As I sit at my desk this morning, sipping coffee in my nightgown, I'm reading the story of Heather and Thomas Whitten, parents of Lillian, Leena, and twins, Fox and Persephone. Back in November 2014, Heather Whitten snapped a controversial photo of Thomas and then almost one year old Fox. Fox had been suffering from vomiting and diarrhea for hours, so Thomas stripped down and sat in the shower with the boy in an attempt to soothe him. Moved by her husband's loving care toward their son, Heather took a candid snapshot of them and shared the photo with others.
Later, Heather showed the photo in a class and people immediately thought it was sexual. The post soon went viral. Now it's being shared by the Today Show.
I will admit to being a fairly typical American. I am not as comfortable with nudity as a lot of people in Germany are. I still have yet to visit a textile free spa or a nude beach, though it's definitely on the list. However, in reading some of the comments about the Whittens on the Today Show's Facebook page, I can't help but think Americans are very hung up about sex and nudity. I look at the photo and can see why Heather Whitten took it. It's very intimate and sweet. At the same time, because it's so intimate and personal, I think it would have been best to save it for people who can best appreciate it. In my opinion, that would include family and close friends. Maybe when the child is older and can consent, I might show it to strangers.
I probably would not have shared the photo of Thomas Whitten comforting his son in the shower precisely because too many people would think it was sexual and I wouldn't want to deal with the ensuing drama. Moreover, I have pretty strong feelings about not putting naked kid pics on the Internet, even if the photos are cute or sweet and don't show anything private. Kids aren't really able to consent to having their images shared with the masses and don't understand what the future ramifications of having their private photos circulated could be.
On the other hand, if you look at Whitten's photo of her husband and son, there's nothing "private" actually showing. You'd see the same amount of nudity at a public pool or beach. Thomas Whitten's "junk" is covered by his son's body. Whitten's hands cover the boy's private parts. There's more than one comment about how Mr. Whitten should have suited up before posing for the picture. Hmm... well, if I had a one year old child who was repeatedly puking and shitting, I doubt I'd be thinking about wearing a bathing suit in the shower.
Good photographers are opportunists, looking for a special instant to be captured. Heather Whitten took a spontaneous shot of her husband comforting his son. It wouldn't have worked if he'd been wearing a bathing suit. Besides, who wears a bathing suit in the shower at home?
I think there is a huge double standard when it comes to parenting. If Whitten had posted a picture of a mother soothing her child in the shower, there would probably be less controversy. People tend to be less suspicious of women, even if there are a lot of scary women in the world. A photo of a naked mother comforting her child in the shower might draw comments from people who think women's breasts must always be covered (even if they are actually covered by the child's body), but I doubt anyone would think the photo was perverse. There would be a lot fewer comments about pedophiles and child molesters. More people would be touched by the bond between mother and son and not screaming about inappropriateness.
As someone who creates, I know why photographers want to promote their work. Artists want to share what they create. Good art should be controversial. That's what gets people talking and learning. Heather Whitten no doubt realized this photo showed a side of humanity that would get people talking. I think her artistic instincts are good.
Frankly, as much as I wouldn't want to share pictures of naked kid pics on the Internet, I do think we need to see more pictures of good dads taking care of their kids. There are too many people out there who demonize men, assume they are violent or perverted, and act like fathers are worthless or useless. Besides, everyone is naked under their clothes. Why are people so freaked out by the sight of a naked man? You almost never see a man's genitals in American popular movies, but you'll frequently see a woman's full frontal nudity. In Europe, people have a lot fewer hangups about being naked. I think that's one of many reasons why Europe doesn't seem as weird to me as America does these days.
Anyway... those are my thoughts on this issue. I am not a fan of sharing naked kid pics, but I don't think Heather Whitten's photo deserves all the heat it's getting. Clearly, her husband is a good dad. We need to see more examples like his. Fathers can be loving, nurturing, and kind, too. More people need to realize and understand that fact.