Sunday, August 21, 2016

About those photos...I mean, OUR circus.

Sometimes I like to start with a story.  I’m hoping that this story will send this post in the direction of my thoughts, so read on for a bit and you’ll see where I want to end up.  Please note, though, I went back through my archives to see if I used this before and I don’t think I did (?) but if I’m repeating myself, just hang on a bit.

Several years ago, I posted a picture of my daughter on Facebook.  We had a long great day somewhere doing something…I don’t even remember.  She was asleep in her carseat.  We know those moments…so sweet and QUIET…anyway.  Got some likes, some “how cute!s” – you know the drill.  I also got a private message from an old friend, who wanted me to know that the carseat straps were not in the right place.

Now, I could have gotten defensive.  I could have blown it off.  But I didn’t; instead, I was effusively grateful.  And you know what?  I made sure those straps were in the right darn place EVERY TIME I strapped her in until we went to the booster seat.  EVERY TIME.  Because I didn’t know it on my own, another mom stepped in to help me out.  She wanted her knowledge of safety precautions to help me.

So here’s where I’m going.  A couple weeks ago, there was some online discussion of some photos that were taken by child photographers.  (As in, adult photographers who shoot children.)  My initial reaction was that I wanted to share some thoughts on those, but I couldn’t because I was outrageously busy taking care of ailing family members and going about the usual summer mom stuff.  I was just too busy to write and too tired at night to get started…and I’m actually glad some time went by.  I will say point blank that believe that photography is a form of art and that photographers work to capture a vision – whether it’s a head shot, editorial piece, or purely an artistic image – through the lens of a camera to preserve a tiny bit of time into a long lasting image.  We hire people to shoot our kids because, hey, we don’t have what it takes.  That said, there were two types of photos involved in the discussion: one type was capturing girls performing authentic movements and the other was more artistic, in which a child was used to create a scene as imagined by the photographer.  It’s really immaterial for me to describe the specific photos in this post.  They exist; they’re controversial; they feature children; people reacted.  

What I decided to address, instead of the images themselves, were the reactions that moms had to the images.  Two reactions, in particular, got my mind buzzing a little bit.  And you’ll see where I was leading with the carseat story.  I’m going to start backwards, though.

First, here’s an argument that really pisses me off.  Sorry if this argument belongs to you, but it’s a bad one.  I’ve heard it before and I saw it again this time, so it’s out there.  “If you think the images would be attractive to a pervert, you’re the one thinking like a pervert.”  Um, NO.  Many of us moms actually think about what types of images may cross lines we don’t want our children crossing.  See, here’s the thing.  WE, as adults, can make decisions for ourselves.  Our children CANNOT.  I can decide if I want to wear a low-cut shirt or booty shorts (I don’t) and I can deal with whatever fallout there may be.  Maybe it’s catcalls or maybe it’s a tremendous sense of confidence that I’ve got it and can flaunt it (or maybe I just don’t care what people think and that’s cool, too).  Our children cannot intellectualize the potential reactions that people may have to what they wear or how they appear and while we want to build healthy body image or recognize their talents, WE need to be the filter that decides how our children are presented.  There’s a reason our parents didn’t want us wearing a full-face of makeup when we were eight.  It wasn’t just because it wouldn’t look right; it was also because they knew we shouldn’t really appear adult until we were actual adults.  Adults are sexualized constantly.  Hormones arrived during puberty and control sex drives.  I can defend myself if someone makes an advance toward me and I can understand that I will probably be seen as a sexual object to someone, somewhere, at some point.

Here’s what really sucks about that argument.  Our society has created laws that define what are inappropriate looks for children.  Lawmakers, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, and juries examine those laws daily – to decipher what falls into the category of right and wrong legally – and those people are probably not perverts.  Asking a jury to determine if an image is child pornography is not asking the jury to think like perverts.  It is asking them to make an objective decision based on a legal framework created by our elected officials.  Who, I’m reasonably sure, were probably not thinking like perverts when they made the laws.  The laws were made to punish people who create and disseminate images determined to be inappropriate enough to be illegal.  So, again, NO, trying to objectively analyze something to determine if it is inappropriate does NOT make someone a pervert.

Now, all that laid out, none of the images featured children in any pose or state of undress that would technically be rendered illegal.  If that were the case, it would be in the hands of justice by now.  I will say, though, that many perceived these images to be closer to NOT okay on the continuum of what is or is not acceptable for images of children.  And many thought they were TOO close to not okay.  Now, I probed a little bit.  I talked to the photographers in each case, and gained some insight into their work.  It was helpful for me because I understand where their images came from and I invited them to engage in some of the online discussions to defend their work.  There are two (or seven or a hundred) sides to these stories or perspectives, and it is fair to acknowledge that they have reasons for their creations and that they stand by their images.  I’m not entirely sure that they knew about or could predict all of the reactions and fallout from the discussions, but to be part of a discussion about the images was probably more productive than getting second or third hand interpretations.  

The next argument that I don’t like is: “Not my circus; not my monkeys.”  In other words, these are not my children, and it’s not my place to get involved in the discussion/controversy/or, dare I say, drama. This is actually a great argument in many real-life circumstances: workplace drama, for example.  And, actually, many parenting issues.  But when children are put in a compromised position; and yes, I am suggesting that these are compromised positions – and I mean that as, they may be bad positions, but they may not be. You decide.  (And “positions” here is both literal and figural.)  My child being strapped incorrectly put her in a compromised position.  For all the time I had her in wrong, was she harmed?  No.  Could she have been harmed in an accident?  Absolutely.  Get what I’m saying?  I’ve said before that it is hard enough to be a parent without people judging you.  And it is.  But when someone steps in and asks you to really think about a situation in which your child may be unsafe, isn’t it reasonable for a person to put that out there for parents to know?  What if we framed these concerns in civil discourse, and gave parents multiple perspectives to consider when they could be putting their child in legitimate harm’s way?

As an advocate for children in the performing arts, I WANT parents to hear my advice.  I am getting into their circus and trying to help them protect their monkeys.  But if anyone has a perspective that may help other parents, isn’t that fair to share?  Haven’t you experienced moms ever suggested to a new mom a way to get a baby to sleep?  Are you judging her, or are you trying to give her another idea?  Aren’t we kind of in this together at some point?

Look, what’s done is done.  The kids in those photos all over social media are there.  Can’t undo it.  But maybe some parents will hear/read these arguments and say, you know what?  I’m going to think twice about putting my kid out there.  ALL of us, and I mean model/actor moms and moms not in the industry, probably have photos of our kids on the internet.  Some photos are going to be more likely than others to end up in the eyes of perverts and sickos.  Come on; you need to realize this.  If you know this and still want your kid to be in the photo, take one step further.  Will your kid want to be in this photo?  I made this point before, but I’ll drill it in.  The other day, my mom reminded me that I can make decisions for myself; my wife can make decisions for herself; but my daughter cannot.  (I think my mom probably thinks we’re a bit too free-range in how we raise our daughter; and, honestly, she’s probably right.  I think she was referring to bedtime.  Hell, it could have been anything.)  By being a parent, you are charged with not only making parenting decisions for yourself, but also “childing” decisions for your kiddo.

Couple examples here.  A parent recently shared with me that her son did a shoot for Pull-ups.  Cool, right?  He was on packages for years!  Years.  Like, from the time he was five until he was ten.  Ten.  Can you imagine the teasing this kid faced when peers saw his picture on a Pull-ups bag?  It sucked for that kid.  Another mom shared that her daughter did a Halloween costume shoot and her daughter was put in a costume that ended up in a widely-published article about inappropriate costumes for kids.  She was mortified.

Let me throw this out there.  If you put your tween on the internet in really revealing poses, are you going to be happy with all the boys in her school passing around that picture on their cell phones?  Trust me; I taught high school for 21 years – I’ve seen it happen.  And it doesn’t take much to get a hormonal boy excited.  Even if it’s an authentic pose that your child is very, very proud of, imagine that camera angle being slightly different, and it may not be so compromising.  I studied Misty Copeland’s Instagram feed, trying to see what kind of poses she posts.  Check it out.  But remember: she’s an ADULT and she, herself, can make the decision about what she posts.  (And if you’ve seen ballet, we all know that men’s junk is OUT THERE.)

Any time you post something, ask yourself: will this photo end up on every fourteen-year-old boy’s phone in your daughter’s class?  Is this photo likely to appear on the computer screen of a forty-year-old man’s computer at 3:00 am?  Will my child hate me in five/ten years for posting this?  If you are totally confident in your answers to these questions – and if your child would be totally confident in the answers – go for it.  If not?  Or if you are unsure?  Stop.  Please.

If you want to read more, check out my archives, like my facebook page (I let you know there when I have a new post), my Instagram, or email me at  One thing: don’t message me through facebook since I don’t get those notifications (boo on that glitch) – email is better!  Thanks for reading!