Leslie Ann Horgan: 'Thanks Rachel, but there's nothing glamorous about using a breast pump'
It was a photobomb of another kind. On Wednesday, Claire Rothstein, founder of Girls.Girls.Girls magazine posted an image from a celebrity photoshoot that exploded online. Within a couple of hours, the same picture was reposted all over Instagram, in a cloud of emojis - heart eyes, flexed bicep, praise hands - and breathless captions.
The photograph in question is of actor Rachel McAdams. Seated in front of a picture frame, her hair is slicked back, her eyes smokey and her lips painted red. Her stance is strong, legs set apart, hands on her knees, gaze fixed directly down the camera. Her skin is porcelain, her waist enviably slim. On her shoulders, a brightly coloured check Versace jacket hangs open, revealing a wreath of Bulgari diamonds around her neck. Below that is a strappy black bra and the explosive factor: a double breast pump attached to her breasts. The entire image is powerful, confident, challenging - and incredibly glamorous.
In the caption posted beneath the photograph, Rothstein writes that the photoshoot took place six months after McAdams had given birth to her son, and between shots (which can take hours on magazine productions of this elevation) she was pumping breastmilk. "Breastfeeding is the most normal thing in the world, like breathing, and I can't for the life of me imagine why or how it is ever frowned upon or scared of (sic)," Rothstein wrote, continuing: "Just wanted to put this out there, as even if it changes one person's perception of something so natural, so normal, so amazing then that's great." Below the post was a number of hashtags including #normalisebreastfeeding and #nogrungejustglamour.
The reaction was sizeable and overwhelmingly positive, with thousands congratulating both McAdams and Rothstein for celebrating motherhood and women, and bringing breastfeeding further out of the 'shameful' shadows to centre stage. Within hours, pictures of women using their own breast pumps, many in copycat poses, appeared online alongside the original photograph.
Reading the reaction, however, I was stuck by two comments. "Rachel McAdams is sending a powerful message to moms like her," wrote one magazine. "This is such an inspiration to me, for when I become a mother," wrote a fan. Exactly what message is being sent to other mothers? And what standards are being set for those who hope to have children in the future? I'm not a mother myself, but I have watched over recent years as friends and relatives have experienced both the joy and despair of breastfeeding. In quiet corners of the office, cafes, airports, and everywhere in between, my friends have used a breastpump - often needlessly apologising for the time it takes or the noise it makes.
Natural, normal and amazing? Yes. Something that shouldn't be frowned upon or considered scary? Absolutely. Glamorous? Hell no. For the vast majority of real women, there's no designer clothes or costly gemstones involved in using a breastpump. There's no hair and make-up team on hand for post-expressing touch-ups. Instead, it's cramped and/or dirty toilet cubicles, exhaustion and pain, and a lot of mess, #allgrungenoglamour.
While we shouldn't demonise breastfeeding, it's not right to glamorise it to this extent either. Think of the women who will, on some subtle level, feel that this is how they're supposed to look six months after having a baby (the sentiment that a pregnant friend shared with me after seeing the photo). And the others who will ask themselves why, if McAdams can do it mid-photoshoot, they can't make breastfeeding work.
To be fair to Rothstein, she finished her post with side note: "I did not look anywhere near as fabulous as this when feeding/pumping. And that's OK too." And in a recent Sunday Times interview, new mum McAdams joked about being lucky to find clean clothes and wearing trainers "held together with glue".
The photo is definitely a positive step for 'normalising' breastfeeding. But remember to look at the entire picture - or, in this case, the entire photoshoot. There, we see McAdams clad in couture and dripping in bling at an ornate villa by the sea. In one shot, she's extending a leg that's free of freckles, veins, blemishes and cellulite… it's no more real than any other airbrushed glossy mag photoshoot. Inspiration not aspiration.