Let Them Be Little (Before It's Too Late)
This is not going to be some other schmaltzy blog about "holding on to these moments"....well, sort of.
But it's bigger than that.
Because this moment in time, this year, this generation....is different than it was.
It's bigger than a simple set of moral codes or parenting ideals.
Things have changed.
And we all know it.
This week, the photography world was all abuzz because an "internet famous" (I won't say famous famous, few outside of the photography world know photographers) photographer released a series of photos depicting girls between ballpark ages of 9-14 (maybe) in pretty sexually suggestive situations: nearly kissing one another, scantily clad with rolled up money in their shorts.....meeting with an older man/boy/male on a dock at night....again, barely clothed.
This is not the first time this particular photographer has released eyebrow raising content. It always seems to precede a "sale" or product offer. The controversy drums up interest...and likes...and, in some ways, support for her "art" and, like they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Right?
Here's the thing....that's her schtick and whatever. I'm not even going to justify it further by giving her name. The images in question are not hard to find. She will continue to be lauded, well-loved by thousands, and continue to make bank with the cycle of offend....sorta explain...release sale....repeat.
That's not what this blog is about.
This blog is about being a mother. To daughters. In 2018.
2018 is a time when Ariana Grande can be obviously groped on national television DURING a funeral (of all things) and this is news.....but hardly surprising.
A time when our country has no problem putting a man who has made sexually suggestive comments about his own daughter into the White House. Because hey, he tells it "like it is".
A time when Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and God knows what else is woven tightly into the fabric of each and every high school's social construct. Maybe even middle school at this point.
My oldest is 11.
She's entering middle school this year. Do you remember the wild hell that middle school was? I do.
And it's SO. DIFFERENT. NOW.
Most if not all of her friends have cell phones. She does not. She has no need for one at this time and, call me a Luddite, I don't think she will any time soon.
Many of these kids look much older. They dress older. They act older. They know more.
She's not there yet.
She's ELEVEN. She's eleven like I was eleven.
"Provocative Photographer" (mentioned above) said she was basing her project off her 1970s childhood in "dirty New York". I'm not terribly sure what kind of crowd she was running with as a pre-teen, but I was still playing with Barbie dolls at 11 years old.
I would go to my friend's house and we would make up elaborate games of house or, a mid-80's favorite, "Bad Guys and Americans".....(yeah, I watched a lot of 1980s movies).
We certainly didn't smoke at 11. Or drink. Or walk around in our underwear in mixed company. I'm guessing if there were 11 year old's out and about doing such, they would probably fall under the attention of protective services because where the hell were their parents?
Here's the thing: I'm not here to rain on anyone's art parade or chastise anyone's vision. I'm sure "Provocative Photographer" couldn't care less about my thoughts about her work.
We all have a vision. I LOVE Sally Mann and many of her images were just this side of inappropriate at times. They were also of her own family.....and photo-journalistic in most cases. Which made the work different....storytelling. The naked little girl commonly referred to as "Napalm Girl" running from danger during the Vietnam War was meant to be provocative, but not in a sexual way. It was depicting the real-time horror of war.
It wasn't styled.
Wasn't planned as a way to sell some product.
Wasn't meant to be a beautiful depiction of something so very ugly.
I worry very often about my daughter when I am not around. Have I instilled in her the necessary strength to stick up for herself in situations where she feels uncomfortable? Have I let her know she can always say NO? Have I let her know that she has enough to give the world with her intelligence, her artistic ability, her humor and her kindness that her body doesn't need to be something she uses to gain accolades or attention?
Have I let her know that at 11, still being really interested in Littlest Pet Shop toys is totally okay.
That still loving Disney movies is not only acceptable, but expected.
That she can still kiss us goodnight.
She can still leave the nightlight on.
She is enough. Just as she is. She can be 11. She can sit in her age and enjoy it and just BE before it's gone and she's expected to be 12. And 13. And then 18.
And then her childhood is over.
My point is, our daughters have all the time in the world to explore adult things if they wish.
When they are adults.
It doesn't make us, as parents, puritanical or naive to the times we live in to let them act their age.
So when I photograph my girls....when I photograph any girls....I will always keep their age in mind. Because it's my job to tell the story of that age.
I will remember how awkward, how scary, and how confusing being 11 years old can be and support my daughter as she navigates that age.
And I'll let all three of my girls be little for as long as they can be.....before time or circumstance takes that away from them. It's one gift I can give each one of them that they can always hold on to: a long and full childhood.