Actress Olivia Wilde has caused a stir, even on this blog, for a glam shot of her nursing her son while looking — perfect. Perfect dress, perfect hair and makeup, perfect look of bliss. Though I have to say, it's hard to imagine holding a baby quite that way for longer than three minutes without one's arms falling off.
My fellow Opinion L.A. blogger Susan Rowher wrote about this with a fair amount of umbrage, saying that Wilde's photo, and her description of breastfeeding — which make it all look and sound easy and ever-desirable and, well, perfect — is a slap in the face to those mothers who struggle with uncooperative workplaces and the physical difficulties that can accompany nursing. There are babies who don't take to it; there are certain ailments and discomforts associated with nursing for many women.
But Wilde isn't claiming to be a breastfeeding expert. She's describing her experience. And yes, her experience is probably going to be a lot more glamorous, and eased in many ways, than it is for women without her means.
That shouldn't strike any of us as news. The marketing world, whether it's selling us cigarettes or movie stars, is all about creating fantasy. It's time for us to stop resenting it for not being reality and to see it for what it is. Or not bother to see it at all. We still have that option, no matter that Yahoo makes many a publicist's fantasies come true by publishing their public relations material right there among the stories about Ebola and Gaza.
We praise celebrities for setting good examples or excoriate them for letting us down. But they're just people with opinions and experiences, no more or less valid than our own opinions or experiences.
Surely — at least I have to hope — no one would consider Mayim Bialik to be the new T. Berry Brazelton or Penelope Cruz to have the true inside story on Gaza. Alicia Silverstone crosses a line by attempting to pass herself off as an expert on childhood vaccinations and a slew of other things that she is frighteningly clueless about, but if people listen to her, isn't that their own fault?
There are exceptions. When Angelina Jolie wrote about having a double mastectomy because of her high risk for breast cancer, her celebrity actually meant something to the story. If a celebrity known for her beauty, glamor and relationship with a really cool-looking guy is willing to undergo a surgery that many women consider a disfigurement — and do it because health is more important — it does send an important message to women. If Jolie can do this and remain confident in her beauty and the love that surrounds her — and write reassuringly about what it takes to get through the process — women find themselves with less to fear. Jolie didn't try to tell women what to do, but she offered her private story as a public gift that women could take if it was of use to them.
In contrast, Olivia Wilde's happiness about breastfeeding is about one thing: her happiness. At least to the extent that the public wants to buy into bliss-filled publicity, anyway. She's not the boss of me, and she's not trying to be. She's not trying to say what my life is like or should be like.
Strong women are fighting every day for the right to work and breastfeed. Those who have physical barriers to breastfeeding overcome those the best they can, or make another choice. They don't need Olivia Wilde to look like a mess or talk about her most horribly uncomfortable moments in order to do what's right for them.
We're not helped by feeling insulted and slapped by people who seem to have things easier.
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