You’d think the last place a woman would be denied to breastfeed in public would be a store that sells…bras. But that’s what happened at a Victoria’s Secret in Austin, Texas, where a nursing mom was told she couldn’t feed her crying infant son in the lingerie store.
Ashley Clawson, a 27-year-old mother of two, was in a Victoria’s Secret store in a local shopping plaza recently when her 4-month-old son Beckett began to cry because he was hungry. She says there were about three other customers in the store. As an associate rang up the more than $150 worth of items she had purchased, Clawson asked if she could use one of the empty dressing rooms to feed him.
Before the associate had a chance to answer, a second employee interrupted and said no. But she suggested Clawson take her son into the alley outside the store to feed him. She added that it was a long alley so if Clawson walked to the end, no one would see her.
“I was very shocked,” Clawson says.
Clawson left and fed her son in a public restroom, where she felt humiliated and confused. She says she thought Victoria’s Secret was a company that celebrated women’s bodies and was surprised they’d treat a breastfeeding woman that way.
“What are we, animals? Are [nursing women] that gross to you?” Clawson says she wondered.
She shared her experience on Facebook and followed up with Victoria’s Secret to file an official complaint. After the local Fox affiliate in Austin aired her story, she received an official apology and was offered a $150 store gift card. (Jan. 22 update: Clawson says she has not actually received the gift card yet.)
Victoria's Secret responded to requests for an interview with a previously-issued statement: “We take this issue very seriously. We have a longstanding policy permitting mothers to nurse their children in our stores and we are sorry that it was not followed in this case. We have apologized to Ms. Clawson, and we are taking actions to ensure all associates understand our policy that welcomes mothers to breastfeed in our stores.”
But Clawson doesn’t believe the company supports breastfeeding in stores.
“It is hard to believe that Victoria Secret [has] this long-standing training,” she says. “None of them said ‘I think it is okay [for her to breastfeed in the store].’ ”
Nursing advocates and moms groups from across the country—and the world—have contacted Clawson and want to stage a nurse-in at Victoria’s Secret stores. Clawson simply hopes that the company will make a donation to an organization that supports breastfeeding and make new moms feel welcome.
“They have a huge demographic of new moms that they are missing out on,” Clawson says. “I feel that Victoria’s Secret doesn’t even care… [It’s] like, if you are a mom you don’t have a right to feel sexy.”