Washington - When I started breastfeeding my son in 2016, I had a lot to overcome. I had flat nipples, a baby who would not latch for an entire month and no black role models.
I was consistently exposed to positive images of motherhood in media. But there was no reflection of young breastfeeding women who looked like me.
A recent Gap ad that features a breastfeeding mother is the image I wish I had had two years ago. New black moms and women of all ethnic backgrounds who are looking for a media image now have something I did not. To understand the importance of this, we can look to the most-discussed ads from 2017.
Lately, marketing campaigns have been on a losing streak regarding cultural sensitivity. Last year alone companies such as Shea Moisture, Dove and Pepsi made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Through the decades, the advertising industry has shown a preference for catering to a white audience. When people of colour are shown, they are racially ambiguous or have a light complexion and loose hair.
When H&M was under scrutiny for releasing an image of a black boy wearing a hoodie that read "Coolest monkey in the jungle" it seemed as if 2018 was going to follow in 2017's footsteps as a marketing Dumpster fire. Thankfully, though, the recent Gap ad is not only gaining widespread support, it is also testing boundaries and combating cultural stigmas.
The Love by Gap body apparel line ad features a natural-haired black mother breast-feeding her toddler. It is epic for a multitude of reasons: She a dark-skinned black woman, she is a black woman with a wedding ring, and she is breast-feeding a toddler!
At first glance, this ad may seem like nothing important, but in a society that stereotypes black women, criticizes breastfeeding and idolizes whiteness as a beauty standard, this image speaks volumes.
Gap likely has created something more meaningful than they intended. The ad provides an image of the value of black motherhood. It is one of the few mainstream public displays of a loving relationship between a black mother and a child. The crown of curls and coils atop both the mother and child's head symbolise multicultural beauty and is a simple yet powerful reflection of the black family.
Before this image we had very few models of unfiltered black motherhood. Although the woman does not have a partner present in the picture, the ring on her finger is enough to shut down many stereotypes and assumptions about the marital status of black women.
My breast-feeding journey is over, but I did not miss the power of this ad. It is empowering and validating to feel represented for the first time, as a long-term, black, breast-feeding mother. It reassures me I was never alone.
Young mothers of all backgrounds need images that help normalize breast-feeding. For once, an ad might be leading the way.