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Mexico City Breast-Feeding Campaign Draws Backlash

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Mexico City’s new health campaign to encourage new mothers to nurse has left a sour taste in health advocates’ mouths due to campaign posters that feature topless celebrities.

The posters show famous women without shirts or bras on, with a banner reading, “No les des la espalda, dale pecho,” or “Don’t turn you back on them, give them your breast,” strategically placed across their chests. Health advocates are peeved that the campaign both sexualizes women and faults those who choose not to breast-feed, rather than simply emphasizing the benefits of doing so.

“It’s not only a very terrible campaign in terms of how it looks, but it’s also the message that if you don’t breast-feed, you are a bad mother and you are the one to blame,” Regina Tames, of the reproductive-rights group GIRE, told NPR.

Mexico’s breast-feeding rates are among the lowest in Latin America. Only 14% of women breast-feed their children for the first six months, according to World Health Organization stats. Studies have shown that breast-feeding can help lower the risk of childhood obesity and breast cancer, both of which are on the rise in Mexico.

The issue is complicated, however, because many women in Mexico City cannot breast-feed because they don’t have access to proper nutrition, don’t have enough maternity leave (12 weeks on average) and are forbidden from breast-feeding or pumping milk at work. Mexico has yet to sign on to the World Health Organization guidelines that would restrict hospitals from handing out free baby formula to mothers.

The advertisements “condemn mothers, rather than informing them about breast feeding, and they reduce a social problem with multiple players — fathers as well as mothers, workplaces, health authorities and public spaces and the community at large — to one person: the mother,” a group of activists wrote in a complaint to the city’s human-rights commission, reported by the Associated Press.

What’s worse, all the “new mothers” in the new ads show off toned tummies, an unrealistic portrayal of women who have just given birth. Detractors add that the celebrity models — which include actress Camila Sodi, actress Maribel Guardia and boxer Mariana “La Barby” Juárez — are all light-skinned.

An unnamed official told the Associated Press that the slogan would be reworked and that the next phase of the campaign may include everyday moms rather than celebrities.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com