Another set of work embarked upon which I would like to pursue further is the ‘pop up’ restaurant sign placed in various outdoor and unusual places. I designed and made a Las Vegas style sign complete with LED lights. This was suitable to be transported and displayed wherever women choose to breastfeed. For example park benches, train carriages and beaches. This follows the current trend of pop up restaurants and shops in London. Photographs of the sign in these locations could be used as a print campaign. Removable stickers could also be produced to be applied where women have found themselves feeding.
All women know that breast is best. Does this need to be hammered home even more? It can be quite a pressured environment to talk about if choosing to take up breastfeeding.
Is it the case that there should be a shift in the view of breasts at a much earlier age? So, rather than targeting pregnant young women, I am targeting young people, including men, before conception as well as after.
This is a big ask. Even the ‘No More Page Three campaign’ started by a petition on change.org by Lucy Holmes is suffering from publishers and readers seeing the sexualisation of breasts as harmless and ‘a bit of fun’. ‘Page three’ appears the only place where tits can be seen in public without causing offence to the general public. David Cameron has repeatedly swayed on the side of Rupert Murdock and Dominic Mohan (Sun editor) whilst apparently committing to raising the rates of breastfeeding initiation and continuation. David Dinsmore, the new editor of the Sun, claims he plans to keep the page three models as they ‘promote natural beauty’. Although it is widely believed this is due to a fear of the falling reader numbers tumbling even more. If a ‘family newspaper’ promotes viewing women as objects, and breasts as something for titillation, it’s no wonder young women do not feel confident using their breasts as they were designed for.
Women need to reclaim their breasts. They need to see them as tools of the trade and something to be proud of. Can using the imagery of breasts be done without sexualizing them?
Aside from the photographic/ video form, it is fairly simple to make breasts anodyne using arts and crafts (apart from the highly sexual Chun-Li character’s shower scene in the street fighter animated film). They become cuddly, tactile and family friendly even.
The language of breasts and breastfeeding is generally very sensitively approached. I chose to ignore this rule by using popular culture terms including tabloid speak and song lyrics. I painted placards to be used at travelling events and photographed text to be used in print. Children’s toys were used in the imagery to put it in context.
I conducted a very quick Facebook survey to find some commonly used words and phrases to describe breasts.
I played around with creating my own typography for language used in printed materials using hand drawn letters. Although I really enjoyed doing this the use of words actually was not needed so much as I increasingly relied on objects and patterns in my designs.
Before becoming pregnant, I had been sniffing around for a context/ cause in which I could shoehorn my made bazookas. Initially I was looking into Breast cancer. I instantly felt uncomfortable with this option. I am a student. I know nothing about breast cancer. I am not a tactful person. I am not worthy.
Although breast cancer marketing has had a firm focus on fun and friendly campaigns, it is not something I could confidently promote without the fear of upsetting or offending cancer patients. (even finding the right words here is hard- can you call them cancer sufferers?)
It seems to me that treating cancer in this country and actually in the world is pretty much covered in an irreverent way. Why try and add to an area already saturated with successful awareness campaigns.
Whilst looking at the breast cancer angle, I did look at some fantastic marketing campaigns in the UK and abroad. The ‘Race for Life’ events for ‘Cancer Research UK’ have become massive earners for the charity. The branding for this has made it unmistakable. The use of the pink ribbon to denote breast cancer support has become ubiquitous.
Taking it a little more adult and risqué are the ‘Facebook’ campaigns to encourage women to write suggestive status updates about where they put their handbag when they get home “I like it on the floor”, creating a secret language for those in the club.
New Zealand had an imaginative awareness campaign featuring a giant tumour following women down the street, or filling up their houses- actually addressing the denial of the prospect of the cancer itself.
All of these things have something in common- they don’t actually show you the breasts. Is there something so offensive with the actual articles? Have breast become too sexualised that the human form needs to be censored?
A Japanese company has developed a self adhesive breast examination tool which shows women how to check their breasts for lumps. It is essential that this clearly shows how it is to be used.
I played around with using a light-hearted approach to the subject, rather than simply ‘raising awareness’. Awareness campaigns seemed a bit pointless really. A more useful strategy would be to promote how to purposefully check yourself, especially aimed at the younger generation.
I looked at using more risqué and less formal language, could breast pasties be used? Now- these photos are not the way this is intended to be viewed, just documentation of the articles produced. I was nervous about the obvious sexual nature of these. I was trying the make breasts seem natural and not objects of desire in the male gaze. I think this line of work failed.
Could a campaign involving stickers in ladies loos be successful in encouraging women to cop a feel?
Stickers of images of hands could be placed at the average breast height, so when a woman stands in the mirror, the ‘hands’ appear to be hovering or touching her breasts. I actually really like this idea, and may play around with it at a later date…
Anyway, breast cancer is more than covered by the world of awareness campaigns and design. I got pregnant and everything changed…
So, I have come to the end of my masters degree in Graphic Design. I have also been pregnant and had a baby since I updated this blog. This is relevant, as it shaped the last, major project of my course.
This project began life rather organically. All the work undertaken during the course of this Masters degree has had several things in common. The themes throughout have been based in the domestic environment, encouraging the audience to feel comfortable either in surroundings familiar to them, or reclaiming space that is not theirs. And…most crucially, most of my work has involved craft and making.
My work has always had a light hearted and fun element, with a focus on inclusivity.
The actual ‘cause’ that this project eventually championed was not something that was initially on my radar when I the course began.
Circumstances dictated that change of focus. My fine art background ensured that the end result was arrived at albeit by circuitous means.
My favourite ‘piece’ from previous projects was a pair of silicone breasts. These were made simply because they would look and feel nice to hold. As an extension of the module, which involved manufacturing giant eyes for people to have in their homes, to encourage feelings of safety, the boobs were also there to engender comfort and security (but I was also aware they would be sexual and fun in a Benny Hill kind of way).
I liked how the silicone and wooden breasts I made, took on a much more benign and tactile existence when removed from the more realistic and photographic image of breasts. They became something which could be seen in public, rather than being pornographic and hidden from young eyes.
Children love breasts: they brought them sustenance and comfort as babies.
Another major factor was the fact that I enjoyed making the breasts, both in process and design. Choosing the shapes and colours was very satisfying.
Deciding the context in which to carry this forward was another natural decision. In July 2012, I found out I was pregnant and began to see my own breasts in an entirely different context.
My boobs became a tool of the trade and a way of making my child thrive; the most natural thing in the world without which the human race would not exist.
As it dawned on me that my body was no longer my own to do with as I wished, attention turned to my relationship with my breasts and the job they were about to embark upon.
After speaking to friends and family I realised that breastfeeding has been a dwindling activity in the western world over the past thirty odd years.
The current child bearing generation appears to not see breastfeeding as an essential requirement of motherhood. The proliferation of formula feeding and the saturation of marketing (although illegal to advertise breast milk substitutes) have encouraged mothers to enjoy the benefits of formula feeding, rather than the benefits of breast feeding for their child. Whereas an infant two hundred years ago may have died without breast milk, nowadays a mother can quite easily feed using formula and a bottle.
This issue is strangely under represented on the national set of ‘awareness’ campaigns. Sheffield council has provided a year on year decrease in funding for National Breastfeeding Awareness Week with 2013 receiving no funding whatsoever.
The reasons why women choose not to breastfeed are many and complex. Many women have decided not to breastfeed before the birth of their babies, and a great deal stop after the first week or two due to problems faced.
There is a huge amount of mother’s guilt associated with breast feeding and feeling of inadequacy plus fears of failure to continue. Anecdotally, many mothers I have spoken to, regret giving up. The major reason cited was being unable to find the support to continue through problems.
As a middle class thirty something, statistically I was much more likely to initiate breastfeeding, and also feel comfortable finding and asking for advice. The social demographic most unlikely to initiate breastfeeding is the white working class women aged between 16 and 24. Is this the group that I should choose to focus on?
After interviewing specialist midwives and public health workers it became apparent that many women of this social group saw their breasts as sexual objects and did not feel that they owned their breasts. Rather, they needed to be preserved for the male gaze. Many of these women were not breastfed themselves and their peers predominately bottle-feed.
One of the midwives interviewed stated that teenagers could be persuaded to change their views on things whilst their minds are malleable to new suggestions. Is it possible to change their minds and make breast feeding seem natural and normal? Is it the whole family who needs educating rather than just the mother?
Anecdotally, many women not planning to breastfeed are able to change their minds on the subject during this first encounter.
From personal experience as a pregnant woman, every single antenatal appointment involves the subject of breastfeeding. All pregnant women are made aware of the benefits to the child of breastfeeding.
The most high profile campaign in the last 10 years has been the Hub’s ‘Be a Star’ campaign. This took young mothers and gave them makeovers and had photo shoots with them breastfeeding. This appealed to the girls craving celebrity culture. Although striking and at first look, successful, initiation rates dropped when the campaign finished.
Other countries use slightly more graphic imagery to address this problem. There is still a fear of showing the breasts in marketing campaigns that involve breastfeeding. I also visually researched one hundred breastfeeding logos to see common themes, colours and representations of the female form.
I have decided to use Sheffield as an area of study on both breastfeeding initiation rates and methods used to encourage breastfeeding. UNICEF, the world authority on breastfeeding, has granted Sheffield ‘Baby Friendly’ status. This has been achieved by providing training to all health care professionals involved in maternity care. Sheffield has a massive range of support for breastfeeding mothers…if you know where to look.
Sheffield is a leader when it comes to breastfeeding support in the UK, and can be used as an exemplar of successful rates of continuation of breastfeeding in the north of England. Sheffield has a 78% initiation rate for breastfeeding mothers. Although this drops dramatically after six weeks, this is a national problem rather than a local one.
When in the Jessop’s Wing of the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, after the birth of my son Billy Bob, I was approached by every midwife on duty, anciliairy staff and visiting peer support workers offering help with breastfeeding. In the delivery suite, all women are encouraged to breastfeed, even if it is only whilst in hospital so the child benefits from colostrum, the first incredibly nutritious milk.
With all of this knowledge of breast feeding initiation along with knowing the reasons why women choose not to breastfeed at all, what is it that I think I can achieve with my work, and who exactly am I appealing to?
Obviously as a graphic designer you work on briefs outside your own awareness/ comfort zone. Your job is to communicate and include audiences with whom you do not share a common language.
The audience for my work are those who do not initiate breastfeeding to begin with. Perhaps they are the ones most in need. If we could change their minds, even momentarily, we could make sure more babies have colostrum if nothing else.
I am aware of the health benefits of breastfeeding both to my baby and myself. I come from a stable domestic set up, I was breastfed and I want to breastfeed. But I still need help.
I have identified three areas to focus on:
- Normalising breastfeeding
- Helping mothers find support
- Helping mothers find safe and comfortable places to breastfeed.