Water Parks, and Nurse-Ins, and Puritans! Oh, My!

Madonna Lactans by unknown Sicilian artist

So last week, here in Englewood at a local water park, a mild crisis was averted when a nursing mother was asked to “stop, cover up, or go somewhere private” by water park staff in response to several complaints regarding her public display of breastfeeding. The woman was apparently trying to keep an eye on her other children in the kiddie pool as she tended to her 10 month old’s need for sustenance. Unfortunately for the scandalized onlookers and staff, Colorado has laws protecting a mother’s right to feed her child:

[Colo.] recognizes the benefits of breastfeeding and encourages mothers to breastfeed. The law also allows a mother to breastfeed in any place she has a right to be. (SB 88)

The water park eventually ended up issuing an apology to the mother, but by this time about 25 or so other mothers had organized a “nurse-in” in front of the water park to protest the actions taken by the staff and those who originally made the complaints.

“Virgin of The Green Cushion” by Andea Solari

Now, while I’ve never been a breastfeeding mother, and possibly never will be, I feel the need to express my concern regarding the “hedonist-puritan” (this apparent dichotomy denotes the unique amalgam that has become America’s primary reaction to nudity) attitudes that pervade our culture. I use those terms (hedonism and puritanism) because Marc Barnes jelled the concept so effectively in my mind as it relates to nudity and our inability to cope with it in American culture.

The beauty of the Church’s position on human nudity is that it meets the crisis of pornography head on. It does not simply scream the extremely ignorable statement that modern Christianity seems to be screaming – “PUT SOME CLOTHES ON!” Rather, she says, “Look. Open your eyes and look. Look at how good, how true and beautiful you are. Look at how fantastically designed humanity is. Do you not know your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? Of course you don’t! How could you, children, when you spend your time covering them or abusing them? Try again. One more time. Instead of all this fear, look and see the beauty in yourself, in your brothers and sisters, and thus in the Creator.” -Marc Barnes

It seems to me, and others, a vicious cycle in society when hedonism is battled with puritanism, and puritanism with hedonism, and so on, and so forth. We cannot see beauty without seeing sensuality. While hedonism is the more obvious problem for Christians, we often fail to recognize the depravity of puritanism in all it’s substance-hating gnosticism. There really is no place for beauty in puritanism – especially feminine beauty. But other forms have suffered tremendously as well.


But back to breastfeeding in public; I think it’s a real sign of our moral confusion that we would look at a nursing mother and feel offended, embarrassed, uncomfortable or – for the love of all that’s holy – scandalized. THIS IS MADNESS. It’s true: there is nothing sexual about a mother feeding her child in the way God designed her to do so. Past societies knew this. Other cultures now know this. But we, the hedonist-puritans of America, do not know this. We see a mother carefully cradling her child with one hand as she grapples with a drape in the other – so as not to risk the fragile purity of some innocent onlooker who apparently never encountered such a spectacle as breastfeeding – as a model of feminine propriety and modesty. On the other hand, however, we see a mother who breastfeeds her child in the open, without a cover, as some sort of crude pariah, apparently only out to titillate (pun intended) the unsuspecting bystander with her flagrant sexuality. Really? This is what we’ve come to?

While I know this is going to win me just a boatload of friends, and at the risk of sounding brash, I just wish people would get over their issues with seeing a woman breastfeed her child. Just accept it and get over it. Realize that it’s possible to do so because people have done it for millennia, and are even doing so now in less ridiculous cultures. Let’s try to see the beauty in God’s astounding design.