Mara Martin, a 32-year-old mother of one, model and former U.S. National Volleyball player, shocked viewers everywhere by “doing something I do every day”: breastfeeding her baby-girl.
On July 16, Martin walked the Miami Swim Week catwalk while wearing a gorgeous golden bikini and nursing her 5-month-old daughter, Erica. The simple but powerful gesture received an overwhelming response, both positive and negative.
After the show, Martin posted on Instagram explaining, “I’m so grateful to be able to share this message and hopefully normalize breastfeeding and also show others that women CAN DO IT ALL!”
Wow! WHAT A NIGHT! Words can’t even describe how amazing I feel after being picked to walk the runway for @si_swimsuit. Anyone who knows me, knows it has been a life long dream of mine. I can’t believe I am waking up to headlines with me and my daughter in them for doing something I do every day. It is truly so humbling and unreal to say the least. I’m so grateful to be able to share this message and hopefully normalize breastfeeding and also show others that women CAN DO IT ALL! But to be honest, the real reason I can’t believe it is a headline is because it shouldn’t be a headline!!! My story of being a mother and feeding her while walking is just that. Last night there are far more deserving headlines that our world should see. One woman is going to boot camp in two weeks to serve our country (@shauntness), one woman had a mastectomy (@allynrose), and another is a cancer survivor, 2x paralympic gold medalist, as well as a mother herself (@bren_hucks you rock) Those are the stories that our world should be discussing!!!! Just thinking about all that was represented there… I desperately need to give the most thanks to @mj_day for this. She supported me in what I did last night. Without her support this wouldn’t even be discussed!!!! She and the entire Sports Illustrated family are the most amazing and incredible team to have worked with. THANK YOU for letting all 16 of us be our true selves, strong beautiful women!!! Because of you, my daughter is going to grow up in a better world, where she will always feel this way!!!!!! Lastly, to every single woman that rocked that runway with me. Be proud. I know I am of you! You all have inspired me in ways unimaginable. I love you all!!! #siswimsearch
The debate around public breastfeeding has been a hot topic for many years. The lack of support for breastfeeding moms, including a shortage of facilities for breastfeeding women in the workplace and in public, has led to an important discussion about women’s rights to feed their babies wherever and whenever necessary.
Forty-eight states protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, as breastfeeding is not a form of public indecency. Despite this, many shame mothers for the practice.
On the same day Martin walked the runway while feeding her baby, a Michigan woman was told to “cover up” in a restaurant. Ashlie Hanel was dining at California Pizza Kitchen when the manager asked her to cover the baby she was discretely nursing. After arguing with the manager and leaving the restaurant, Hanel shared her experience online.
California Pizza Kitchen later responded with an apology on Twitter, “CPK adamantly supports women’s right to breastfeed, anywhere, anytime. The upsetting experience this guest and her family experienced in our Partridge Creek restaurant was unacceptable, wrong and in violation of our policy. Breastfeeding is permitted, protected and welcomed in our restaurants.”
This situation is one of many and an example of why Martin’s actions on the runway are powerful and necessary. The very act of shaming a woman nursing her baby is the sexualization of something that is otherwise pure and natural.
In addition to being a statement about public breastfeeding, Martin’s action was a call for mothers to be bold in their postpartum bodies and to not allow anyone to separate their femininity and desirability from their maternal identity. Seeing a model who is a mother first, at the same time maintaining her confidence as a sexy woman, is empowering to all women.
Too often mothers feel forced to separate their identity as a woman and mother, but Martin’s walk exuded confidence that should be inherent with the beauty and power of motherhood. Pregnancy, birth and nursing are all evidence of the strength women have, a characteristic celebrated on that catwalk.
The world of modeling and fashion is also one with a history of conflict regarding body image and feminism. Fashion in the media, specifically for the way it creates an ideal body image for both men and women, has been blamed for reinforcing issues of body dysmorphia, racism and ageism.
For so long diversity in the world of fashion was a seemingly impossible goal, but in recent years, brave individuals have made leaps toward a more progressive runway scene.
Today models are less restricted than ever by race, physical disabilities, weight age or gender identity. Martin nursing on the runway is proof of that. Her postpartum body and identity as a mother are not stereotypical of models but prove that a model’s career is not over after the birth of her first child.
On the runway, she was also accompanied on by a model with a prosthetic leg. The fashion industry is finally catching on, clothes are for real people, and real people have unique appearances and needs.
Appropriately, August is breastfeeding awareness month. Remember your mother and the powerful women in your life by being considerate of nursing mothers and all mothers.