Last week at Care2, we wrote about a petition to bring breastfeeding back to Sesame Street. In the 1970s and 1980s, Sesame Street used to show both breastfeeding and bottle feeding in their stories about babies. Since the 1990s, however, they have removed all images of breastfeeding while continuing to include bottle-fed babies in their storylines.
Is Sesame Street anti-breastfeeding? According to a Time article on the issue, Sesame Street hasn’t purposely excluded breastfeeding:
Sesame Street, for its part, doesn’t understand all the fuss. The classic kids’ show doesn’t have an anti-breast-feeding agenda, says Sherrie Westin, executive vice president of Sesame Workshop, which produces Sesame Street; its only agenda is educating preschoolers. “There has never been any edict to remove breast-feeding from the show,” says Westin. “We have included it and absolutely would include it again if it were a natural part of the storyline.”
The comment from Sherrie Westin is both encouraging and discouraging. While it is positive to see that there isn’t an official anti-breastfeeding stance, it is discouraging that they have not felt the need to include it in their storylines. Why has breastfeeding disappeared from Sesame Street? Is it the bias of individual producers who are indoctrinated into bottle-feeding culture and don’t think to include breastfeeding a storyline?
There are a lot of babies on Sesame Street. Elmo loves babies, after all. In the stories about babies on Sesame Street, the human and monster babies are often seen drinking from a bottle. Infant feeding is very much part of the storyline on Sesame Street, so the argument that breastfeeding isn’t part of the storyline, doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Elmo’s World “Babies, Dogs and More” DVD teaches children what babies eat and only talks about and shows bottle feeding. Another example is the “you’re my baby” video that included both breastfeeding and bottle feeding in the 1980s, but was replaced by a newer version with only bottle fed babies in the 1990s.
Original “You’re My Baby”
Updated “You’re My Baby”
Breastfeeding, like healthy eating, is a public health issue and it makes sense to include it in the storyline. Sesame Street could have said that there is no place for vegetables in the Cookie Monster storyline, but it didn’t. Sesame Street recognized the need to promote healthy eating and normalize fruits and vegetables as foods that kids (and monsters!) like. So they adapted the Cookie Monster storyline and added the motto “cookies are a sometimes food”. In the same way that they adapted the Cookie Monster storyline, there is also a need to promote and normalize breastfeeding, and as an organization that supports public health, Sesame Street should make it a priority to include breastfeeding on the show.
Sesame Street is the most widely viewed children’s television show in the world and has a significant influence on the education and socialization of children. They learn what is “normal” in our society from watching Sesame Street. Just as Sesame Street has pushed for greater diversity in other areas, it is time for Sesame Street to start showing both breastfeeding and bottle feeding when it shows babies. If children are not exposed to breastfeeding before they are exposed to sexualized breasts (which undoubtedly happens at a very young age), breastfeeding will continue to be seen as sexual or disgusting by large parts of society.
If you support the normalization of breastfeeding, please join more than 20,000 people in signing the petition telling the producers of Sesame Street that all families deserve to be reflected in their programming.
Photo credit: Annie Urban