Molly Baz's Pregnant Body Is Too Risque for Times Square

The controversy over breastfeeding startup Swehl's campaign with the food writer highlights a divide in the ad industry

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Times Square is no stranger to women’s bodies, but a particular advertisement recently stirred controversy, reflecting deep societal tensions surrounding motherhood and female sexuality.

The ad promoted lactation cookies in a provocative campaign by breastfeeding startup Swehl in partnership with cookbook author Molly Baz.

Baz, known for her culinary creativity, ventured into the partnership to develop a recipe designed to stimulate milk production. One of the promotional images featured Baz with a visibly pregnant belly and breasts covered by a rhinestone bikini top and cookies. This campaign image, displayed on a 45-foot-tall digital billboard, was marked with the cheeky tagline “Just Add Milk.”

Scheduled to display for a week from Monday through Mother’s Day, the ad celebrated a rite of motherhood. However, it was short-lived, taken down within three days due to purported guideline violations regarding acceptable content.

Clear Channel Outdoor, the company that manages this advertisement space, reportedly flagged the original work for review, which led to its premature removal. The substituted image depicted Baz in more conservative attire in a kitchen, eating one of her cookies—a stark shift from the initial provocative pose.

This incident underscores the enduring societal divide over the depiction of women’s bodies. In the same location, advertisements from brands like Skims and Michael Kors routinely showcase women’s bodies in a decidedly sexual context, particularly through lingerie ads. The stark contrast between the reaction to sexualized images of breasts and the censoring of a lactation-related advertisement highlights a peculiar double standard.

How is the breast acceptable when selling clothing through sex appeal suddenly too provocative when it denotes what the breast is biologically used for? Are pregnant women not allowed to be perceived as sexual beings, where mothers are more than laborers in their kitchens, demure and unassuming? Is a woman’s sexuality suddenly perverse once she becomes a mom?

Once again, women can’t win.

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This view isn’t an isolated one as social media is filled with commentators who can’t wait to rant about how undesirable a woman is once she’s a certain age or has kids. Once a woman’s body is used in service of herself or her children, she becomes devalued. This coupled with women already feeling “unseen” by healthcare providers and marketers is all part of a much larger issue.

Experts point to a persistent taboo surrounding nursing and lactation. While breasts displayed for sexuality meet societal approval and commercial success, their display in the context of motherhood and natural bodily functions often faces backlash and censure.

This dichotomy not only reflects on the advertising standards that prevail in commercial spheres, but also on broader cultural attitudes towards femininity, motherhood and the sexual objectification of women’s bodies.

The Times Square billboard controversy is not just about an ad being replaced; it’s a poignant reminder of the lines women are often not allowed to cross in public. It brings to light important questions about freedom, body autonomy and the very nature of what is considered acceptable in our public spaces.

This debate continues to unfold with minimal progress as women’s bodies continue to be deemed acceptable or taboo by everyone but themselves.