A Humble Dissection of Two Similar Breastfeeding Graduation Pictures

A Humble Dissection of Two Similar Breastfeeding Graduation Pictures

Breastfeeding at Graduation by Vanessa Simmons

I have spent the entire day trying to wrap my head around this issue. Some are calling it racism, and others are referring to it as social status, but the difference in the media coverage of these two breastfeeding graduates is astounding to say the very least. I don’t know about you, but all I see here is two women with babies who were wanting to breastfeed while their mothers happened to be wearing their cap and gown.

So really, what is so different about their stories?

Why has one woman been publicly SHAMED to the point that she has deleted her photo, yet the other is receiving PRAISE and positive media coverage?

Location, Location, Location

In June 2014, Karlesha Thurman – a young black mother from California – posted a breastfeeding photo of herself in her cap and gown while nursing her baby (seated) during the graduation ceremony a midst her colleagues, on the Black Women Do Breastfeed Facebook page. Many people don’t know this, but if you post ANYTHING on a public Facebook page’s timelime, your post becomes public even if you have your privacy settings to only post to friends. The other thing is that if you post to a public page it will ALSO appear in the news feed of your Facebook friends! So someone who is a “closet breastfeeding supporter” may report your photo or worse, start to rant in your comments about how they “support” breastfeeding, BUT if you post public images you are indecent. -_- I am positive Karlesha didn’t expect such backlash from the people who she knew and this may have encouraged “trolling” on the thread by people who don’t support public breastfeeding at all. This is usually the case considering that breastfeeding in public is STILL considered a taboo in the United States.

4 months later – this past week – Jacci Sharkey sent a PRIVATE message to her school’s Facebook page, University of the Sunshine Coast (in Australia, where breastfeeding in public is considered the norm) in her cap and gown nursing her baby in what seems to be a secluded area. We really don’t know if she is nursing in public or not. It looks like she is sitting up against a wall in a possibly public hallway, but because the wall is all that we see in the photograph, when viewed in the media she is breastfeeding in private. By sending this photo in a private message to the University of the Sunshine Coast she released property and fully authorized the University of the Sunshine Coast to share the photograph creating a whole different type of media buzz. A positive one – since the University of the Sunshine Coast was uplifting and praising her from the get go for “thanking” them for supporting her during her years of enrollment.


Stereotypical Headlines

Regarding Karlesha Thurman (young, single, black mother of 1)


  • Controversial or Natural? Photo of Mom Breastfeeding at College Graduation Causes Stir – People.com
  • Breast-feeding mom’s college graduation photo stirs controversy – Today.com
  • Mom who posted image of her breastfeeding daughter at college graduation defends herself after backlash – Daily Mail Online


Regarding Jacci Sharkey (young, single, white mother of 2)


  •  Australian woman breastfeeds six-week-old son at college graduation, becomes online sensation – New York Daily News
  • Beautiful Picture Of Mother Breastfeeding Her Baby At Her Graduation Goes Viral – Huff Post Lifestyle UK 
  • Breastfeeding Mom Graduation Photo Goes Viral – Yahoo.com


Timing is Everything

Karlesha also happened to post her image during the months leading up to World Breastfeeding Awareness Month – after which, many people know better than to write stories shaming breastfeeding mothers.

Luckily for Jacci, her photo came into the public eye after this year’s EXPLOSION of breastfeeding awareness groups, campaigns, initiatives, and so forth.


Stats are FACTS

“Black babies are dying at twice the rate (in some place, nearly triple) the rate of white babies. This is a fact. The high infant mortality rate among black infants is mostly to their being disproportionately born too small, too sick or too soon. These babies need the immunities and nutritional benefit of breast milk the most. According to the CDC, increased breastfeeding among black women could decrease infant mortality rates by as much as 50%.” –Top 5 Reasons we need Black Breastfeeding Week – BlackBreastfeedingWeek.com


Media Invitations for Discussion

Karlesha was interviewed on the Inside Edition about what led to to the photograph being posted and how she felt about the negative backlash.


Jacci was invited to Skype with Great Day SA to “chat” about what led to the photograph being taken and how she felt about far it had reached, in a very positive light, and was even quoted for calling it “normal.”

Addressing Reasons Behind Backlash

You are probably here because you think I am going to address the racial formality that our society has used to categorize and stereotype these two breastfeeding mothers. Well you’re right! Although that is NOT all that I have to say – so stick around 😉 Black, single mom, Karlesha, was referred to as “controversial”  time after time. White, single mom, Jacci, was referred to as “adorable.” If you don’t believe that “white privilege” exists in the breastfeeding community, you have a lot to learn. Mind you I am African-American myself, yet was raised as the ONLY black girl in my elementary school classes. So NO I am not racist – I always see both sides of the story because of my past. It is frustrating for a successful single black mother to make it through college and sit down to breastfeed her crying baby in a crowd only to be called indecent! Seriously? If you watched her video above you would notice how educated, well spoken, and DECENT she is! But don’t let her pull out her BREAST in public to feed her child – now she is an “INDECENT HOE????”  I honestly can’t even begin to quote some of the horrific statements made about her. On the other hand, Jacci – who has even more breast exposed is referred to as “beautiful, adorable, and inspiring!!!” On the other hand some of the comments on her photos were just as outrageous as Karlesha’s – saying that she was an “exhibisionist, an attention seeker, and was disrespecting herself!”

Now that I have gotten that out of my system, let me just be real with you about what IS so different about these photos.


To all of you women who “talk” about wanting to normalize breastfeeding, start walking the “walk” and NURSE IN PUBLIC. You don’t have to share your photos online publicly. I share anonymous posts via the private message on our Facebook page all day everyday – and I honestly post every picture that is submitted when possible. If you don’t like Facebook share it on our Twitter @NormalizeBfing and use the hashtag #NIPUSA.

Breastfeeding in public is the ONLY way to bring about change, not for media, not for press, but to nourish and nurture your baby whenever and where ever they need it.


Please comment – I want your feedback!

18 thoughts on “A Humble Dissection of Two Similar Breastfeeding Graduation Pictures

  1. I totally hear the painful feelings expressed by black women who are shamed for breastfeeding in public. Mostly the blame falls on media outlets for shaming her. No one should be made to feel ashamed of breastfeeding. That’s why I think we need to empathize with each other and not demonize each other. There are certain groups that financially/politically benefit from segregating and alienating people. We need to try to see how all women have needs and feelings can be hurt very easily. If we could just hear eachother and look at each other as human beings the world would be a better place.

  2. Mike Russell

    I personally think that all women should be allowed and ENCOURAGED to breastfeed. Public or private. Breastfeeding is FAR more nutritious for the baby. As a society, we have created the idea that women should keep all of their private parts hidden. As far as that goes, I agree. But we are condemning young women everywhere for simply tending to their child’s needs. Is it taboo for a gynecologist to observe your vagina? Of course not! So why should it be considered taboo to have one of your boobs out to feed and nourish your child? Besides, your child’s health and nourishment should be far more important than what narrow-minded people think.

  3. All I saw in the pictures were two mothers nourishing their babies. I nursed both of mine in public. Many people were rude about it, but I just ignored them. Although I did have one woman approach me and congratulate me for being brave enough to w nurse in public. Strangely enough, the praise was unsettling, where the rude comments, stares, etc. never bothered me.

  4. Was not aware of the Australian mother, thanks for this thoughtful analysis. The cultural differences between Australians and Americans regarding breastfeeding are more vast than the differences between Black and White in the US. Thanks for doing what you do! Jarene

  5. Yes! All I saw was two hard-working mamas feeding their babies. Who cares where they do it or what color the breast is that feeds them? Sadly the answer to the question is still far too many people.

    • Exactly . The setting and country make no difference or at least shouldn’t make a difference . I just saw two strong , hard working women who had got degrees while looking after young children . The pictures were so similar that they were even feeding from the same side . One baby was feeding from a black boob and the other baby was feeding from a white boob , but the most important thing was that they were doing what was natural .

  6. This was wonderfully written. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Besides race the only issue I see here is that the U.S. has their panties in a twist and they need to get over it.

    • Thank you! Yes, my goal was to show that even though race is an issue, there is a lot more going on here that people don’t see. “Getting over it” is extremely difficult when you’re a woman of color! I love both images, but the media is wrong for spewing hate at Karlesha, and they know it. Thanks for reading! 😉

      • Cameron Buster

        I think that Dominique was saying that we, as a society, need to get over it. I wish we could get all the people who have shamed Karlesha to apologize. She is beautiful, and even more worthy of admiration BECAUSE she is single, and has accomplished her education and child – rearing On. Her. Own. This is an amazing feat, and I don’t know that I could have done it.

        I hope that Kanesha is doing well, and that this disparity shrinks. The statistics are scary, and the problem needs to be solved.

        Thank you.

      • It was ridiculous that either woman got any hate at all , but from what I read Karlesha got more . I still don’t get why in the USA people get so uptight about public breastfeeding and I agree there could have been a race issue as well . Both pictures and mothers are beautiful . If anyone was going to be offended about ‘ nudity ‘ it could be argued that Jacci had more flesh on show with her short gown and legs showing and has bigger boobs ! ( so more skin to get upset about ) .

  7. You’re right. Australia is much more open to breastfeeding than the US. Also, it is a private photo which some people believe is more respectful.
    With that being said, I personally think it’s all the same, it’s no big deal and those women are awesome for doing the best they can for their babes!

Any thoughts?