From the “I took the bait” file:
Being a journalist, you quickly start to figure out the way things work pertaining to product and subsequent hype. A particular product will be released that holds some trivial interest or inherent controversy and media savvy PR people will push out that product into various media channels and the blogosphere. It will be picked up, reported on, blogged about and invariably become a viral phenomenon for a matter of days. For the most part, these little cultural flares are short lived, provide very little in the way of discourse or illumination, and are generally entertaining on the most rudimentary of levels. I would like to think that I am either too smart or too jaded to really fall for such cynical pandering, but alas it is the middle of summer, and sometimes even my high standards are momentarily subverted.
So with that introduction, meet Bebe Gloton, which translates from Spanish into English to read “Baby Glutton.” This somewhat quotidian looking baby doll (manufactured in Spain and no doubt on its way to world wide distribution and infamy) is remarkable because, unlike other popular synthetic baby stand-ins that eat, cry, and even pee and poop, this one is breastfed, not by you, but by your child. Bebe Gloton comes equipped with baby doll and decorative halter, which is intended for your child (presumably a girl, but by no means does it have to be!) to wear over her chest. The halter has two benign looking flowers where the nipples should be, and when Bebe Gloton is brought close to the bosom blossom, the nursing commences. This particular toy is hardly unique in the respect that it provides little girls (again, little boys are indeed welcome and able to play with Bebe Gloton, as I think it would be an interesting alternative to Transformer robots) the attractive opportunity to pretend to be a mother and indulge those dormant maternal instincts. The truly remarkable and incendiary characteristic of this breastfeeding toy is the participation of the breast (even if it is shielded by a bouquet of flowers) in play, which by many is deemed as far too suggestive and sexual.
Needless to say, the press and the blogosphere has been set aflame with concern, outrage, affirmation as well as mockery. Predictably Fox News (an outpost for reactionary conservativism) has disregarded this toy even before American children have had a chance to let it corrupt them. They claim that the idea of breastfeeding is “too grown up for young children” and may even contribute to early pregnancy. In other sectors the reaction has been dismissive, but more along the lines of too much too soon. While there are a vocal few that view this toy as a positive reminder that breastfeeding is natural (although breastfeeding a piece of molding plastic is certainly not) and that anything that anything that reminds young girls that their bodies are more than just sex objects is something to be embraced.
Personally, when I first happened upon this coverage of Bebe Gloton, I thought it was kind of creepy, but not really any more creepy and unsettling than any other plastic animatronic doll. I don’t find the necessity in this particular item, considering that girls are already deep in play about being a mother as well as nursing their children (take a look at any issue of Mothering magazine and you will see it for yourself) and a toy like this seems to not excite the imagination of children, but replace it with battery operated animatronics. I wholeheartedly believe that American culture has not found its peace with the necessity, or even existence, of breastfeeding. I think the reasons why are so deeply rooted in sexual shame, body image, as well as pervasive social pressures, that it will likely take decades to disentangle the granny knot of puritanical beliefs that hold us back.
As for Bebe Gloton, I could take it or leave it, but then again I am hardly a 7 year-old girl. If, however, it empowers children, engages their imagination (this is where I have my doubts) and redeems the act and practice of breastfeeding, I am all for it.
What do you think? Is Bebe Gloton a worthwhile addition to your child’s pretend play arsenal? Is it too much too soon? Should breastfeeding be something best kept beneath a burp cloth? Are we all crazy?