GET YER TITS OUT by Rose Lock

Breasts are a hot topic at the moment. From the No More Page 3 Campaign to the recent news of a scheme in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire that will offer (well, ‘bribe’ is perhaps a better word) mothers with shopping vouchers provided they breastfeed for at least 6 weeks – and of course, not forgetting the fact that tits are found pretty much everywhere across the media – in newspapers, magazines, advertising and yes, music videos (yawn).

It is not a dramatically new insight to acknowledge the ways in which the female body and its function have been manipulated throughout history – yet sometimes, it is easy to forget the extent to which forces of body fascism continue to materialise in new, innovative forms. I was reminded of this recently when I accidently bought a pair of ‘Waist-Shaper’ tights and wore them to a job interview. Now I’m not going to blame this ridiculous, organ-crushing invention entirely for me not getting the job, but – the looks I got on the train as I tried to subtly lower them (‘tight’ doesn’t really cover it, they more than lived up to their name), the distraction of finding it difficult to breathe whilst reading over my notes, and later actually having to run to a shop to buy a more liberal form of hosiery before finding somewhere to change, and then sprint to the interview – well, basically, I don’t think they helped.

So despite my awareness of the continuously expanding range of irritating, harmful products that support a constant pursuit of an ever more elusive feminine ideal – it is as if we are literally chasing after a practically hairless, practically weightless, eternally young, smiling mirage, except that each time we get closer something new and shiny obstructs us; an everlasting vicious circle, which probably looks a bit like what would happen if you crossed Beckett with Disney? Anyway – I was still startled when I discovered the existence in America of the ‘Hooter Hider’.

If you’re blissfully unaware of this invention, try to imagine what it could be. Most people describe some kind of bizarre nose shield when I ask them what springs to mind from the name, which is a quaint idea in comparison to the real thing: essentially, a large sack that hangs around a mother’s neck, so that she may breastfeed her baby under a sort of makeshift tent; both breast and baby are entirely sheltered from the (presumably horrified, disgusted or leering) gaze of the outside world.

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For something that is clearly designed for purposes of being discreet, it is odd that the ‘Hooter Hider’ comes in a variety of loud, garish patterns, and is, well, pretty massive. In their description of its purpose, Bébé au Lait, the company behind the product, claim:

Our award-winning covers simplify nursing in public so that everyone — mom, baby, and present company — can carry on.

Simplify’. Hmm. And ‘carry on’ – carry on what, exactly?  Carry on pretending that ‘hooters’ don’t have a biological function, or that postpartum tits are X-rated?!

After all, nursing is a special time to bond with baby. But sometimes we’d like to stay engaged in our social setting, too. That’s why Hooter Hiders were born.

I agree; women should be able to remain ‘engaged’ in their social setting whilst feeding their children. They should not have to flee, witch-like, into the woods to seek out a cave, or hurriedly burrow into the cubby holes of public toilets to find some kind of sanctuary where they can expose their distastefully leaky breasts, safely unseen by the rest of society.

But the ‘Hooter Hider’ is not a magic invisibility cloak. It draws attention to its own role as mask, and in those glaring colours and visually clamorous patterns it imprints a firm statement: that this particular part of motherhood, or this particular function of the female body, is somehow not appropriate for the public realm. It is a 1950s kitchen in a piece of fabric, with a branded label slapped on the shoulder, which in turn is loaded with problematic connotations – because of course what is so hilarious, yet simultaneously baffling, depressing and ultimately offensive about the ‘Hooter Hider’ is its name. I wonder how long it took Bébé au Lait to come up with it. Perhaps their list of possible product names looked something like this:

–    Rack Stash?
–    Jug Smuggler?
–    Bongo Burier?
–    Bap Trap?
–    Puppy Shelter?

Hmm. Can see why they scrapped that last one; it might have confused people. But then, ‘Hooter Hider’ does not do much to clear up any confusion, does it? It uses a word that transforms a part of a woman’s body into a commodity for gawping consumers – a term associated specifically with ‘Hooters’, an American restaurant chain characterised by big busted waitresses in revealing outfits, the brainchild of (quelle surprise!) six businessmen in the early 1980s – for a product that serves to actually HIDE this part of the female anatomy, because of course, in this context, these particular wopbopaloobops/shirt potatoes/ [insert preferred slang term here] are not conforming to ‘Hooter’ specifications i.e. large but buoyant, perfectly round, golden dumplings, with absolutely no leakages or baby mouths in sight.

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So even the language of objectification is used for a product that is specifically designed to hide female breasts performing their biological function. It is as if American society is as baffled at this alternative bosom action as Reece from Malcolm in the Middle was when he discovered that “…milk comes out of those things?!” Astonished, he exclaimed: “WOMEN ARE THE COWS OF PEOPLE!!”  And why wouldn’t he, when there is such a lack of imagery of breastfeeding, or even slightly more realistic, natural bodies in contemporary culture, yet an excessive amount of inflated, plastic cleavage, of breasts as the perfectly round targets for turning a person into a stereotype; a woman into an object.

Image culture eroding the reality of the body is nothing new, of course. Germaine Greer wrote in 1970: ‘Whenever we treat women’s bodies as aesthetic objects without function we deform them and their owners.’ Jean Baudrillard described the process of images constructing a ‘hyper-reality’ in his essay ‘The Precession of Simulacra’ in 1981. In this case, it is a current absence of breastfeeding imagery that has seemingly resulted in the materialisation of the ‘Hooter Hider’- a literal covering up of nature.

It is also significant that the ‘Hooter Hider’ covers not just partial nakedness, but a bodily process of secretion, because it follows a pattern of culturally constructed taboos around other female bodily fluids. Menstruation has historically been concealed, shunned, and disapproved of across cultures- and remains so to a great degree today. Emphasis is placed on the ‘discreet’ nature of ‘sanitary towels’ (even this name, prim and pristine, does not give anything away) on their offensively flowery packaging, in TV advertisements girls fly through the air in tiny shorts, seemingly entirely unaware of even the mere existence of periods, and pads/‘panty liners’ (seriously, does anyone actually call them panties?) themselves are increasingly violently and unnecessarily scented. And now, even lactation is seemingly considered unfit for the café table, the park bench or any communal area – even when it is necessary for the nurturing of a baby. I don’t want to come across all “Will somebody PLEASE think of the children!!” – But also, the baby underneath the enlarged garish sack tent has to suckle away in darkness, underneath an enlarged garish sack tent. And then there’s the fact that the whole thing looks pretty bloody ridiculous.

And it is not just in America that this breastfeeding taboo exists. I have overheard a number of conversations recently here in the UK from both men and women who have said things like “Oh yeah, I hate it when women do that [breastfeed in public]”, and my personal favourite: “They could at least give us some warning.” Sure, hold on – I’ll just get out my megaphone, shall I? “SORRY EVERYONE, just wanted to warn you – I am about to get my tits out, but it’s to feed my baby – that ok? They’re not perfect either, so look away now! Ok, carry on!”

Of course, not all women are mothers. Not all women want or are able to breastfeed, for various reasons – yet significantly, a great pressure to do so remains.

This is not an angry rant at women who are self conscious about breastfeeding in public. Personally, after the extremely painful and probably quite undignified agony of giving birth, I can’t really imagine giving that much of a toss about any passers-by witnessing an ordinary part of human life involving ordinary breasts (in fact, surely this is a perfect opportunity to show off? A “Hey look what I can do!” situation? Look at this! I’m literally FEEDING another human and I don’t even have to get up!) But I can understand why many do feel the need to wrap themselves in layers of fabric, or worse, have to actually move to find themselves a private space in which to feed their child. The ‘Hooter Hider’ is not helpful to a woman’s sense of her own bodily autonomy; it just adds another contrasting and distasteful layer to the pre-existing trifle of pressures on women to breastfeed in the first place. It is deeply paradoxical and unfair to insist that ‘Breast is best’ yet, um, not now ladies, not here! No tits out unless they’re sexual symbols, yeah?

Let’s not regard breastfeeding the way we already regard menstruation – unnecessarily tiptoeing around it with trepidation, afraid of leaks and stains, treating it as an embarrassing taboo or concealing it with sodding flower patterns.

And if anyone wants to design a ‘Hooter Hider Hider’ – preferably an even LARGER piece of fabric with no mention of ‘hooters’ but instead images of women breastfeeding with glee – that would be great.

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2 thoughts on “GET YER TITS OUT by Rose Lock

  1. when you mentioned “larger piece of fabric” I really thought you were going to go for burqa…. because that hooter hider is really quite large already

  2. Anoushka says:

    I ALWAYS got mine out (large, heavy, leaking, lactating and festooned with huge dark postpartum areola(s?) regardless of who I might offend.
    Their problem not mine- I was so consumed with baby love and the rigours of infant care to give a f***.
    Quietly I always felt it was a good thing to put a ‘different’ version of a breast out there. There are too many surprises for women in those early days of motherhood- many of them not even my closest friends had shared with me- so I took responsibility for ‘sharing’ the true form, colour, texture and function of a breast.
    I was keeping my child alive AND myth busting for women!
    Phew….. us and our multi tasking eh?

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