Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Essence Magazine, Do Better

When I saw the October issue of Essence magazine at Publix, I about choked and died.

Now, if you know me, you know how much I love Blair Underwood. Like a fine wine, the man just gets better with age. I have watched some really craptastic TV just to stare at Blair. When that whole Chris Brown and Rihanna debacle happened, Blair Underwood was the ONLY black male celebrity to speak out against domestic violence and to condemn Chris Brown's behavior. None of that mealy-mouthed celeb doublespeak from Blair. No sir. Accompanying this gorgeous photo was also an article where Blair was going to talk about loving black women? Well, Essence tempted me for the first time in YEARS to buy a copy.

So as I picked up the magazine to flip through it while in line to check out, I also noticed the cover story, "7 Breast Cancer Tips to Save Your Life." Now I just knew that Essence was hitting it out of the ballpark with this issue because this article was bound to be chock full of information on breastfeeding, right?

But Essence let me down. The article actually doesn't mention really breastfeeding. The "tips" are really 7 mistakes that black women make when faced with a lump that could be breast cancer. They are: Ignoring the signs, Thinking we can't afford reconstruction, Not being strategic about clinical exams, Failing to assemble a team, Letting size get in the way of our health, Automatically opting for mastectomy and Refusing the assistance of loved ones. So the article wasn't about prevention as much as it was about dealing with the reality of a breast cancer diagnosis.

Now while I think these are important things to discuss, particularly the link between obesity and breast cancer, is there really no room for information about breastfeeding in Essence magazine? Strangely they used a stock photo of a woman nursing a baby with the caption, "It's the number of kids you have that can lead to sagging breasts--not breastfeeding" but didn't actually discuss how breastfeeding can lower your risk of getting cancer in the first place.

Essence magazine has been getting a lot of flak lately for not covering issues pertinent to young black women well. And I think that by not covering breastfeeding in their magazine, they are doing their readers a huge disservice. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and I think we should be talking to women about the importance of breastfeeding before they become mothers. Breastfeeding is just as much a part of a healthy lifestyle as eating your fruits and vegetables, exercising and being a non-smoker are. I'm sure Essence has covered these topics in their Body & Soul section.

I did a database search of Essence magazine going back to 1988 and I found two articles about breastfeeding. A paragraph on how breastfeeding benefits moms from 2004 and a piece on breastfeeding after returning to work written in 1993.

And honestly, it's not just that they need to be covering this topic more, but Essence also needs to make sure when they do, they get the information fact-checked by a lactation professional. In March of this year they published a piece online only about the study that suggested that black moms were more comfortable with formula feeding, and that this could explain the disparity in breastfeeding rates. The author (whose name isn't listed) to decides to throw in that while breastmilk is touted as complete nutrition, it is low in Vitamin D. Her solution to this problem is "regimen that combines breastfeeding and formula-feeding with an added vitamin supplement. This could also be the way to go to get mothers who aren't enthusiastic about nursing all the time to incorporate it into their feeding routine."

Now TRUST there was no place to leave a comment on this tripe or I would have. It's completely and totally inaccurate and um, who asked this anonymous blog writer for her opinion on how to get black mothers to breastfeed? Yet and still, this bad information is sitting on Essence's website to this day. That's a problem.

So while I know that Essence magazine probably thinks they have bigger fish to fry at this point (their Editor-In-Chief Angela Burt Murray has just left, after all of the controversy surrounding her hiring of a white woman as Fashion Editor) I do hope they will try to write about breastfeeding more frequently, or at the very least, with accuracy.

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