Pretty, Pretty Baby: Overexposed?

On my roughest days as a mother, if I want to feel instantly better about my parenting skills, I only need to do one thing: watch an episode of Toddlers & Tiaras. Have you seen this show? The focus is on toddlers who compete in beauty pageants, and the parents who force, err, encourage them in these endeavors.

Toddlers & Tiaras photo

I don’t know what’s sadder, watching a baby wearing blue eyeshadow and bright pink muck on her cheeks, or seeing a mother tell her three-year-old that the crown she just won isn’t good enough because it wasn’t the top crown.

You can’t help but wonder what motivates these parents. A desire for fame and recognition? To live life again through their child?

At least I’m not that bad, I always think when I catch the show, which is akin to rubbernecking a traffic accident. Poor kids!

However, after my daughter’s 11-month photo shoot recently, I had to question my parenting skills once again.

Here’s what happened: I found some adorbs photos of babies on Pinterest, and in them they’re wearing lace and pearl necklaces with no shirts. They are completely innocent images, or at least I thought so as I pinned them. And so my daughter had some pictures taken of her wearing a ruffled lace diaper cover, leg warmers, and pearl necklace sans shirt.

However, when the photographer posted this online to Facebook, an odd thing happened: I stared at that pic, and all I could think of was protecting my baby from other people’s eyes. Sure, she looked as beautiful as ever. Sure, I thought the outfit was benign. But in my stomach I had the uneasy feeling that someone else staring at the photo might view it in an adult way.

It wasn’t long before my husband Skyped me and said he felt unhappy with the photo and could we please get it taken down. He found that he didn’t have to ask me twice, as I had felt funny too when viewing it for the first time. We made an agreement then and there that no more shirtless pics of our daughter would be taken.

And you know, if that same photo had been taken at age six months or younger, it probably wouldn’t have evoked the same reaction in us. But somehow, in the past few months, our daughter’s cognizance and personality have emerged so much that I think how she might feel one day, to know so many strangers were staring at her without a shirt. Although she’s just a baby, she’s also a person with a basic need for privacy.

Now before I hit the “Post” button, I ask myself if I’m posting too many pictures of our daughter on Facebook and Instagram—leaving a digital history of her childhood whether she wants it or not—and also if someone might misinterpret an outfit she’s wearing (or not wearing, in this case).

Loving is protecting, after all. If I would be embarrassed to have a picture of myself posted without a shirt, I have to think maybe one day, my daughter might be embarrassed too. Baby or not, in the digital age, any kind of overexposure can live on for infinity.

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