Local Gem: Sabrena Rexing Photography
Photos via Sabrena Rexing
Interview by Tess Cagle
Today, we feature Sabrena Rexing and her business, Sabrena Rexing Photography.
As a photographer, Rexing is on a mission to empower women through portraiture. She photographs births, women's bodies post-partum and public breastfeeding.
"I started taking breastfeeding photos as part of family photos sessions. I would have clients with young children who would start to get fussy during the session. We would take a break for the mom to nurse the baby, and I just started offering to take a photo of that relationship. The response was really good, so I kept offering during family sessions," Rexing says.
Rexing hopes to dismantle some of the negative taboos associated with a woman's nipple through her work, and the results are beautiful (seriously—J cried the first time she saw them).
We had a chance to ask Rexing about some of the inspirations behind her participation in the public breastfeeding project, as well as some of the challenges she has seen for women trying to breastfeed in public. Give her answers a read below:
Q: What has your experience with society’s taboo of public breast feeding and the nipple overall been like?
A: My personal breastfeeding experiences have been vastly different from my first child to my second. I moved to Austin from Las Vegas two years ago, and the only time I have ever been shamed for public breastfeeding was in Las Vegas. I was out to eat at a restaurant with my family and my 6-month-old son got fussy, so I took him to the back of the restaurant, next to the restrooms (they had a couple of couches set up), put on my nursing cover and fed my son. I got so many bad stares and eye-rolls that day. I found it so hypocritical, that I could go outside and see a gigantic billboard of a woman’s breasts advertising a topless bar, but how dare I use my breasts to actually feed my son (while completely covered and sitting next to the bathroom!). Unfortunately, I was still very self-conscious at the time, and that experience prevented me from nursing my first son in public again. Thankfully, with our move to Austin, I feel free to nurse my second son whenever and wherever he is hungry without the fear of embarrassment.
Q: Why do you think society is so against the public display of women’s breasts and of public breast feeding?
A: We are taught, through advertising, that a woman’s breasts can be used to sell almost anything. We are taught that breasts are purely sexual, and they exist only for the arousal of that woman’s partner. Unfortunately, this “education” starts at an early age. When we force women to cover up when they breastfeed, or only do it in the privacy of their homes, we are teaching young children that breastfeeding is not normal, and that using your breasts to feed your baby is shameful.
Q: Why do you feel that it is important that women embrace public breastfeeding? Why is this issue important to you?
A: Whenever I see on social media someone shame a mother for nursing her child in public, the offender is almost always another mother, and this makes me very sad. Being a mother is hard enough, why add to a woman’s daily stress by condemning her when she feeds her baby? I know a lot of breastfeeding mothers, and not one of them “whips it out” (as it is often described) for the world to see. Rather, these mothers are trying to calm their hungry or upset child by offering the most natural comfort food available. I would love to see mothers supporting one another, understanding that each mother does what is best for her child.
Q: What do you think can be done to change western culture’s negative view of public breast feeding and nipple exposure?
A: Social Media campaigns, such as #freethenipple and The Public Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign are amazing tools to bring awareness to the issues and acceptance to the human body. I hope that if people see public breastfeeding more and more, that eventually it will no longer be “taboo” and just be what it is—a mom feeding her child.
Q: How do you feel that your work is changing the way society views public breast feeding?
A: My goal during breastfeeding shoots is to capture real life in its most beautiful form. I want to show the bond between mother and child. I want to create a beautiful piece of artwork that will make the viewer feel the love that is shared. If I can evoke these emotions through my photos, then I hope the viewer can see the breastfeeding relationship as something to celebrated, not something to be shamed.
Q: What kind of negative responses has your work received because of the taboos of the nipple and of public breast feeding? How do you combat that kind of feedback?
A: I am so thankful that my work has been met with positive responses so far. I know not everyone agrees with breastfeeding in public, and there are definitely people who do not believe breastfeeding photography should be shared, however these people have stayed away from my own work. However, I frequently see negativity with fellow breastfeeding photographers and I am impressed with how those comments are handled—with facts and with class. I will keep sharing photos of breastfeeding moms, and maybe one day women can breastfeed in public without feeling humiliated and without being shamed.