Why Did Equinox’s Breastfeeding Ad Cause Controversy?

Amelia Diamond | January 7, 2016


Stick your finger in an electrical socket in the year 2016 and I doubt you’d even feel a tickle. We’ve lost the ability to feel shock and for this, I blame how hard we’re trying to shock each other. Never mind the reality that profanities are a part of our daily vernacular. Blood and guts are nothing to fans of gore, and if you’ve seen one nipple, you’ve seen them all. The only thing that shocks me these days is when people get shocked.

But somehow, yesterday, the above Equinox ad sparked controversy because, I don’t know if you noticed, there are two babies being breastfed in the arms of media heiress Lydia Hearst at a dinner table in a fancy restaurant.

The campaign’s accompanying hashtag is #committosomething, which, if you think about it, is a pretty powerful and positive message. Commit to confidence, it espouses. To public oneness and to discarding shame. Yet if you scan the comments on Equinox’s Facebook page, you’ll see a cocktail of disgust, discomfort and praise. There’s some confusion, too — Lydia Heart is childless, so whose kids are these?

One commenter pointed out that she isn’t breastfeeding at all, she’s just “shoving her breasts in two babies’ mouths.”

“Use a real mother,” said commenter recommended.

Other viewers were grossed out by the public, glamorized act of breastfeeding. The underlying sentiment? “No one needs to see that.”

And then there were those who were mad. This has nothing to do with working out.

So where to start — from the bottom up?

Equinox’s tagline is, “It isn’t fitness. It’s life.” Breastfeeding isn’t “fitness” either, but consider the exhausting toll pregnancy takes on a woman’s body. Think of the number of calories that breastfeeding burns. And then remember that breastfeeding quite literally gives life.

But for argument’s sake, say none of that were true — what if this ad actually made zero sense?

Skittles ads make no sense.

Remember this Starburst one?

That is pointless, but it didn’t invite a public media quarrel.

So, is this ad is causing controversy because breastfeeding in public riles people up? Because there’s a never-ending war on another’s entitlement to command what a women can and can’t do with her body? If you don’t agree, maybe it’s because she’s not a real mother. That seems like valid reason to be annoyed. Or maybe it’s because they didn’t just “normalize” what’s normal, they glamorized it. According to the women in my life who have children, breastfeeding is beautiful, yes. But it isn’t glamorous. Does it once again boil down to the reality that as consumers of media, we are being conditioned to react without thinking? Maybe the scrubbing clean of discomfort on college campuses is affecting distant graduates with just as much force.

Image sourced from Yahoo


  • alex

    I dont like children. i don’t feel bad about this. to me, its more bothersome that a child is in a fancy restaurant that is clearly meant for adults. breastfeeding isn’t my favorite, however i think the ad has a chicness to it.

    • jb

      “Not everyone can have children. Not everyone has to be adept at caring for children. But the sentiment “I don’t like kids” should be viewed on a level with a racist or sexist comment. Assuming you’re a human, children are the young of your own species.”

      • jb

        -Rachel Lu

        • Velma Ramirez

          I am getting a salary of more than 4600 dollars each week , that is awesome. Over a year ago I was in a horrible condition , jobless and Bank account with only few bucks . Thanks to one of my friends who showed me a way where I was able to gather myself and making average of 68 d/h. So it can change your life as it has changed mine.



      • alex

        i dont like trolls either.

      • sarahsparkle

        even if you don’t “like children”, you’ll like ’em when they grow up to wipe your old childless ass in a nursing home one day. They are a necessary part of our society, and as such, should be allowed to be anywhere that anyone else is allowed to be. How will they learn to properly dine in a fancy restaurant if never allowed to step foot in one?

        • alex

          did i say that i wouldnt help a child in need? did i say that i think they are the scum of the earth? did i say that cannot grow up to be wonderful human beings? no.

        • alex

          yea i will like them when they grow up to wipe my old childless ass in a nursing home because they will be adults.

    • John

      Wow, you were a child Alex so I guess that means you hated yourself so how’s that going now

  • Elizabeth Tamkin

    It reminds me of the Dolce & Gabbana Fall 2015 show a little bit.

    • Lua Jane

      It does. It’s a beautiful image. Whatever the message behind it is. And that show was too.

  • Aubrey Green

    It’s marketing. Now everyone is talking about this Equinox ad, therefore, quite possibly more people will join the gym. I’m not personally offended by the ad, but do think it would have been nicer if they used someone who has children. They should have used Kim Kardashian ;).

    • theperriertree

      And in the midst of controversy, it’s targeting women who have just had babies – genius marketing

  • I kind of like the fact that the two men that are clearly meant to be visible are not looking at her. It’s as though no one is noticing. The only argument I’d have is that they definitely glamorized it and the lady isn’t even the mother. There is no maternal expression from her. But whatever. Just another ad that is getting talked about. People will always find something to complain about. Can’t make everyone – and sometimes anyone! – happy.

  • Kelly

    I love that it shows breastfeeding so publicly, it makes no difference to me whether they are her children or not. Although the breastfeeding seems to have been used simply to provoke a reaction, which is a bit…lame. I am jealous of how utterly gorgeous the woman looks though. Airbrushing/photoshop issues aside, I would happily offer to pose for said photo shoot if they could make me look like that! I adore my son and enjoy breastfeeding him but when he is poking his finger up my nose, kicking my ribs and the only accessory I am wearing are his dribble marks then glamour is the last feeling I have…

  • Alessandra

    Advertisements are subject to interpretation, and we’re talking about it; isn’t that what Equinox and Wieden + Kennedy agency wants?

    That being said, this ad just really goes for it. Like think about it: take any highly debated topic (breastfeeding in this case). Instead of depicting an image supporting that topic, this campaign encourages viewers to goes ALL OUT.

    They’re not just saying “stand for something you believe in by doing it half-assed” (I do not mean that “something” = breastfeeding in this case,) they are representing that you can/should go for something all out if YOU believe in it.

    Just my thoughts. I fully support how every mother chooses to feed her child.

  • Rachel Levy

    I love her expression. I’m breast feeding in public and don’t give a shit about what you think. It’s empowering.

    • Lua Jane

      But of course! I myself am childless and don’t know if I will ever want to be the mother, but think it’s about time we accept breastfeeding as perfectly natural and normal human thing one should be able to do wherever she may want. Any sort of moralist (as in cover your breast in public) approach to this is useless. Women should feed their babies any way they find the most appropriate, and during that time be able to participate any social activity they want to participate. All else is blatant misogyny.

  • Kerrith

    I’m a mom who breastfed two children. It is definitely not glamorous. I had my second when that Time magazine cover came out with the woman breast feeding two school age boys on it. It made breastfeeding even more of a “thing”. I was like, “Hey, I’m not trying to make a statement here. I’m just trying to feed my kid, not pay ridiculous prices for formula and get my body back into shape (it really does help you lose a lot of the pregnancy weight).” I also never got why we made it such a thing if a woman decides not to breastfeed. It’s all about what works for your family unit. We really are so hard on each other. As Alex said, I just don’t get why this woman has two infants in a nice restaurant. I agree this add makes no sense. “Mommy needs two hands to eat her eight-dollar cake!” Everything really does come back to Sex and the City.

    • ALEX

      “this is a place for double lattes, not double strollers!”

  • Liv

    Upon first glance, my perception of the ad was that it was telling women to commit to something, as in one thing (business world) or the other (family). I’d like to think that Equinox is truly a supporter of choice and choice of lifestyle in particular but upon immediate review, this is where my mind went. Are they endorsing a woman’s commitment to her balanced lifestyle by breast feeding at a Client dinner? Or do they know that some consumers may read like I did: commit to something because you can’t do both? Are they banking on the fact that people (especially given the popularity of the feminist conversation) will belong to either camp and could perceive it either way, therefore creating a conversation?

    Either way, they’ve stirred the controversy pot which I think is what they set out to achieve.

    • Lua Jane

      Good point. It caused controversy. In case it’s true that their aim was to make us “commit to something” as in one thing or another, I hope women see through it. It’s about time we live in the world we can be anything we want to be. And all of it. Is it hard work? Excrutiating at times? Sure it is, but we can do it, and do it. We should not be sent such subliminal messages anymore, because we’ve been receiving loud and clear ones for centuries.

  • Mia

    Equinox is brilliant at advertising. Every campaign I see is memorable. When it comes to this add, I love it. Their tagline “It isn’t fitness. It’s life.” summarizes the picture perfectly. Life is all the time, babies don’t wait till you get home to get hungry, and having the audacity and confidence to do something so life essential anywhere is the type of attitude they are looking for in members. Ok so I may be a bit biased as an Equinox member myself but still, more power too them.


  • Kerrith

    I just got a moment to look at the rest of the campaign. Does anyone else think it interesting that the breast feeding photo is more controversial then the orgy photo?

  • Dawn

    It’s offensive to me because they used something natural and beautiful like breastfeeding, for pure shock value. The juxtaposition of “the mother’s” disinterested, glammed up look almost seems agressive in the face of these sweet babies. It seems like a complete media whore move.

  • sev2108

    Equinox just employs some savvy marketing firm. Any image (or discussion with an expert/famous person/mother) of breastfeeding seems to incite rabid commentary on both sides. See: Alissa Milano and some talk show host today. They knew it would get people talking about Equinox in the name of the MOMMY WARS and BINGO! It worked.

  • Mavis

    I get the sense that what is shocking to a lot of people is the conflation of breasts as sexual objects and breasts as nurturing maternal conduits. They are both, so why not both? Personally I like the idea of breaking down the barriers there – women can be sexual beings *and* mothers. I think the ad could be more successful if their message was clearer though. As-is, they’re leaning pretty hard on making a visceral visual impact, but which is more about “sparking conversation” which just strikes me as a bit of a cop out and/or a missed opportunity.

  • PAAR
  • Elizabeth von E

    I love that she looks great, does not give a shit and is basically being ignored. What a breastfeeding fantasy! Genius marketing.

  • B.T.

    It’s more annoying to me because yes, she is not a mother, and they are for sure as fuck glamourizing breast feeding. That being said, no she is not officially breast feeding; she literally just let these kids suck her nips. But what else is new in this wacked up world!? I am so tired of media outlets spewing this shit.

  • KF

    these poor babies – it’s a ghastly picture because she’s so uninvolved plus one of the babies is in a twisted , odd position .

    • C.J.S.

      its the football position. something you have to do with twins

  • Carlotta

    The photograph itself didn’t particularly shocked me. I actually love kids and respect wome who breast feed – even tough I always thought of it as something very intimate which therefor should be handled privately…
    This said, this photograph doesn’t feel empowering to me at all: this bitchy, uber glamourous version of Cruella breast feeding in her couture dress is not at all #goals and it just feels like someone I would never want to be…

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  • vin b

    I don’t really care that she’s breast feeding in public. Nothing about the concept of the ad itself bothers me. I think the only part worth mentioning is that these aren’t her kids and she isn’t really breast feeding. The ad would have a lot more value if this was a real mother with her real kids.

    I mean, I guess this is “hollywood” and we should be used to simulating things so it’s not like this upsets me. I just think it would have improved the quality of the ad with a real mother and her kids.

    *shrug* No idea why this is a controversy, it’s barely worth talking about in any level of depth.

  • Antnys

    Not offensive. Weird. It looks like Vampira is impatiently and hungrily waiting for the two triplets to finish their meal, so she can proceed to eat the brains of their dead sibling on the plate in front of her. (Equinox is apparently a really avant-garde New York restaurant.)

  • Lachlan

    A superbly orchestrated image at the edge of controversy targeted at women who aspire to have it all. You’ve got to give it to them, it works.

  • PCE

    I’m all for breastfeeding and I don’t really care if women are or aren’t comfortable about doing it in public – whatever makes you, the mom, comfortable! But it weirds me out that these two babies aren’t hers. Could they not find a real mother to do this? That’s my only problem with this ad.

  • Lucky kids!

  • Helene S

    Am I the only one who sees shades of Frida Kahlo?

  • jbg99jbg

    As far as being the mother is concerned has no one heard of a wet nurse? Would you rather have the children crying or screaming? Even though it is an unreal staging the fact that the surrogate mother and photographer pulled it off is an awesome feat in and of itself. If you don’t want to see a mother and child breastfeeding don’t look. I have to question if they actually did pull it off, more likely totally photo shopped.