As a recently married woman, looking forward to starting a family, the topic of breastfeeding has become more and more prevalent in conversations with my husband and friends. When UNICEF approached me with the opportunity to collaborate on a breastfeeding campaign, it really highlighted the importance of breastfeeding and I was shocked to learn how newborn deaths and illnesses can be prevented through this practice.
My painting depicts the bond that is experienced between a mother and child while breastfeeding and was largely inspired by the “Tree of Life” digital edits from the PicsArt application. To create the work, I used water-based body paints and eye shadows on my models: Nicole Kuppan and Ana Espinoza. Like the way branches and leaves blossom and grow through the nourishment of the tree’s roots, a mother’s milk promotes both physical and mental health within her child. Like a tree, breastfeeding is natural, universal, and life-giving.
However, despite all its benefits, breastfeeding is often shunned in our society. Breasts have been over-sexualized in the media to the point that it makes people uncomfortable to see a mother feed her child in public. As I painted Nicole – a mother who breastfed all five of her children – she told me of times when the stares became so unbearably awkward that she resorted to feeding her children in public bathrooms. Although Nicole, and my other friends who are also mothers, face challenges, I was at least encouraged to learn that here in North America, most mothers understand the importance of breastfeeding.
In Macau, China where I was born, breastfeeding was and still is uncommon. I was raised exclusively on formula and upon questioning my mother as to why this was the case, I was told that there was pressure for women to return to work immediately after giving birth. In many parts of Asia, maternity leave is considerably shorter than in the western world. Many children are left at home to be cared for by relatives or nannies. In speaking with women from my mother’s generation and culture, I feel that there is a general understanding of the importance of breastfeeding, but there are often barriers preventing them from doing so.
In collaborating with UNICEF, I hope to help erase the stigma that is unfairly associated with breastfeeding. I also hope that this project will shed light not only on the numerous benefits of breastfeeding but also on the obstacles that mothers face.
Mimi Choi is a Vancouver-based professional makeup artist whose pioneering illusionary work has garnered international attention. Her Instagram handle is @mimles.