I watched the new PSA from WIC New York – the one that has everyone talking. Basically, it’s a woman who touts breastfeeding as the ultimate weight loss tool. Some are screaming that the ad is condescending to the lower-income women to whom it is targeted; others say that even the most brilliant ad in the world won’t work when there isn’t enough support for breastfeeding mothers at home, at work or in society at large – implying that perhaps this ad is, indeed, brilliant.
When I watched the ad, I was initially shocked, then horrified. I kept waiting for the punchline, sure that it was a joke or satirical Saturday Night Live – style ad. Nope, it was serious. The breastfeeding supporter side of me is disgusted that the PSA is so “light”, so callous, to put a new mother’s insecurities about her weight at the forefront of reasons to breastfeed.... and, frankly, not just in the top 5, but really, THE number one reason to do so. It reminds me of a newspaper column I once read about a journalist’s decision not to breastfeed because she didn’t buy into the argument that breastfeeding helped a new mother lose weight – she figured she’d do a better job on the treadmill. I was livid – what a terrible message to put into the heads of new moms: that, really, breastfeeding is all about getting back into your old jeans as quickly as possible. I ranted about that article for days to anyone who would listen. It speaks to a much bigger issue, perpetrated by the media, that we all need to be focused on how we look. I’m as vain as the next person, but c’mon folks – seriously – you’d think that after going to all the trouble to have a baby in the first place, that a new mom isn’t so shallow as to exclusively focus on her appearance right after giving birth. At least I’d hope so.
And yet... and I realize I will draw ire for this thought... maybe the creators of that PSA actually based it on research that – ugly but true – this message has more impact on the demographic market to whom it is targeted, than any of the other breastfeeding benefits. After all, the strongest correlation to whether a new mother initiates breastfeeding is her household income and level of education. We know that these are the moms who understand the benefits of breastfeeding, and are determined to make it work for their child’s benefit, not necessarily their own. A PSA focused on weight loss will never resonate with women who are already convinced of breastfeeding’s benefits, and they will hate this ad for the message that it sends.
But, what about the women who currently opt into the free formula handouts from WIC (and there are many) because they don’t know any better? Or the ones who are faced with pressure NOT to breastfeed from within their communities or cultures? Maybe this is a way to get through to them that there are benefits beyond those to a baby. After all, everyone knows a baby that was formula-fed and “turned out just fine”, but help a new mom lose weight? That’s a different story. That’s immediate. It’s like trying to teach kids that tanning is bad for them. You can talk about wrinkles and skin cancer all you want, but the message just doesn’t resonate. What you need to talk about is something that they can relate to immediately.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like this ad. In fact, WIC has already removed much of the reviled “perky weight loss” opening (http://www.health.state.ny.us/prevention/nutrition/wic/), I suppose because of the backlash. However, if this shallow message can get even a few of those WIC moms thinking about breastfeeding, then maybe it has done its job. As a staunch breastfeeding supporter, I welcome anyone to the group, no matter what their own personal reason is for joining.