So I got called out by my friends. This photo in question stirred up MEGA controversy among the model moms and I got a whole range of “How can you defend that?!?” to “You would never let your kid wear that!!!” etc. Ok, ok, ok! I’m going to say that YES, my message came as a result of the photo, but I was aiming to address the responses to the photo. I don’t like anonymous attacks on people’s choices. I like civil conversation. I am 100% sure, however, that IF I contacted the moms whose daughters were in the photo (and for today’s piece, I DID contact them) I could start a conversation with them about their choices and opinions that would involve some real sharing of perspectives. Hundreds of people commenting on a facebook post is not necessarily civil discourse (but honestly, having that type of forum is probably better than having nothing and we should be glad as a society that we have the open communication that we do). Maybe I’m coming off as a little “holier than thou” here and I really don’t mean to. I kind of sort of really did call people “haters” and “a$$holes” and that was, um, exactly what I was saying not to do. I am, however, trying to throw down a little street cred here. One, I’m on the slightly older range of moms of little kids. That makes me “experienced” and “worldly” (and old. Whatever.). Two, I deal with about 125 teenagers on a daily basis AND their parents AND my colleagues AND my administrators…and finally, I have been formally trained in labor negotiation and collective bargaining. I know how to talk to people and how to have difficult conversations. And if I screw it up? I own it. But I'm not going to pretend I'm not snarky, karma DOES occasionally bite me in the ass, and if you mess with my friends (OR G*D FORBID MY KID) you mess with me. So I am far from perfect but I think I can offer some good food for thought.
Anyway, I am grateful for the moms who contacted me allowing me to use THEIR words here so I can offer a range of opinions in one place. Hopefully, you find something that strikes a chord with you – good or bad! No one here is right or wrong! But my goal – hopefully – is that we can hear each other without being unkind. Each paragraph represents a different person's response. I have made a few minor edits for readability.
First, from a mom of one of the girls IN THE PHOTO:
For me... it was a group of girls who are friends having fun. People’s perception is what is wrong with society. Yes, I understand the ones who are concerned because of pedos and stuff but: 1. A pedo will be attracted to a girl in jeans and t-shirt just the same. Our kids are out there in the industry. Those girls weren't posed suggestively. And 2, those same ones who are concerned are the ones in the same breath shaming the kid. Dancers wear less than what these girls wore. But people are so ballsy hiding behind fake names and a keyboard. The whole thing really opens your eyes to how judgmental people are without knowing a single thing about the people they are shaming.
(Note: I sought responses from more than one of the moms, but I only received one.)
From some moms who were really uncomfortable with the photo:
I did not care for the pictures at all -- I know that art is subjective but when it comes to little girls in boy’s underwear with vulnerable looks on their faces it gave me the heebie jeebies and having side butt cheeks poking out from silky shorts just isn't something I love. I love the kids and the moms but it just made me feel icky. I just wish the freebie shoots and the free editorial type shoots would stop. After reading backstage posts and then an agent’s post about how it devalues our kids, I vowed to stop them for my girls. They don't need the experience and the exposure and I think the pic in question is a shining example of that. I have done plenty of shoots for pics or for clothes but no more.
Those photos were so bad! And totally inappropriate! True, no one should say the girls are responsible but the moms are TOTALLY responsible for anything that gets printed with their consent. I honestly feel that these sexed-up photos of little girls -- and believe me, teased hair, hot pants, that Brigitte Bardot-just-had-sex looking stuff is not how little girls look normally -- is not cool. If I hadn't known so many of the moms, I would have chimed in IN PUBLIC with my 2 cents that the photo was tasteless and reactionary and perpetuating a non-norm in an overly sexualized society.
I think the slut-shaming of little kids in public is OK. It's the only way these moms will learn kids shouldn't be dressed like that. I didn't read the comments so maybe it went too far but that was a bad pic and the photographer and moms should have known prior.
They need a wake-up call!!!! Not being judged by others will only escalate the boundaries they push.
Perception is in the eye of the beholder:
It's amazing the things that people dare to say... IMO the problem is where their mind is going, not what a photographer may or may not be intending to portray.
From a mom who was uncomfortable but contacted a girl’s mom directly with her concerns:
Regarding the photo mentioned, I expressed my concern privately to one of the parents. I only have one foot (or maybe a half a toe?) in the business but have paid enough attention to know that many agents/clients/photographers are fighting back against the over-styled shots that make the kids look like mini adults. I figured since I give 2 hoots about the kiddo in question, I'd mention it, particularly because she plans to pursue the business long-term and puts a tremendous amount of work into succeeding. If I were not friendly with the mom I would not have said anything. BUT… I have to say that I also understand the reaction from other parents who don't know the kids. I think the more desensitized we become to such images, the more they become the norm, and yes -- that affects everyone. Now using some of the adjectives (and reasoning) these adults used? Um...no. Hideous. Words were used that should never be used to describe a child and those folks should be ashamed of themselves.
A couple of moms who went “big picture” on the whole thing:
Given the business in which our kids are in, it is IMPOSSIBLE to prevent their photos from inappropriate use... I'm sure you can find the most innocent, sweet picture on some sicko's desktop. It makes me sick to my stomach to even write that…I agree that every child should be dressed age appropriate. I dislike very much the "crop top" looks of today you find in the stores starting at size 7…Really? A kids’ size 7…NUTS. Having said all of that, if this is the "photo shoot" I am thinking you are referring too, I believe that very day (Editor’s note: I think it was a couple of days later) a beautiful, positive photo was also taken with wonderful messages printed on shirts. I agree: spend that time you are obsessing over what someone else is doing with their kids and do something positive with your own.
If you truly meant what you said about not judging other parents then it should apply to every parent -- not just the ones that we are friends with. That is going to be something that I will try to work on because I know I have done it too much.
And just for the fun of it, a Women’s Studies professor:
Images like this perpetuate the problems women have in society with not being taken seriously. As goofy as it is, the Doc McStuffins “look” with a girl wearing a medical coat is the type of image that can help us move beyond that in the future. Until the girls are adults and can make their own decisions about how they are portrayed in the media, parents should be more mindful of the impact they can have on their girls.
What do you think? Not exactly a balanced collection of responses. So be it, I guess, because they are representative of what feedback I received. I can add more later if I get some other perspectives. Feel free to share my blog, email me at theBizzyMama@gmail.com, comment here, or speak out on my facebook page, The Bizzy Mama. I had over 400 hits on the blog yesterday -- thank you!
Next time: I'll go back to stories about getting started in the modeling biz.