Magazine cover of breastfeeding model divides India

A pioneering magazine cover of a woman breastfeeding a baby has divided India, with issues of taste, morality, and sensationalism raised by the publication.

The fortnightly women’s magazine Grihalakshmi, which is published in the southern state of Kerala in the Malayalam language, shows 27-year-old model Gilu Joseph with an infant at her breast. 

Underneath, the headline reads: "Mothers tell Kerala – don’t stare! We want to breastfeed".

The cover is a bold one for socially conservative India but the magazine’s editors said they wanted to make a statement on the “taboo” that still surrounds public breastfeeding in the country.

However, opinion has become sharply divided between those who think it has sparked debate and some who believe by using a traditionally glamorous model, and a child that is not hers, the photoshoot is nothing more than “cheap sensationalism”.

Miss Joseph said she did not think twice before agreeing to be a part of the project. “It is a problem to interpret this sexually. Isn’t it a beautiful thing, friends?”, she told the Indian Express. “Which god will be angry if you feed your child?”

She added that she thought of breastfeeding as a privilege for a mother and wanted to support a campaign that showed there was no shame in the act. “Nothing can deter me from doing what I feel is right,” she said.

The magazine’s campaign ‘Breastfeed freely’ is a part of its International Women’s Day celebrations and was inspired by a real 23-year-old mother known as Amritha, whose breastfeeding photo went viral, after it was shared by her husband, Biju.

On the question of whether the child in the picture was upset, The News Minute south Indian website ran an editorial saying: “It’s highly unlikely that the child in question was traumatised by the model’s breast. The question comes up because we think of the breast only in a sexual context while the organ has an entirely different meaning for babies.”

Miss Joseph said her family did not support her decision to do the shoot but she had no regrets. “I am extremely proud of my body and only I exercise rights over it.”

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