The XX Factor

Breast Support

Kim Kardashian tweeted her outrage after watching a woman breast-feed without a coverup inside a Los Angeles restaurant, a sight that put the celeb off her lunch. The criticism rankles coming from a woman who bared her own breasts (and a lot more) in a sex tape with her boyfriend and posed barely clothed on the cover of Playboy . When she’s not using Twitter as a podium for preaching her views on modesty, she’s uploading steamy photos of herself to the site. Kardashian appears to have little problem flashing her goods for the world to see, but when breasts are attached to babies, they somehow become repulsive.

Kardashian isn’t alone in her views. Although breast-feeding women are exempt from charges of public indecency in 44 states, a 2004 study by the American Dietetic Association found that 57 percent of Americans express discomfort at the practice of nursing in public. A few years ago, a breast-suckling infant on the cover of Babytalk magazine raised the hackles of many who felt the image was pornographic. Our country tells women that “Breast is Best,” but can’t handle the ideology in practice. On average, babies nurse seven to nine times a day. For women who choose to breastfeed, not doing so in public would effectively mean not going into public-or carting hungry babies into the restroom for an uncomfortable and unsanitary meal.

There’s nothing inherently sexual about a breast. Our discomfort with the revelation of certain body parts comes from the meanings we attach to them: In Victorian times, an exposed ankle was the height of indecency, and in 10 th century England, it was considered shocking if a woman showed her hair in public. If we celebrate breast-feeding, as Kardashian claims she does, as a “natural beautiful thing,” we should be able to see a nursing mother’s chest differently than those flashed in a Girls Gone Wild video. What’s really gross isn’t mothers who bare their breasts to nourish their babies. It’s people who can’t look at the female body without sexualizing it.

Photograph of Kim Kardashian by Jemal Countess/Getty Images.