‘Breast feeding is so hard to do but I found it was harder to do it in public,’ says Vicki Morris, 32, a solicitor and mother to four-year-old Penny, ‘I felt that I had to prepare myself for someone making a comment and be ready for it, that’s super hard to do when you look and feel crap and you’ve had no sleep.’
Vicki is one of many mothers singing the praises of Sports Illustrated Mara Martin, who walked the Paraiso x SI Swimsuit runway on Sunday night while breastfeeding her five-month-old daughter. Mara sauntered down the runway barefoot, clutching her baby – who was wearing the most adorable little headphones- to her chest and smiling proudly.
Met with tons of positive comments, the video of Mara modelling a gold bikini while breastfeeding has gone viral online, with mums from all around the world dubbing the moment empowering for all women.
‘I don’t think there is more powerful image to be fair, I feel really proud and I don’t even know this woman,’ says Devin Portis, 23, a nursing student and mother to two-year-old Isla, ‘having a model who isn’t a size 0, who is so beautiful and showing the world this is what her body can do proving just how natural it is, well done her’
While sceptics may regard the inclusion as a publicity stunt or gimmick, SI Swimsuit Editor MJ Day has spoken out to say that it was actually a last-minute decision as Mara’s baby was already breastfeeding.
‘It was very spontaneous,’ MJ explained on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit website, ‘When I was talking with the girls’ backstage prior to the show beginning, I saw that Mara's baby was sleeping and peacefully nursing. I asked Mara if she would want to walk and continue to nurse. She said “Oh my gosh, yes! Really? Are you sure?”, and I said “absolutely”’ This also answered our question as to how the hell they managed to time it right - getting a baby to feed at the exact right moment doesn't sound all that easy to us.
‘I loved the idea to be able to allow Mara to keep nursing and further highlight how incredible and beautiful women are,’ MJ continued, ‘For me, I nursed two babies myself, so I find it to be one of the most powerful things the female body can do. It was the easiest decision I have had to make in months.’
And it wasn’t just Mara’s breastfeeding that was celebrated, but also Brenna Huckaby, a two times Paralympic gold medalist and Allyn Rose, a cancer survivor who had to undergo a double mastectomy at age 26. They were just three of many women who walked in the more inclusive, diverse swimwear show.
In fact, Mara herself has spoken out about how all of the women should be making headlines this morning. ‘The real reason I can’t believe it is a headline is because it shouldn’t be a headline,’ she wrote on Instagram, ‘my story of being a mother and feeding her while walking is just that. Last night there are far more deserving headlines that our world should see.’
Whether Mara wants the spotlight or not, the fact is that mothers everywhere are applauding her for providing such an empowering image for those still scared about breastfeeding in public. In 2015, Start4Life, Public Health England’s marketing programme, found that 34% of mums felt embarrassed breastfeeding in public. Then, in 2017, their poll found this number increased to 63%, with 59% also feeling embarrassed breastfeeding in front of their partners family and 49% feeling the same even in front of siblings and wider family members.
Essentially, despite work to tackle the stigma around breastfeeding, more mums continue to feel uncomfortable doing something that is completely natural in public. ‘I had an old man tell me to put them away’, says Amy Hawkins, 23, a waitress and mother to two-year-old Zach, ‘but a lot of people said nice things to me. I think this helps as it shows young girls that it’s not weird’.
And not only does it provide an empowering image for women embarrassed to breastfeed publicly, it’s the perfect antidote that recent British Attitudes Survey 35- which found that only 7% of people think a woman should go back to full-time work after having a baby. For many mothers, being a stay-at-home mum isn’t an option, and isn’t wanted at that (mums are still allowed to want things for their own life, or did everyone forget?), and so this image of Mara comes at the perfect time to show actually no, women can do whatever the hell they want.
‘I think it’s so empowering for the mum to be so comfortable in her skin and to know that she’s doing the right thing for her baby while still potentially making a living,’ says Toni Speare Radcliffe, 32 and mother to three children, ‘it shows how selfless women can be and a brilliant example of putting a child’s needs first while still trying to maintain some normality for the mum.’
So, with the mum seal of approval from all over the world, Mara is set to become an icon of the movement to end the stigma around breastfeeding, all from a last-minute moment of completely logical decision-making by the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editor. Maybe, just maybe, we need more women in charge of runway shows and magazines… just a thought.