Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"Real" babywearing in ads

Recently, I've seen a few pieces of advertising that have featured babywearing of the sort that we crunchy types adore. Instead of BabyBjörns and the like,1 commercials and print ads are showing infants in stretchy wraps and toddlers in ring slings.

Witness, from ADT:

Now, I could quibble that her rings are awfully droopy and the toddler looks like he might fling himself right out of that loose and low back, but — ring sling! Arguably the least trendy sling in the Western market.2 It really looks like the stock photographer just happened upon this family on the street and said, "Hey, can you stand next to each other and I'll sell your picture? 'kthanks." Very casual and real.

And then there's this Sears commercial I fast forwarded past and then rewound to be sure I really did see what I thought I saw:

Here's a screen shot from the above video if you don't want to watch it:

A stretchy wrap! Is that a real baby in it? Arguably not. But it could be! It's at least being worn appropriately, and the (fake) mom looks (fakely) solicitous of her (fake) baby.

So what do you think of this? I have these strangely mixed reactions.

On a community level, I'm all like fist-pumping and saying, Woot! Babywearing made normal! We're not freaks anymore!

On an advocacy level, I'm excited that baby carriers that aren't the typical crotch-danglers3 or, more usually still, baby bucket car seats, are getting air time. Maybe someone will see that commercial and wonder what sort of comfy carrier that is and go try to find same.

On a somewhat foolish, emotional level, I feel a little — I don't know — ambivalent? Well, I guess that's the meaning of the term. I start wondering if we're being taken advantage of as a trendy demographic to sell home security and appliances to. I start feeling possessive (this is the silliest reaction) of our ("our"!) cool wraps and slings and want to cuddle them up so they don't get sullied by the general population (seriously? This is in my head?). I congratulate myself on babywearing because it's best for my baby (and my back…) and feel superior (let's get all the ugliness out there for the world to see) to anyone who will do it just because it's the "in" thing. I fear that normalization like this will somehow make babywearing a fad … that then becomes wildly popular … that then becomes widely derided … that then gets discarded for something else.

It's strange, because I don't mind the idea of normalizing breastfeeding at all. I guess I'm not quite as worried that it will be left in the dust, considering all the increased knowledge we have (and that's still coming out) about breastfeeding's benefits. So if, when my sons are my age, breastfeeding is something that everyone (who has kids and lactates) does, I'll just be excited, not weird about it. I mean, I'll reminisce to anyone who will listen about the time when we had to make actual laws protecting the right to breastfeed in public, and how some states refused to make them, and the people around me will alternately gasp at the backwardness of such a time, or yawn that I'm telling this story again (that will be Mikko and Alrik).

But, somehow, despite the advantages of babywearing, I worry that people will see it as a take-it-or-leave-it trend rather than a lifestyle.

Or maybe I'm overthinking it? I'll turn it over to you:

Have you seen babywearing in advertising lately? What has your reaction been?

Read more about different baby carriers and babywearing, complete with pictorial how-tos, in my Natural Parent's Guide to Babywearing!

1 I personally don't recommend BabyBjörn-type carriers because they're less comfortable for the parent and they definitely look less comfortable for the child. There are many voices saying that the posture of having a child put weight on hir crotch is not the best ergonomic idea, and that seems like common sense to me, whether or not it's actually damaging. There are voices saying, too, that turning babies in toward the parents rather than facing out (as the BB is commonly used) is less overstimulating. However, I know many families in real life and online who use a Baby Björn or Snugli because (a) they like it and/or (b) because it's all they have, and I have to get over my prejudices just to say: Kudos for keeping your baby close and happy. Now: May I please send you a fleece mei tai…?
2 Is that even true, or is it just my perception? I feel like soft structured carriers have been a staple, with the BabyBjörn and Snugli and, among crunchier types, the ERGO and Beco and similar; that pouches are considered hip and form-fitting enough for the fabulous; and that stretchy wraps have inflitrated the market, the Moby Wrap and Sleepy Wrap in particular leading the charge. I suppose woven wraps might challenge ring slings for least seen on the streets, although non-babywearing types would be hard pressed to distinguish a woven from a stretchy. What am I forgetting? Oh! I guess mei tais that aren't soft structured like the ERGO. Well, I still think those look pretty cool. I don't know — the ring sling is very versatile, and I have several and like them, but I think they have an image of being only for hippies, amirite? Hee. I won't even go into onbuhimo or podeagi or kanga — I'm talking carriers that are at least commonly marketed in the U.S. and similar countries.
3 See, that's what we call a BabyBjörn when we're trying to be obnoxious and exclusionary.

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Stephanie Wilson she/her @babysteph said...

I have seen them. I love seeing that more varieties of carriers are being featured. I also think that more moms are wearing their babies in those types of slings, I know I see it so much where I live compared to many years ago! So I think they are being relevant & current with their ads!


Jenn @Monkey Butt Junction said...

I have to say, I had the same reaction that you did to the Sears ad. I was excited to see some babywearing, and then I questioned the motives. After all, it is advertising. Sears isn't in the business of promoting one type of parenting over another - they are trying to sell their stuff. I felt like asking "why us? Did we suddenly become the cool kids?"

In all, I think it is a good thing.

Momma Jorje said...

I rarely see any ads, so I hadn't seen either of these. I think the emotion you're reaching for might be "Elite" or "the enlightened ones." ;-)

And perhaps the reason there is fear babywearing could be a fad while breastfeeding would be a lifestyle - I think has to do with required equipment. Baby carriers are a new and cool thing to buy available in nifty patterns! Breastfeeding... all the parts are included.

kelly @kellynaturally said...

I think it's awesome that babies in these ads are in carriers... of ANY kind. Showing babies/toddlers being held close in TV advertising - which nearly everyone has access to - is a good, frequent reminder that babies like to be held! I don't see any downside - even if the babies in question were in Snuglies* the fact that we're NORMALIZING the holding & HUMANIZING of infants is awesome. :)

*Full disclosure: I was a snugli user w/my 1st baby - it was a lifesaver for my coliky girl. I had a pouch sling I ordered online b4 she was born, but no one IRL to show me how to use it, and besides that, she hated it, and I needed a way to keep her in arms, upright, with both arms free so I could work (I did much of my work standing at a packing/shipping line in our warehouse at the time)... so to Walmart (the only place nearby) I went & the Snugli I bought. Of course, in the years since that time, I discovered crunchy people IRL and online, and had all the "cool kid" carriers, and for newbaby gifts, I usually give a Maya wrap, but I will always have a warm spot in my heart for that Snugli. :)

Lauren Wayne said...

@Adventures In Babywearing: I see a LOT more babyworn babies in real life now, too, but I wasn't sure if that was just because I live in Seattle! Good to know it's trending.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Jenn @Monkey Butt Junction: Whew, glad I wasn't the only one feeling odd about it. But I agree that overall, it's got to be good.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Momma Jorje: That's us, the elite enlightened ones! ;) You're right about the equipment thing. It's hard for breastfeeding to get trendy when you don't have to buy anything for it.

Lauren Wayne said...

@kelly @kellynaturally: Very true, and you're exactly the type of person I think of when I want to diss Snuglis but then realize — hey, they're available! People are at least wearing their babies! Take a chill pill. (This is all to me, not to you.) Funny thing — when Mikko was born, Sam & I spent hours each day wrapping packages for our own shipping business. Ah, memories! I didn't have a way to stand and do it so I (shhh!) bought a bouncy seat. Which Mikko lurved. I felt so guilty about buying that sucker, too, like I was failing at being the ultimate babywearer. :P

Another point in favor of the Snugli-type carrier? I see lots of dads (or so they seem to be) wearing them. It's much rarer to see a dad wearing a ring sling or woven wrap, you know? (Except in my own house, ha ha — Sam has no self-consciousness about it at all!)

Unknown said...

I think they might be choosing the babywearing crowd because if we look at it logically -- babywearing is one of those natural things that can be costly. They're probably assuming if you can afford to buy a fancy sling, you've got more disposable income than the parents with a $20 WalMart stroller.

That said, I think everyone feels like that when their hobby starts to get trendy. Hipsters are a huge joke, but the instinct to say, "I was in before it was cool!" is pretty natural.

On the whole, I do find it neat -- though I didn't even try babywearing until Miles was much older, and I'm not really "in" with the crowd. (Though I got more "WTF" looks wearing Miles than I ever did breastfeeding him.)

I think that as it becomes more normal, the idea that only "yuppies" with disposable income who need appliances and insurance wear their babies will go out and it'll just be a thing. Instead of using it to appeal to a certain demographic, it'll just be a thing you see parents do.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Ashley: Ah, love the way you put that! Thanks for bringing up the class distinction, because that does make a lot of sense, and I, too, hope babywearing can span multiple demographics (to use the ad lingo).

It's funny, because the first people I knew who babywore with something other than a BB/Snugli were middle class but blue collar, and it was (truly) ring slings that they had. But I can totally see that the parents in Seattle sporting their Ergos & Mobies (um, like me) probably have more disposable income. That's another reason I don't want to pooh-pooh the Björns & Snuglis for now, considering they're a little more affordable, particularly secondhand (being ubiquitous). But I'm kinda hoping some better slings find their way into the affordable market (as in, at Walmart) if (or after) babywearing does become trendy.

Rachel P. said...

my husband and i are pregnant with our first and we are BOTH so excited about babywearing! we registered for a Moby Wrap and an Ergo carrier ... i'm glad babywearing is becoming more common!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Rachel P.: I was so excited about babywearing before Mikko was born that I practiced on a teddy bear. :) I almost couldn't stand the suspense! So I'm with you, that it's great that it's more common. Have fun with your carriers; they're both great ones!

Casey@LoveWhatIs said...

I haven't seen them, but we don't watch regular tv. We just watch Hulu Plus and Netflix, so if it's not on there I don't see it. I have to say I'm not at all ambivalent about the use of baby carriers in ads. I think that it's great. There are people I know who have never seen anything but a Bjorn. If they happen to see a Sears ad and get a glimpse of a Moby, I think that's great. I think it's also great for babies. Since we know the benefits of babywearing, I feel like the more people talking about it the better.

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