Tuesday 12 November 2019

Tanya Sweeney: 'Airbrushing children's photos is a slippery slope'

Khloé Kardashian constantly puts filters on pictures of her daughter on Snapchat
Khloé Kardashian constantly puts filters on pictures of her daughter on Snapchat

Tanya Sweeney

I promised myself I wouldn't; I really did. BC (Before Children), I would roll my eyes as munchkins, rugrats and ankle-biters galore would pockmark my Twitter and Instagram feeds.

"Why would you even bother?" I'd think to myself. "Are people that in need of an ego boost that they'd invade their own child's privacy and post a picture of them without their consent?"

Fine, it was a particularly uncharitable and po-faced standpoint. And I hold my hands up: I did a complete volte-face as soon as my own little rugrat came along.

I can only explain it one of two ways. Either the reasonable part of my brain somehow dissolved when I gave birth, taken away with the other viscera from a C-section. That, or pictures of my little one would make me feel so joyous (and still a bit in shock that she came from my body) that I just wanted to share the feeling with friends and family (and, eh, about 3,000 others).

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I felt a bit guilty as I slapped on a brightening filter before posting a photo of my daughter recently. I still don't know why I even bothered. Are we conditioned to want to make all of our social posts 'pop' these days? Do we just want to catch the eyes of others as they speedily scroll down a feed?

In any case, hearing that others go a step further by Photoshopping their kids' pictures made me feel a bit better about clicking on trusty old 'Vivid Warm'.

Does Khloé Kardashian even recognise her own child when she doesn't have Snapchat's cutesy bunny ears on? I know the Kardashians are the undisputed doyennes of the Vaseline-lensed selfie, and Snapchat filters are a bit of craic, but even in the overblown world of Khloé Kardashian, this seems a bit excessive.

A little further down the celebrity totem pole, former Apprentice contestant Luisa Zissman admitted on Good Morning Britain that she tweaks the photos of her daughters Dixie (9), Indigo (3) and Clementine (2).

"They're not so lovely when they're covered in crumbs of food. Two of them are ginger, so they have that fair skin that gets all red and blotchy, and I think it's nice to look a bit smoother. And not look back and think, 'Oh, my poor face'," she said. She went on to note that "it's okay not to like things about yourself", adding that Photoshopping gives her daughters "a little ego boost".

Why stop at crumbs, though? Why not enhance a child's eye colour, or whiten their teeth? Surely 'getting rid of blotchiness' is the gateway to smoothing down an adorably chubby arm, or erasing a perceived 'flaw'? A scar or a birthmark? The stuff, incidentally, that we have been telling little girls are the beautiful things that set them apart from everyone else? We've seen what harm selfie culture can do to the mindset of a grown woman, or even a half-grown woman. Why inflict that on a child?

Even in non-celebrity mummy groups online, I've noticed women posting concerns about their child's barely-there imperfections. For some people, their bundle of perfection isn't quite perfect enough. It's a chicken and egg scenario. Which came first, the overwhelming deference to beauty, the technology to enable it or the all-consuming cult of perfection that online culture feeds?

As children of the 80s and 90s, we were bereft of Photoshop, and I have the bad photos to prove it. Wonky teeth, bowl haircuts that border on insanity, cheek scratches (my brothers never listened to 'not the face'. It was always the face). Later on, there was acne (the same brothers took to calling me 'Brunch'. I think I preferred the scratches).

I hated these photos at the time. Even though today's selfie culture was light years away, I was aware of the slippery concepts of beauty and perfection. At five or six, it even got the better of me (I would often try and use TCP antiseptic to banish my freckles).

Nowadays, I can look back on those wonky-teethed child photos with fondness and see them as what they were. Natural. Authentic. Charming. I couldn't airbrush my supposed 'flaws' away and, in time, I had to learn to either live with them or work them in my favour.

I'd rather that than the lesson the alternative threatens to teach our youngsters - that you're just not good enough.

Irish Independent

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