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May 11, 2012

Why That TIME Cover Really Does Suck

Remember when grocery stores used to display Cosmopolitan magazines behind privacy shields so that unwitting passers-by weren’t confronted with cleavage? Soon, managers may be hastily hiding the news weeklies behind the comparatively tamer Cosmos—between Newsweek’s S&M-inspired cover of a naked woman and this week’s cover of Time, on which part-time blogger and over-time mom Jamie Lynne Grumet suckles her pre-school age son, Aram.

As bizarre as this image is, the amalgamation of visual and verbal messages on the cover employs a set of familiar strategies. Like its cousin, the fashion mag cover, this cover preys on women’s insecurity. The confrontational “Are You Mom Enough?” headline is coupled with the shot of the perfect hot mom in skinny jeans. Grumet is not only “mom enough” to dedicate four years of her life to nursing, but also “mom enough” to lose the baby weight, maintain perky breasts, and look her critics squarely in the eye.

Although the exposed breast (with child attached) is what makes the cover buzzworthy, the direct gaze of mother and child—aimed outward at the viewer rather than inward toward each other—is the most unsettling visual component of the cover. It turns what could be a loving act of familial intimacy (well, if the exchange involved mother and baby, that is) into a defiant performance. Young Aram looks awkwardly posed—with his arms dangling down and his eyes cast askance.  Time photographer Martin Schoeller said that the photo was “inspired by the iconic religious image of the Madonna and Child,” however it seems more likely that the technique was motivated by news weeklies’ declining sales. Editors are trying everything they can think of to get people to purchase news in print form.  And no matter how sincere her commitment to attachment parenting is, Grumet was no doubt interested in the free publicity the shot will bring to her blog as she was in spreading the word on prolonged breastfeeding.

By playing on women’s insecurities and commodifying maternal dedication, the Time cover’s caricature of attachment parenting (which managing editor Rick Stengel insists is something about which “lots and lots of women” are debating) belittles all moms—both those who are driven to ostensible “extremes” by parenting gurus and those who are not “mom enough” to go there. It makes me wonder if young Aram and I are thinking the same thing . . . “uh, are we done yet?”

–  Karrin Anderson

(photo: Martin Schoeller for TIME)

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