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Aliya Shagieva’s Instagram feed shows the calming and peaceful side to parenthood, with images of her pet cats, artwork and young family against the beautiful landscapes of Kyrgyzstan.  However, not everyone sees the beauty in her photos. Aliya, daughter to Almazbek Atambayev — the Kyrgyz president — faced backlash online after posting photos of her breastfeeding her newborn son, Tagir, with the caption “I will feel my son whenever and wherever he needs to be fed”. The image, pictured below, received criticism that Aliya was behaving immorally, supposedly acting as a disappointment to both her husband and father. This sparked debate on the constant sexualisation of breasts within the media and online. Aliya, 20, told the BBC, “This body I have been given is not vulgar. It’s functional, its purpose is to fulfill the physiological needs of my child, not to be sexualised.”

Credit: Aliya Shagieva / chestnayaaa on Instagram

Aliya has taken down the photo, but not before arguing against the criticism, saying that it was a matter of cultural attitudes and the hypersexualisation of nudity, in whatever context, rather than the images themselves. Aliya told the BBC, “When I am breastfeeding my child, I’m giving him the best that I can give. Taking care of my baby is more important to me than what people might say.” There seems to be a

There seems to be a geographical, as well as generational, split when it comes to cultural attitudes in the Kyrgyz Rebuplic, with the south of the country having values more rooted in traditionalism. A graphic from USAID Research on the ‘values, social moods and conflict behaviour’ belonging to Kyrgyzstan youth shows that they have a greater interest in hedonism and self-direction, whereas elders see conservatism towards social relationships and self-expression as more important. The report states “conflict behaviour between young and old can be provoked by reference to tradition, as well as the need for innovation and change”. Aliya herself reflects on the age divide in social politics – “(my parents) didn’t really like it. And it’s understandable because the younger generation is less conservative than their parents. My mum received messages from her ‘friends’ about me, and now that I’m a mother I understand what she went through raising me.”

Credit: Aliya Shagieva / chestnayaaa on Instagram

In reply to her critics, Aliya said, “I’d like to share my thoughts on one of two mistakes people like advising online. Mistake number one: the sexualising of female breasts. A long time ago, people seemed to forget the real purpose of breasts and made it into an object that satisfied man’s eyes. Society makes breasts into a sexual object based on attractiveness, then later judge women who get plastic surgery.” One of the replies said, “I feel sorry for your husband and father. It is a shame that they have no control over you, that they let you slip like this.” inherently placing Aliya’s body and sexuality under the possession of the men in her life. They ignore Aliya’s position as a mother, who’s job is to do the best for her child, but also as a woman, who’s empowerment means she can show her body how and whenever she wants. It seems that women’s bodies are not accepted unless they have commercial value. You will regularly see a naked woman used to sell perfume, beer or jewellery, yet the practicality of breastfeeding is deemed too ‘intimate’ or ‘sexy’ to see in public. Aliya, however, stated that despite the controversy, she got comments from other women that were inspired or moved by her photo – this was enough for Aliya to continue posting about the ‘intimacies’ of motherhood, including breastfeeding.

“When you tell girls to be modest, you’re doing little for gender equality” – Aliya Shagieva

Aliya has made her socialist values clear; she is a strong feminist, an advocate for animal rights and Down’s Syndrome awareness, as well as being vegetarian in a traditionally meat-eating country. You can keep your Ivanka Trumps of the world — Aliya Shagieva, you’re doing amazing, sweetie.

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Grace Middleton
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Grace is 19, a feminist, dog-lover, student, reader and constant overthinker with a love for writing and social politics. You can contact her at

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