Mum banned from Instagram over toddler's 'topless' picture

The Instagram account of Courtney Adamo.

The Instagram account of Courtney Adamo.

When you picture someone having their Instagram account deleted for posting photographs of child nudity you’re not picturing Courtney Adamo. And you’re definitely not picturing the photo of her toddler daughter that led to this incident. With yellow wellington boots, plump little belly, and a teeny, tiny, blonde ponytail, the photo of Adamo’s toddler in a garden courtyard is Hallmark-perfect.

In the picture, the little girl is seen lifting her dress to admire her new underpants, evidence to her of her first steps in toilet training. But the tummy and underpants are considered by Instagram to be nudity. Adamo was warned by the site about posting inappropriate content, but not being able to recognise sexual tones in her children’s photos fast enough she had her account deleted before she could resolve it.


Adamo's account has since been reactivated after mounting furore. But an incident like this still begs the questioin:  are photography sharing sites being unnecessarily rigid about content and prudish about flesh? Facebook, for instance, has only just lifted its long held ban on the appearance of female nipple in breastfeeding photos.


Indeed, there’s a deliberate reluctance to involve themselves in the debate required for interpreting content. Blanket policies alleviate social media sites from needing to pay people, rather than inexpensive filter programs, to do specialised decision making. To be fair, there are something like 200 million people a month using Instagram. You can see their point. Indeed, Adamo, cofounder of a fashionable online baby boutique had over 36,000 followers of her family photo album on Instagram before her account was removed.

Undoubtedly, there’s a significant number of people who believe Instagram is saving Adamo from herself. You may not think she is taking inappropriate photos, but you may none the less decide she is posting them into a sea of predators. Adamo admits there has been “lots of critical comments" left on her blog post about the ban: "Some people believe I'm putting my children in harm's way”. Adamo, not unlike myself as a parent, says she has made a conscious choice to not be “the kind of person who lives in fear”.

But this doesn’t mean precautions aren’t still taken by us as parents on the Internet.  “I try to be very careful about what I post. I never show any private parts or any images that could be seen as inappropriate for a family audience… I do think about what my children might make of the images when they are older — so I avoid those that might cause them embarrassment. As for safety, I avoid using location tags. I never mention my kids' school or where exactly we live”, says Adamo.

Juggling the size of the risk with its intrusion in our lives is difficult when it comes to the terror that exists around paedophiles. And yet, predators on the Internet are probably one of the more exaggerated versions of the ‘stranger myth’.  They exist, but to what extent are these strangers really likely to be coming for your children?

Research, like that by David Finkelhor on child sexual abuse, emphasizes that although a threat exists for all children using the Internet, the children most at risk of predatory sexual behaviour on the Internet are those most at risk of such behaviour off the Internet. It’s a truly depressing reality.

Solve the problem offline and you’d go a long way towards solving the problem online, but the factors associated with vulnerability to sexual abuse for children are complicated and expensive to address. It’s probably easier for us to believe that all it takes is less parents posting naked toddler photos on Instagram. Solutions like this rely upon children being protected because parents fortify the family home, rather than through community responses aimed at broader responsibility. Ultimately, this thinking is both individualist and terribly naive.

Events like this one with Instagram capture much attention these days. As Adamo notes, “my experience seems to have struck a nerve around the world.” Because what does the incident say about mothering in an era of social media, about the observation of our boundaries and how they may potentially conflict with those of our children?

Inevitably, events like this spark off a fresh wave of criticism against mothers who put their mothering all over the Internet. While the inability of children to fully speak for themselves on such matters warrants careful consideration, I’m generally inclined to suspect the bulk of condemnation is just an opportunity to disapprove of women for trying to be people.

And it’s interesting to note that a toddler exposing her belly would be considered entirely acceptable almost anywhere else in the community. Yet, Instagram and other social media are how we live our lives today, this is our immediate community. The lines between private and public are blurring just as I think something similar will happen with notions of permanence. When an entire generation grows up with photos of themselves in nappies on the Internet one wonders what possible embarrassment this can pose for them as adults, and how conerning the idea of permanence of those images will really be.

But just as there’s been criticism of Adamo, there’s also been a kind of exasperation expressed in solidarity with her, too. Because the other aspect to this event is what it says about our attitudes towards nudity. One might ask why nakedness, even a child’s nakedness, is so readily interpreted as sexual. Given how contrived and commercial displays of sexual nudity can be, I imagine there might be a longing in us to see more non-sexual expressions of nudity. 

In fact, Adamo said in our interview, “we are fairly relaxed about nudity in our family. I want my kids to have very positive images of their bodies and to never be ashamed of them”.  When you’re immersed in sexual imagery, as we are, you take particular pleasure in the simplicity, the relaxed freedom of non-sexual nudity. It is much like the way people now want unprocessed foods.

It is interesting to note that when Scout Willis protested her own ban from Instagram for displays of female nipple, she depicted herself topless while shopping in produce and flower markets. What could be more wholesome than that?

Something about this desire for more everyday nudity on the internet suggests to me a need to reclaim our bodies. Because you can’t help but notice that the photo Instagram found so inappropriate is not just a toddler’s bare body, but a toddler inspecting and affirming her own bare body.



  • Its senseless (but fear is usually not very rational). If you must worry, worry about family friends or relatives who are much much more likely to harm your children than some voyeur half way across the world.

    Date and time
    June 25, 2014, 8:54AM
    • Exactly Peter, it's probably something like a hundred thousand times more likely you have to worry about those with close physical contact with your child, a friend, a neighbor and uncle etc. It's probably even rarer than that. The only caveat I'd add is that once they're 12-14 or whatever and might be chatting online unsupervised in short bursts then I might be a little more worried about online predators.
      Has there even been a single case of someone traveling to abuse a random toddler whose parents had posted innocent pics of online?

      Date and time
      June 25, 2014, 12:07PM
    • Andrew,

      The danger of putting up nude pics of children is not as much that a random stranger will travel to abuse the child, but that the pictures may be used in appropriately, such as being added to child porn websites and databases.

      In this case I do think the photo is adorable and certainly don't see sexual elements in it, but the fact remains there are some sick people out there who don't see it the same way. I'm increasingly tending towards the belief that we should really avoid sharing pictures of young children on social media - particularly when the children are in a state of undress. Not only does it reduce the risk of inappropriate use, it could spare a lot of kids some embarrassment later on if their peers decide to go trawling around looking for childhood photos that a teenager would find mortifying. I know my own family photo albums are chock full of pictures of us kids in the bath, running naked around the garden, even on the bloody toilet, but at least school bullies never had access to those!

      Red Pony
      Date and time
      June 25, 2014, 4:14PM
  • It is ridiculous to base our shared social norms around children on the twisted desires of perverts. That picture is adorable. It is not at all offensive or immodest by normal standards. Why concern yourself if some sicko on the other side of the world is aroused by it? Is that the basis on which we regulate depictions of children? If so, we would probably need to invent the 'Baby Burqa'!

    I take a completely different view of exhibitionists, moderately famous or otherwise, flashing their breasts. There is nothing wrong with social media sites keeping things G-rated. Now, maybe there is a debate to be had about why, in general, female toplessness is regarded as more taboo than male toplessness. But it is hardly fair to expect a photo sharing social media business to lead that debate.

    Which, I guess, means male show-offs can spam their feed with shirtless selfies as much as they want, while female flashers are left in the cold. But at least we can agree that toddlers' bellies are A-OK to share!

    Date and time
    June 25, 2014, 10:25AM
    • Instagram makes the rules, if you don't like them use something else, easy.

      Date and time
      June 25, 2014, 10:37AM
      • Spot on lazor but just using a different website or god forbid, stopping yourself from parading your children around to strangers on the internet is just too hard! Ignoring the rules of the website you are using and then moaning about it is a much better way to handle it....and besides, you can get your head in the news that way!!!!!

        Look at me
        Date and time
        June 25, 2014, 12:12PM
      • to a certain extent yes.
        However, happy to support the image being accepted by Instagram, but expect the parents to not blame Instagram if the images are lifted bya prevert or used to track the child down etc( Which I would hope never ever happens!!!)
        However, most site, including this have policies that any don't find accpetable, but seek to censor someone's percieved right o acceptance and inclusion

        Date and time
        June 25, 2014, 12:31PM
    • "Something about this desire for more everyday nudity on the internet suggests to me a need to reclaim our bodies. Because you can’t help but notice that the photo Instagram found so inappropriate is not just a toddler’s bare body, but a toddler inspecting and affirming her own bare body."

      @Andie Fox - this is a beautiful summary of an indelible truth - you might just have started a new "body affirmation movement" with this - to put another slant on it - until we respect and value our own bodies how can we truly respect and value /appreciate other peoples.

      Lets get away from the stereotypes of beauty in the junk media and realise every persons body carries them through this wonderful thing called life and deserves respect regardless of its aesthetic.

      Derek K
      Date and time
      June 25, 2014, 10:39AM
      • I called a SOCIT team yesterday after a Google search using a perfectly innocuous three letter acronym displayed a range of child pornographic images. Plenty of others were fully clothed but in poses that I personally found weird and contrived. Certainly not the poses I'd personally consider normal behaviour for little girls...more like encouraged to pose that way by an adult.

        To see those images apparently on multiple sites was revolting as a father of three girls.

        The picture in question is adorable.

        I don't think we can expect website hosters to take anything other than a default hardline approach. Far better to be too harsh and loosen the grip than be responsible for neglecting to police more inapproriate material.

        I think as parents we really have to be sensible about where the photos we take might end up or if they'll be used inappropriately and without our permission (e.g. advertising).

        I don't publish photos of my kids online at all. I make them into awesome calendars or have them on my wall at work.

        Peter in Oz is right though...knowing where the real threats statistically come from is a rational way of mitigating risk to your kids. Around motor vehicles is prob the worst.

        Date and time
        June 25, 2014, 10:44AM
        • I don't get all the fuss, if a business like Instagram makes up rules on how their product can be used that's up to them. If we don't like it then we have the choice not to use their product. If their is a gap in the market some enterprising person will create a product that will the gap. I don't even know exactly what Instagram is and I don't believe my life is any less complete without it.

          Aussie Bob
          Date and time
          June 25, 2014, 10:54AM

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