Thursday, December 11, 2008

An Open Letter to the Children's Television Workshop Concerning Breastfeeding

I grew up watching Sesame Street. My mom loved to watch with each and every one of us. For a long time, it was the only show that my daughter liked to watch. I find the general values of show to be responsible and well-meaning. Especially valuable to me is the normalization of reading; often characters are introduced into a scene who just happen to be passing the time with a book. But I do have a concern.

Sesame Street is a model for all young children. One morning I watched an episode that contained no less than 11 babies (or monster babies) being bottle fed. I think it is indecent of Sesame Street to depict these images. While I understand that the epidemic is to the point where bottlefeeding is the rule and not the exception, I think Sesame Street has a responsibility to show breastfeeding.

I understand that for the most part, a bottle is shown to establish that a character is a baby. It is a simple prop of babydom, along with the bonnet and pacifier. The bonnet is hardly used in the real world anymore, but it is still a basic necessity to making a puppet look like some kind of baby. I encourage a revision of your use of the bottle for the same ends. I find it useless and thoughtless.

Breastfeeding is normal. There is nothing about it that is in poor taste. There is nothing embarrassing about it. It is the single, unrivaled best way for a child to be fed. This should be pointed out to every child in America. Especially in minority groups, there is not enough breastfeeding. Sesame Street has set the standard for early childhood education and programming, and is usually way ahead of the pack when it comes to health and lifestyles. Please make sure you blaze a trail for this generation of children.

Bottle feeding was normalized through the media. While some of these normalization tactics (such as washing hair more than once a month) can be very helpful, other things that have been made normal by the endless appearance in houses and movie theaters can be harmful; cigarrette smoking, racial stereotypes, and the limitation of what it is to be a girl all come quickly to mind. It's time that we ended the reign of bottle feeding as the primary method that a baby eats by in the media. You can lead the way.

Certainly I'm not suggesting that you need to go out of your way to show breastfeeding. And no, I'm not making a call to initiate the normalization of the monster boob. But you can at least stop the thoughtless use of the baby bottle as a prop. Be more creative, be more socially responsible. But don't shy away from showing breastfeeding. Don't censor it as if it were vulgar or abnormal.

While, admittedly, we no longer watch broadcast television, I am a longtime fan of your show. We own a couple volumes of "Old School" Street on DVD and I enjoy the walks down memory lane of where I got so many values framed and modeled. Be on the right side with this one.


Innocence Underrated said...

amen! have you sent this to them? please do.

Sol Smith said...

Yes, I have, in a much older form. I never heard back from them. Oh well.

se7en said...

I just love your blog. Surly more people think this way, but you actually say it. And you say it eloquently. Thank You.

Sol Smith said...

Umm..Wow! Thank you, se7en! I feel very shiny right now!

Sally said...

This is a wonderful letter. I hope you can post it in a way that others of us who feel as strongly as you do can sign on and send to Children's Television Workshop. You have my vote!

Sally Wendkos Olds
author, THE COMPLETE BOOK OF BREASTFEEDING (now in revision with pediatrician Laura M. Marks for its 4th edition)

Sol Smith said...

Thank you, too, Sally. I'm very happy to see that this post has had so much support in just a few short hours.

So, Sally, who should I send my "How to be a Badass Dad" book proposal to?


Sally said...

I love the title "How to Be a Badass Dad"! You can try my agent, Linda Konner: Good luck!

Come visit me on my blog too...