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Her.meneutics, August, 2013

Boobs on the Boob Tube

Television done right can promote a fuller view of our bodies.

My youngest son pointed at the TV. "That baby's 'doing the doo,'" he said, invoking the phrase he used for breastfeeding in his toddler years.

When I looked up at the TV, sure enough, there was a breastfeeding mama with her baby "doing the doo," in a commercial for Luvs diapers right there on the TV, right in between episodes of SpongeBob on a Tuesday morning.

I turned around to see if my other kids had noticed. They just shrugged, like it wasn't some huge deal to see a woman's nearly bare breast, nursing away during a diaper commercial. To them, it was not noteworthy. Perhaps they've seen enough nursing mamas in their real life to make seeing it on TV no big deal.

But it was a big deal. Though the commercial wasn't even new (it debuted last year), its in-your-face, I'm-nursing-in-public-so-deal-with-it boobage (which I support) isn't something normally seen during morning cartoons.

I realize not everyone will agree with my excitement about this. Certainly not all parents would rejoice in their kids seeing a strange woman's breast on TV. But considering the other body messages are kids are getting on TV—on morning TV—I think we'd all do wise to celebrate this.

Consider what Rebeca Seitz saw while watching Good Morning America with her 8-year-old: two nude-ish actors tangled in what appeared to be a sexual act during a preview for the new ABC show Betrayal. Setiz's blog post about what she saw quickly went viral. Facebook even banned her screenshot of the commercial for being too obscene. While it may be a parent's responsibility to monitor what our kids watch, none of us thinks we'll have to block porny commercials while slurping cereal and watching the morning news.

Because I first saw the breastfeeding diaper commercial on the same day I read Seitz's story, I now hold these two commercials in tension, as the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as the tiny red demon and the tiny white angel, if you will, of the power of media.

We know what our kids see on TV and online and anywhere marks them. Indeed, Seitz writes in her blog after seeing the image flash on her screen: "What HELL just ascended into my living room and burned itself into my precious boy's brain?"

These images that flash across our screens and the sounds that shoot from speakers seep in and shape our kids, their ideas of what is normal and acceptable, as well as their behavior.

Consider: a study reported in the New York Times tells us that "watching TV with sexual content artificially aged the children: those who watched more than average behaved sexually as though they were 9 to 17 months older and watched only average amounts. Twelve-year-olds who watched the most behaved sexually like 14- and 15-year-olds who watched the least."

As a mother, naturally, this concerns me.

But here's the thing: I'm concerned beyond merely the sexual aging and even behavior of my kids. I'm concerned with the very ideas about the body that they're growing up with and about the skewed ideas "the media" often communicates about what the body is for.

I'm concerned that in this sex-saturated and sex-glorifying society my kids are being reshaped—warped—by this idea that attracting others and being "sexy" is the best thing our bodies can offer and that they won't understand the full amazingness of our bodies.

I realize the "easy" answer to this is to shut off the TV and disconnect the WiFi. But it's not an honest one. I can't—and won't—fully block out the media's influence on my kids. Which is not to say I can't try or that I can't join with Seitz in her outrage over what's being shown on TV.

Since TV—and outside media—is and will be a part of my family's life, I want to celebrate instances when it provides these fuller images of the amazing bodies God gave us. When it uses its power over our minds for the good.

Like when we see a woman breastfeeding on a commercial or friends hugging in a hallway, and we understand that bodies are meant to bond and nourish.

Like when we see athletes vaulting or running or diving or grunting as they whop a ball across a court and understand that bodies are meant to be pushed and to strong.

Like when we see dancers leap and twirl and bend and flow and understand that bodies can create art, express emotion and desire and pain.

Or like, for instance, when SpongeBob breaks his butt again and is threatened with the "iron butt" were see that bodies are breakable and sometimes (well, butts always) really funny.

While this fuller understanding of the body obviously has benefits for my kids' physical and mental wellbeing, it also has spiritual benefits. After all, they are being raised not only with bodies but they are being raised in the body. The Body of Christ, that is. And the better grasp they have of the fullness and diverseness of their bodies and what each part is made for and capable of, well, the better they understand it in the church and among other Christians.

So, when TV can step in and show us this—and combat some of its own over-emphasis on sex—well, hurrah for them. And every body.