The article below is the first in a series of articles which will examine social media discourse of an organization whose stated purpose includes informing parents of the dangers of exclusive breastfeeding.
The message within a message: Examining a Fed Is Best meme.
It is a lucky happenstance when the acronym of an organization reflects its purpose, but the the Fed Is Best (FIB) organization may not have been so lucky in this regard.
The FIB organization uses memes as a tool to spread its messages effectively across social media. The intention of this article is to unpick the message in the language of one of these memes which is partially reproduced here. Future articles will focus on some multi-modal aspects of the same meme with the intention to examine how a message is transmitted to its audiences which share many intersects and many disconnects.
I propose that the lack of a defined position which is partially printed here is significant to its message. This meme is intended to be a reflection of a moment trapped in time. As a cartoon it transmits a bygone era, the 50s to the 80s nostalgia perhaps, a pre-social media age when life was simpler. Further analysis of the imagery will be discussed in detail in the future. The power of this cartoon-meme relies on the inferences from real life conversations, social media interactions, popularly held beliefs, and personal experiences so that the reader will create a personalized meaning. This meme was not intended to provide new knowledge to its readers but to reinforce their existing beliefs about infant feeding as real and valid. These things are undoubtedly important to the parents and deserve to be addressed with parents in a way that respects their beliefs and their lived experiences.
Emotions and responses to stimuli emerge at the pre-cognitive level in the limbic system in microseconds before the conscious brain is activated. Humans experience emotions before cognitively forming ideas to express their feelings and their intellect. Finally the neocortex activates and mediates ideas and knowledge which is typically framed within the emotions that are already experienced. The discussions which materialize and are co-produced on social media are modulated by the emotions that are experienced before the ideas and sentences were consciously produced.
“I am so glad that I trusted my gut and theirs too.”
By looking the function of what the words are doing in the text, we see that ‘I’ is the identifiable actor in the sentence. It creates the impression of a personal stance on a topic. The ‘I’ is taking complete responsibility for the feelings being expressed. The actor of the scene has owned her feelings and that is commonly called ‘a good thing’ in contemporary society.
Continuing on the function of words, ‘glad’ is an inseparable quality of ‘I’ in this scene. The ‘am’ which joins these two words is the hinge that creates this inseparable identity of ‘I’ and ‘glad’. Glad, a positive emotion, is intensified with ‘so’ thereby reinforcing how pleased ‘I’ am.
‘Trusted’ is the only act in the sentence. It is a mental action and a word that has gravitas while also being an everyday term. In the past tense, it shows that the process has happened. Within this sentence but also its general definition also provokes a deep emotive response and it is laden with positive expectations and meanings.
The meanings in this meme remain deliberately undefined.
Who is the ‘theirs’, the only word written in a different color? Does ‘theirs’ refer to the twin babies’ mental process or does it refer to ‘their’ gut? Does she trust ‘their’, FIB’s, gut? Does she mean that she trusts both? And what is the meaning of gut that is also laden with ambiguity? It is ambiguous despite the word ‘my’ showing ownership of a decision as discussed above and one could include bodily autonomy where it discusses whose gut below.
In the colloquial meaning of ‘gut’, does she mean her instinct?
From biology, does she mean the baby’s gut to tell them what they need? A deeper meaning of gut in infant feeding is not only the quantity of food but it could also infer the baby’s gut health.
Once more in colloquial language, does she mean the guts, the bravery, of the FIB organization to speak the ‘truth’? By extension, does she also mean that her bravery and the FIB’s bravery are identical and inseparable? This last possibility will be further analyzed in a future article on this meme about the use of imagery, color, place and time.
The meanings that can be recreated out of the above interpretations are varied and it is deliberately designed to be vague. Instead it is relying on interpretations based on personal experiences to recreate and reinforce already held meanings. It is designed to create online discussions around the many disparate possible interpretations. Of course, without saying anything definitive, the organization can avoid direct criticism of its message. After all, FIB didn’t say ‘that’, right?
Ambiguity is therefore an important tool in re-creating a framework for discussion within the boundaries of the accepted ‘mental models, knowledge, attitudes and ideologies’  of social norms and values in infant feeding. This meme relies on culturally constructed associations, that ‘regulate(s) and reinforce(s) action and thereby exert power’  over the readers.
Culturally held ideas such as babies grow just as well on formula as they do on breastfeeding. That it is vital to know how many ounces a baby drinks. That in the end, no one can tell the difference between a breastfed and a formula fed baby and that a happy baby equals a happy mother. These ideas are all true in the sociocultural level which many mothers in the West inhabit. However, the biological wisdom is that the majority of mothers feel a visceral urge to feed their babies from their bodies and directly from the breast. Breastfeeding which like pregnancy and birth is a hormonally driven life process and is on the physiological continuum after birth reflects the personal significance of the urge to breastfeed. As the OECD statistics show, women respond in great numbers to this urge with approximately 85% initiating breastfeeding in these countries . This primordial drive emerges, like emotions, from the pre-cognitive brain and it is constantly under assault by the poor birthing practices, poor lactation knowledge, and non-supportive infant feeding policies in hospitals. Moreover, when mothers move from hospital to home, poor breastfeeding knowledge in communities further undermines their biological urge. Quite often these poor practices are reinforced on social media by the messages that mothers already hold in their own lived experiences. Unfortunately, many of those messages are flawed, holding some elements based on robust evidence but frequently marked by misinformation which undermines their breastfeeding decisions.
FIB is asking mothers to put an extraordinary amount of trust into an organization that repeats cultural themes that dominate infant feeding with fear that breastfeeding can easily go dangerously wrong and formula supplementation is the vanguard of preventing personal tragedy. It claims that prominent members of the international lactation communities are criminally inept and along with local breastfeeding workers conspire to keep evidence based information out of the hands of mothers.
If FIB has an antidote to the fears it promotes, it has a social responsibility to alleviate the fear with research based information that support all infant feeding goals, educating health-care professionals to support breastfeeding and to promote well-being rather than risk in the language it uses with parents. Otherwise it is not only FIB. It is fake news.
Yolanda Forster is a mother of two who teaches and has an MA in Applied Linguistics with specific interest in language and power. Van Dijk, T. (2015). Critical Discourse Studies: A Socio-cognitive Approach. Methods of Critical Discourse Studies. 3rd Ed. Wodak, R. & Meyer, M. SAGE 2015  Jager, S., Maier, F (2015) Analysing Discourses and Dispositives: A Foucauldian Approach to Theory and Methodology. Methods of Critical Discourse Studies. 3rd Ed. Wodak, R. & Meyer, M. SAGE 2015  OECD (2009) COI.5: Breastfeeding Rates. OECD Family database OECD – Social Policy Division – Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs available at: http://www.oecd.org/els/family/43136964.pdf accessed 11 May 2016