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Vogue Netherlands' breastfeeding photos: Fearless or naked PR stunt?
The fashion magazine steps into the "mommy wars"
At least they didn't put it on their cover.
At least they didn't put it on their cover. (Vogue NL)
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ontroversial images are a proven way to generate hate mail, and sell magazines.

And one surefire way for a publication to get attention is to enter the mommy wars with debate-sparking photos of breastfeeding. TIME demonstrated that last year with a cover showing a photogenic young mom in workout clothes nursing her 3-year-old son.

Now, Vogue Netherlands is getting in on the act with a photo spread (click here to see the images) featuring model Ymre Stiekema, 21, dressed in 17th century garments and posing in ways meant to evoke portraits by the Dutch painter Jan Vermeer. In the image that's getting the most attention, Stiekema is half-undressed, breastfeeding a baby.

The Dutch edition of Vogue is no stranger to scandal: Its April issue stirred up outrage with shots of white models in blackface. And Jamie Peck at The Gloss says the October spread is just another "naked attempt at causing a stir via images that are still somewhat taboo in western society."

Not so fast, says The Huffington Post:

Sure, TIME's infamous breastfeeding cover sparked debate last year about extending the practice and added fuel to the "mommy wars" fire. But Angelina Jolie's personal breastfeeding snaps, which covered W magazine back in 2008, were met with a much more peaceful reception. [The Huffington Post]

In fact, many readers aren't just holding their fire; they are praising Vogue Netherlands for chipping away at lingering negative pressure against public breastfeeding. Here's Lisa Fogarty at The Stir:

Some will argue that images like this one are irrelevant or even harmful — that they perpetuate the "mommy wars." I mean, I get it: What the heck does breastfeeding have to do with fashion? And why is Vogue insisting on making women who don't, can't, or won't breastfeed feel even more inadequate than we sometimes already do? [The Stir]

But Fogarty says photos like this one can have a tremendously positive effect. For one thing, she says, they normalize breastfeeding to a public largely still uncomfortable with it. That, she adds, is "incredibly important and helpful — to all moms" — whether they decide to nurse their babies or not.

If anything, says Michelle Zipp, also at The Stir, the troubling thing about this photo is that there aren't more like it in the U.S. Zipp notes that The Huffington Post warns readers the picture is "not safe for work." Slapping a scarlet NSFW on the image, she says, drives home the harmful message that breastfeeding moms are "obscene, wrong, not normal, that it should be hidden, that breastfeeding is a 'dirty' X-rated act."

The photo spread does make it appear that Vogue Netherlands sees breastfeeding as edgy. But, as Koa Beck puts it at Mommyish, at least if fashion magazines are capitalizing on it, it means: "Breastfeeding is in and you didn't hear it from La Leche League."

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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