I came across this beautiful photo (of which I’ve cropped) on my Instagram feed last night. It’s beautiful. Everything is propped and proportioned so meticulously. The colors are beautiful and the caption is great.
But it broke my heart. Actually, the beautiful baby girl propped in the suitcase broke my heart. Because that’s what she is in this photo, alongside the shoes and sunglasses and perfect lines. A prop.
It’s similar to several other Instagram Moms whose prop-stagging of their young children continues to break my heart. This is why.
First, I’m a mom. So I’m breaking the mom-code of talking about how another mom is doing something. It’s not about shaming–it’s about thinking about things you don’t think are a big deal in the moment, but really are in the big scheme of your child, what you’re teaching, and the culture in which they live.
I’m also an older mom, a mom of teen boys and a daughter a few stages ahead of baby-bearing moms and I’m raising teens in this Insta-culture.
I’m also a therapist, school counselor, teacher, and a child advocate. So, please hear me.
Your beautiful baby is not a prop. And when you use your baby as a prop for the aesthetic and viewing pleasure of others, it teaches me, her, and others many things.
It teaches those of us viewing her that children and other vulnerable humans posed for the viewing pleasure of others are done so without a voice or choice in what’s happening to them.
It feeds a human problem growing exponentially where children or vulnerable people are used because they don’t have a voice or a choice in how they are used at the positioning of others in power over them.
It reinforces objectification–when you take a human and treat them like an object. And it’s epidemic in our culture, and it’s harmful. Completely harmful to her, to us viewing her, and to all of us who flip the page or flip our screen to view her as another image that crosses our visual path.
It desensitized each of us–parents, social media consumers, creatives in the visual world–and teaches us that kids are fair game for objectification for our next post we hope will get lots of likes and perhaps go viral.
It desensitized us to the non-humanity of children, which feeds into the real problem, children being used for sexual staging, pornography, and sex trafficking. This problem is growing exponentially because of social media. That’s why objectification of children, even with fun, wholesome intentions, is never okay.
You’re a good mom, I know. You have no intentions of putting your baby or social media platform into the same camp as the basket of deplorables involved in sexual exploitation of children.
But, as your beautiful baby girl grows, you’ll be challenged with the question of how old is she when you stop propping her and objectifying her? I saw one mom-post in the last week with a preschool child propped on a bed, in his underwear, doing whatever mom told him to do for the photo with a cute caption.
Have you thought about what it teaches a child who’s old enough to take in what’s going on around him? How is he or she supposed to know it’s wrong when someone they love or trusts tells them to pose a certain way so they can take a photo? Because children trust adults, and trust is the number one way predators groom children. They are not the creepy guy or girl down at the corner.
They are someone you know.
And they may be watching your Insta-feed because they do things like that. And they are smart. They may watch your child grow up on your online art gallery of fun poses, know a lot about them, and reach out to them. And your child, who’s comfortable with the Instagram/social media/posing life, will feel more comfortable about things they should not feel comfortable about.
Like posing on the bed with his underwear on while someone takes a picture.
You’re the first generation of moms whose babies, toddlers and preschoolers have the opportunity to be Instagram, SnapChat and Twitter-posed Rockstars, making you a platform sensation.
I beg of you, please stop.
Please stop propping. Please stop objectifying. If you want to share your beautiful family with us, your Instagram followers, or you want to highlight them for your baby products or mom-blog, make them real to us.
Make them precious to us.
Make them evoke a feeling that tells me they’re human and are to be honored and valued. That feeling that makes me want to protect their precious curls, smile, or chubby cheeks. That’s what you and I should feel about anyone’s child, whether they are mine or yours–that I will protect them if needed.
So please forgive me if I’ve offended you. I’m writing because I want to protect your beautiful little girl, the hip little boy posed in his underwear with the iPad, and the baby on a plate with chopsticks that have evoked feelings of protection, empathy, and heartache in me, because I want to protect them.
Because I’m tired of seeing authentic childhood, innocence, and compassion robbed from kids I work with. I’m tired of seeing moms and women fight for the non-objectification of their daughters. I’m tired of my sons being bombarded with images telling them women are just objects.
And I’m tired of learning more and more about the men and women who increasingly use their children for child-exploitation, pornography, and trafficking through social media, and the people who consume it.
We are humans. Your baby is precious, and she’ll grow up with what she learns around her.
You’re setting the standard, mom, for your generation and your children who are completely immersed in visual culture.
It’s up to you.