Many of you may be familiar with Salma Hayek’s work: movies, television, humanitarian work. To be honest, aside from seeing some of her films, I wasn’t really familiar with her work. Then I began to hear her very distinctive voice in commercials. As a UNICEF spokesperson, Ms. Hayek was promoting Tetanus awareness in Sierra Leone with corporate partner, Pampers. As part of the campaign, Ms. Hayek went to Sierra Leone in February 2009. While she was there, she was being filmed by ABC news. Then something completely unplanned, unscripted happened: Ms. Hayek nursed a starving baby.
At first, when I read about it, I couldn’t believe it. Then, once I watched the news footage, I was moved, in awe, and speechless. Needless to say, Ms. Hayek became much more than a ‘Hollywood actress’ to me. At the time, Ms. Hayek was nursing her then one-year old baby; ironically, the African baby she nursed was born on the same day as her daughter. During the interview, she explained her reasons for nursing a baby she just encountered: with permission from her mother, who was so malnutritioned that she didn’t have enough milk, she wanted to help nourish a starving baby. She explained that her great-grandmother nursed another child in Mexico (wet-nurse or cross-nurse) under similar circumstances. Initially, she felt as though she was betraying her own child by nursing another baby, however, she realized that her daughter would be happy with her decision to help this baby.
You don’t have to be a lactation consultant or breastfeeding advocate to acknowledge and appreciate the complete selflessness and beauty of Ms. Hayek’s gesture. I’m sure many of you, if faced with similar circumstances, would do the same.
Then a couple of weeks ago, Selma Hayek was in the news again. In this month’s In Style Magazine, when asked about her breastfeeding the baby in Sierra Leone, Ms. Hayek revealed that not only was she shocked with all the attention her act received, but surprisingly, she received a great deal of hate mail. Many people were offended that she breast-fed a black child.
WHAT??!! I had the same questions many of you may already be asking: How can a beautiful, maternal, selfless act of feeding a starving child garner such hatred and racist remarks?! To be honest, after my disbelief, I was moved to tears…first happiness by her selfless act, but then sadness to the backlash she faced. Maybe I’m nieve, but to make this act into a political, racial, or any polarizing issue completely baffles me. Whether or not people support breastfeeding, others shouldn’t judge. Ms. Hayek not only gave a baby life-saving nutrition, but also gave the mother a much-needed respite to heal her own body, so that she could eventually make enough milk for her own baby.
Although such a simple gesture, it spoke volumes. It demonstrated how empathy can transcend social, political, and racial boundaries. Her gesture was 100% genuine, done only with the best intentions. It was not a photo-op or media stunt–it was just Ms. Hayek’s maternal instincts shining through.
All I can say to those people who were offended and worse, put a racial tilt on the whole scenario, my guess is, these people have never been faced with nor experienced that kind of immense poverty faced by so many in Third World Countries. Kudos to Salma Hayek…for your act of kindness and being an inspiration to so many of us.
Natasha K. Sriraman is a general pediatrician and a professor of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters/Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, VA.
Posts on this blog reflect the opinions of individual ABM members, not the organization as a whole.