As the fashion industry slowly works toward creating a more inclusive space for all people, Sports Illustrated demonstrated their support of working mothers when a model walked their swimsuit show on July 15 while breastfeeding her baby.
Mara Martin was one of 16 women selected via an open casting call to appear in the stalwart sports magazine’s fashion show, held during Miami Swim Week. She joined a diverse cast of models that also included Paralympic gold medal snowboarder Brenna Huckaby.
In an interview with Today, Martin said that she had her five-month-old daughter, Aria, backstage with her that evening. As the show’s start kept getting delayed — a regular occurrence at fashion shows — Aria’s dinnertime drew closer.
“She was getting a little hungry and it was her dinnertime, because the show kept getting pushed back,” she said. “Honestly, I didn’t even think twice about it because I do it every single day.”
With the support of MJ Day, editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated, Martin confidently strutted down the runway as she breastfed Aria (the “so smiley” baby was also wearing noise-cancelling headphones to protect her ears from the pulsating music).
“I could see in her smile she was so proud of me,” the model said.
Not surprisingly, the response from the social media public has been a mix of support and criticism, with some suggesting that it was a publicity stunt.
Despite the insinuations that it was a planned event, Day explained to SI.com that the whole thing came about in the moment.
“It was very spontaneous,” she said. “When I was talking with the girls backstage prior to the show beginning, I saw that Mara’s baby was sleeping and peacefully nursing. I asked Mara if she would want to walk and continue to nurse. She said ‘Oh my gosh, yes! Really? Are you sure?’, and I said absolutely!”
“I loved the idea to be able to allow Mara to keep nursing and further highlight how incredible and beautiful women are.”
Unfortunately, not everyone sees this as a winning moment for working moms who breastfeed. In a post on Jezebel, senior staff writer Tracy Clark-Flory, likened the act to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s plea for women to lean in — that is, it’s a level of empowerment that’s unattainable for most women.
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“There has arisen a subset of ‘normalize breastfeeding’ activism that is less about normalizing the everyday lived reality of lactation, and more about normalizing breastfeeding by making it glamorous and aspirational,” she wrote. “It’s less about advocating for things like suitable pumping accommodations in the workplace… than it is making breastfeeding beautiful and attractive.”
“That ideal isn’t just one of maternal glamour, but also a degree of Sandberg-esque ‘leaning in’ that is unrealistic for many, if not most, women.”
She argues that praising the actions of a woman who has the liberty to breastfeed in a public setting while working creates “empty Instagram activism,” and that although what she did is perfectly acceptable, it’s not framed within a realistic context for most women.