Breastfeeding portraits: Tasteful or sexualised?

Photographer Ms Pan started with photos of a young mother dressed as a goddess (above) nursing her child in a forest. Ms Pan's second series, featuring Ms Goh in office attire (left) breastfeeding in Raffles Place, was meant as a statement against wo
Photographer Ms Pan started with photos of a young mother dressed as a goddess (above) nursing her child in a forest.PHOTO: JEN PAN PHOTOGRAPHY
Photographer Ms Pan started with photos of a young mother dressed as a goddess (above) nursing her child in a forest. Ms Pan's second series, featuring Ms Goh in office attire (left) breastfeeding in Raffles Place, was meant as a statement against wo
Ms Pan's second series, featuring Ms Goh in office attire (above) breastfeeding in Raffles Place, was meant as a statement against workplace discrimination against breastfeeding.PHOTO: JEN PAN PHOTOGRAPHY

Photographer's work of mothers nursing in public draws more praise than criticisms

Photos of two models breastfeeding in public without a nursing cover on have stirred interest online, with netizens debating if the images are sexualised.

One set of photos shows a woman in office wear breastfeeding her baby at Raffles Place, while the other is of another woman, dressed in an evening gown and high heels, breastfeeding in a forested area.

The photographs, which were posted on the Facebook page of Ms Jen Pan - the Singaporean photographer who took them - as well as other websites, have drawn largely praise from netizens for being tastefully done.

Some, however, have criticised them for being too sexualised and that the mothers look "unnatural" with too much make-up on.

Ms Pan, 31, said the photos are part of a personal project called the Magical World of Breastfeeding.

A mother of two who is still breastfeeding her 15-month-old daughter, she said she wanted to create beautiful images to encourage women on their breastfeeding journey.

As a member of a breastfeeding mothers' support group on Facebook, she found a common problem faced by working mothers was the lack of a place to express their milk at work as well as support from colleagues and superiors.

To celebrate breastfeeding and the beginning of motherhood, Ms Pan started her project with a series of photos featuring a 22-year-old mother, made to look like a goddess, breastfeeding her 10-month-old daughter in a forest.

Ms Pan saw the second series - of a 34-year-old woman in office attire breastfeeding her nine-month- old son at Raffles Place - as a stand against workplace discrimination against breastfeeding.

Since the images were posted online late last month, they have drawn largely positive comments.

Healthcare administrator Jeffrey Yeo, 43, who has a two-year-old daughter, found the photos tastefully done.

"The models are presentable and dress well, just like many Singaporean women do," he said.

He supports women who breastfeed in public. "When the baby is hungry, the mummy needs to feed the baby. End of story," he said.

But there were also some negative comments.

One woman said on the Facebook page of Mothership.sg that she found the whole thing "sexualised" because of the "false eyelashes, the make-up and the stilettos and the showing of the thighs".

Ms Pan said the images are not meant to sexualise motherhood.

She said: "The photos are meant to bring out the beauty of breastfeeding through curated art."

She added: "Who says that after you become a mother, you cannot dress up and look beautiful?"

Some netizens also said that it is indiscreet and inconsiderate to show off the breasts in public.

It would be courteous for the mother to at least put a scarf around herself, said one.

Ms Pan countered that it is not always possible for mothers to cover up while breastfeeding as babies might not feed if they are uncomfortably warm.

This was the experience of housewife and mother of three Audra Goh, the model in office wear, who said her son refused to be covered up while breastfeeding.

She said: "It was a disaster the first time I tried to nurse him in public. It was very tough because he was struggling and wriggling under the cover."

In the end, her husband told her to just take the cover off.

She said: "Now, I just pull down my top and nurse him.

"I tell myself I am just feeding my baby. If people want to stare, I cannot stop them. My priority is to keep my baby happy."

Dr Mythili Pandi, 35, president of Breastfeeding Mothers' Support Group Singapore, said the photos took her breath away.

"They portray breastfeeding in such a beautiful light.

"I believe they will empower and encourage more breastfeeding mothers to nurse their babies in public," she said.

Ms Pan is working on another set of photos of a mother breastfeeding her baby at the beach.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2016, with the headline 'Breastfeeding portraits: Tasteful or sexualised?'. Print Edition | Subscribe