Food for thought 

From around the corner in the Detroit Institute of Arts’ European Art collection, I hear a horrified gasp, followed by a hysterical whine and quick footsteps. I look up from the painting I’ve been perusing, only to see the Lizard of Fun galloping toward me.

"Thank bob, you’re here!" it says, the whine in its voice subsiding a little. "I’ve just seen the shockingest thing!"

I rub the Lizard between its eyes to calm it down. "There there," I say. "Picasso’s critics said the same thing, but they got over it."

The Lizard shakes its head. "I thought I was in a strip club!" it says, fanning its face with a museum map. "Not that I have any objection to seeing a little skin, but isn’t this the wrong place?"

I shrug, looking at the paintings of nudes hanging on the wall. "One person’s pornography is another person’s art, I suppose. What’s got you so hot and bothered?"

The Lizard points around the corner.

I peek around, expecting to see, at the very least, an installation of exotically dressed mannequins posed in an orgy on the floor. No such luck.

Instead, there’s a perfectly ordinary, fully dressed woman sitting on a bench, with a perfectly ordinary, fully dressed baby sleeping in her arms.

Beginning to doubt the Lizard’s perceptions, I return to where it’s quivering in front of a Van Gogh. "You see?" it asks timorously. "Real live naked nudity. It scares me and I don’t know why."

Frustrated at the Lizard’s sudden burst of irrationality, I investigate. As it turns out, the woman is no stripper, no artists’ model and no public nudist. Rather, she’s a breastfeeding mom, whose baby just happened to get hungry in an art gallery. If the Lizard saw any skin, it was purely a matter of her kid being a little slow to get lunch into his mouth.

"What?" cringes the Lizard. "You humans really are freaky. You mean you cannibalize each other? You let your young feed off you like vampires? Why can’t you be more like lizards? The moment our hatchlings crawl out of their eggs, we completely ignore them until they’re fully grown. Then we fight them for territorial dominance."

I shrug. "Do lizards drink milk?"

"Only in White Russians," says the Lizard. "What’s the big deal? Why can’t everyone just feed the little buggers from bottles? That way I could keep my Pamela Anderson fantasies separate from the idea of breasts as … ewww… food."

I explain that studies have shown breast milk is an essential food for people babies – in fact, it contains so many different nutrients, scientists are still trying to figure out what they all are, let alone duplicate them in a lab. Still other studies show that despite the advances of the women’s movement, many women still feel, well, a little weird about nursing their babies in public.

If this was just across the river in Windsor, breastfeeding moms could not only feed their kids, but bare all anytime they darn well felt like it. In fact, for several years now it’s been essentially legal – that is, there’s no law about it, but you can’t be arrested for it either – for women to go topless in public in Ontario. Not that many take advantage of such freedom ("Well, what are they waiting for?" says the Lizard), but at least it’s available. And sometimes, that’s half the battle.

Currently, there’s a bill before the U.S. Senate that, among other things such as affirming that breastfeeding is a civil right, would make it illegal to prevent women from breastfeeding on public federal property such as national parks, museums and, yes, art galleries.

"Great news!" says the Lizard. "If your baby got hungry and you had nowhere else to go, you could at least feed him in the post office!"

I shake my head, pointing at Renoir’s painting "Seated Bather," which is full frontal in front of me. "Is this society really so backward that breastfeeding is considered freakish, but magazines, strip clubs and other purveyors of naked breasts are considered worth paying for?"

"Well, sure," says the Lizard. "You pay to see all kinds of stuff that doesn’t normally exist in nature, right? Like two-headed chickens or compassionate conservatives."

"I’d pay to see a society that isn’t so darn uptight in the first place."

"Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of nudity, especially when it involves Nicole Kidman," says the Lizard.

I point out that in Michigan, even if flesh shows sometime before, during or afterward, breastfeeding won’t get you arrested for public nudity.

"You mean all you gotta do is have a baby present, and you can get away with going naked in public?"

"Not exactly," I begin, but the Lizard ignores me.

"Cool! All we gotta do is equip everyone with hungry babies to carry around, and they can get naked anywhere they want!"

"And this’ll work for guys too?" I ask doubtfully.

"Hell, yeah," says the Lizard with a leer. "Works for me already."

Speaking of Visual Arts, Backpage

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