Kelli Roman, a 23-year-old mother of two from Fallbrook, CA, doesn't think she should have to hide the fact that she breast-feeds her daughter not from her friends, her family or even the people she interacts with on Facebook. Facebook disagrees. The social-networking site takes down some breast-feeding photos if they show an exposed nipple or areola, which it considers obscene material. Roman and several other women have banded together to protest this policy, forming a Facebook group that has grown to tens of thousands of members. TIME talked to Roman about the virtues of breast-feeding, her group's Dec. 27 "nurse-in," and why her toddler daughter is still nursing.
How did this all start?
It was last summer. My daughter was three months old and I was a member of a couple of different breast-feeding groups on Facebook and one of my friends from there had her profile picture of her breast-feeding her baby removed. She was also banned. After that, I decided to put a picture up of me nursing my daughter and it was taken down.
So you put up the picture of you and your daughter in protest?
Yeah. Initially, it was to say, "Hey Facebook, don't classify breast-feeding pictures as obscene." So many people joined, it kind of just became a network for women to find help and ask questions. I think that's a great result. Since then, it's really grown. We've gained like 60,000 members just in the last few weeks.
What was this "nurse-in" that your group held on Dec. 27?
My friend Stephanie organized an event in Palo Alto outside Facebook headquarters for people who lived there. She also organized the online event where people posted profile pictures of nursing babies and changed their status to say that breast feeding is not obscene. We had a lot of people do it and it's obviously gotten us a lot of attention, which is what we want.
What's the point of all this?
My ultimate goal is to get breast-feeding as much attention as possible because breast feeding needs to be normalized in this country. In Europe and in Third World countries, it's amazing how much more they breast-feed and how normal it is for breasts to be seen.
What are its benefits?
The biggest thing for me, besides the health benefits, is the emotional connection you have with your child. You can't really compare breast milk and formula. Breast milk is living and constantly changing. I breast-fed my son until he was about six months old. That was before I was enlightened. My daughter is 21 months now and she's still breast-fed and we just have a totally different connection. We don't really need punishments. I just have to give her a look and she knows because we just have this crazy connection.
How do you think breast feeding pictures compare to other content on Facebook?
Even among my acquaintances, there are pictures posted from parties they went to where people are under the influence of alcohol and wearing little or no clothing. I've seen other groups where there are offensive topics about women. Breast-feeding has nothing to do with sex and I just get so confused [as to] why people make such a big fuss about it. We're just using our breasts for what they evolved for.
What do you think about Facebook's reaction? Sounds like they're not backing down.
I can understand where they're coming from, but the bottom line is you can't say that you can't show areolas or nipples because some women have very large areolas and even when the baby is latched on properly, it still shows. It's not fair to these women. When there's a bottle-feeding baby, there's nothing that has to be private. You don't have to hide it from anyone or be nervous about anyone seeing. It should be the exact same way with breast-feeding.
So this about more than just Facebook.
It starts with something like Facebook because we're so intermingled with things like it on the Internet. You should be able to share your life with people.