. As though that was in any way serious (or omg even REAL). So I may have a bit of personal experience backing this up.) In that article, Sam Bee is talking about something very universal, but also very personal: how having a baby – or two, or oh my god three – permanently alters a woman’s body in a number of different ways, as the expansion and contraction of a woman’s body during pregnancy and breastfeeding – including but not limited to her breasts – leads to stretch marks, extra/loose skin, sagging, wrinkling, and so forth. Things most woman would agree aren’t exactly pleasant or visually appealing. You stuff a bowling ball inside a coin purse and that coin purse is never going to be shaped right again. These things sort of seem like stating the obvious.
But I’m not going to squabble in earnest over any of that or go point by point with Sam’s critics, because frankly the piece isn’t squabble or deconstruction-worthy. Why? Because above and beyond all else, her article is humorous, funny, joking – it is intended as a comic. It is intended to not be taken seriously. It is intended to be a funny personal riff, a lark about the author’s individual perceptions about her own body in the wake of motherhood. Sam Bee’s intention is to make the reader nod and laugh in recognition of our shared physical plight as mothers, our shared experience of the wear and tear of giving birth and nursing babies. That any person would read what she wrote and jump headlong into paranoid conspiracy theories about BABBLE SIMILAC DISNEY MONEY BREASTFEEDING MISINFORMATION BIG FORMULA OMFG doesn’t just come off as myopic and hysterical, but as wholly humorless and – most importantly – as missing the point entirely. Because the point is not breastfeeding. The point is lighthearted camaraderie: motherhood sure is hard on the body, am I right, ladies? And to miss that and head straight into humorless politicizing is to be deliberately and willfully blinded by an external agenda (in this case, to agitate relative Babble’s advertising – note, NOT editorial – relationship with Similac), which is something I personally bristle at. Because who really thinks Sam Bee was fed a party line by Babble and asked to regurgitate talking points about why breastfeeding is bad? And who really believes that Sam Bee would agree to serve as that mouthpiece? Oh wait, I forgot – like me, she’s getting paid IN DIAMONDS and FREE FORMULA to write her wee Babble Voices column and be a tool of The Man! Silly me, how could I forget!
[pauses to pick up eyeballs, which mysteriously seemed to have rolled across the room for some reason…]
And listen, to everyone who breastfeeds and has INCREDIBLY STRONG FEELINGS ABOUT IT, I say more power to you. I love you all and your passion and conviction. I mean it. I tried to breastfeed and it was a nightmare (my milk didn’t come in, my daughter had problems latching on, etc etc horror show), but I dearly wanted to and wish to this day that I’d been able to make it work. Despite my experience, I would still encourage any woman, every woman, to breastfeed – for their baby’s health, for the deep connection that can be forged between a mother and baby through the experience of breastfeeding, all of it. And let’s be honest, there’s very little anyone can say about breastfeeding that’s negative, and that’s kind of obvious to all – especially to us mothers.
But I’m not here writing this and saying what I’m saying with the intention of supporting breastfeeding behind my words any more than I’m here in support of formula feeding. No, I’m not here with any kind of political (or corporate/sponsored/spoonfed by The Formula Man) agenda at all. This is just me, speaking to you and using my own brain and my own ideas and opinions, as one mother to another. I’m saying all of this because I personally support Sam Bee’s self expression and all self-expression by mothers about their personal experiences of motherhood, popular or unpopular, universal or particular. And I’m saying all of this because I also support each of us striving to operate from a place that focuses on kinship between women and mothers – on seeing connections and similarities rather than looking for differences and disconnects. And finally, I’m saying all of this because I support mothers having a freaking sense of humor about themselves and motherhood. I support that A LOT. Because if you’re like me, you could definitely use to laugh more with other moms. That stuff they say about it being the hardest job in the world is true, and if we don’t laugh about it – and about our sagging boobs and bellies and stretch marks and all the things we went through and did in the name of the job of motherhood – we may very well end up sad and angry and bitter, and one day wake up and find ourselves trolling the internet, looking to pick unnecessary fights with moms we don’t even know, seeing villainy and nefarious intent where there should be humor and laughter. And I don’t think any of us want that.
Read more from Tracey Gaughran-Perez at her personal blog Sweetney.com