In December of 2018, during a photo shoot for the magazine Girls, actress Rachel McAdams was photographed by Claire Rothstein in haute couture seated on a couch. What was atypical about this photo of McAdams was that she was breast pumping, unashamedly staring into the camera. While such a photo would seem out of place for a high fashion shoot, that was the point McAdams was making when she suggested it, as she had stopped several times throughout the day to breast pump off-camera.
Investigating this phenomenon of nursing in public and the social backlash of such an act can perhaps elucidate why this photo proved to be an unexpected sensation. While the McAdams photo does not portray the typical breast pumping experience, it does help to normalize the phenomenon. McAdams is a celebrity, she follows typical Eurocentric beauty standards, and the photo was part of a well-known, high fashion publication. Women are often shamed in public for nursing and have in the past called for nurse-in protests of establishments that have sought to dissuade women from the practice. In July 2018, there was a Minnesota nurse-in protest held at a public pool after police were called on two nursing mothers. Huffpost even has an entire “Life” section about nurse-in protests happening all over the country. While average women fight for the right to feed their children in public, a celebrity is applauded. The Affordable Care Act decrees that women be given time to pump, these accommodations are not known for their glamour, typically a supply closet or bathroom stall.
In response to McAdams, Hilary Duff recreated McAdams’ photo but with a slightly more relatable spin. Duff is pictured with a shower cap and heating pad, also pumping. In a photo from March 27th, what appears to be a Medela Symphony breast pump machine is in the background of Duff’s photo. These machines are hospital grade and cost around two thousand dollars. Is Duff more relatable to mothers because she looks tired and is wearing an “unglamorous” shower cap over her professionally colored and styled hair?
I would suggest that there is something different about breast-feeding in public and celebrities being photographed while pumping, and that these examples reveal the raced and classed standards that inform our understanding of modern motherhood.