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.