Photo of Boy Peeking Down Mom's Underwear - Innocent or Obscene?
by Michele Zipp
There are plenty of things we do as mothers that will probably embarrass our kids when they get older. The way we talk. How we want to hug and kiss goodbye. When we cry at dance recitals. The photos we take. And in this age of social media, there are so many photos out there of our kids doing all kinds of things. Pooping on the potty. Picking noses. Making really strange faces. Breastfeeding. All things that if someone posted of us we'd be mortified, but because it's a kid, it's cute, it's natural, it's beautiful even. Then there are those intimate moments that happen that are so unique to mother and child -- and Elinor Carucci created a photo diary series called "Mother" that captured images from when her twins were in the womb until 8-years-old. The images are not without controversy.
One photo shows her son who seems to be around 5 pulling down her underwear and marveling at what he sees.
The commentary on these photos range from people who see the beauty in them, the "depth of humanity", then there are the ones that call it a "crotch shot" and "creepy" or "strange." Some believe the child is going to need therapy as a result.
I see a moment unique to motherhood in this image -- in all Carucci's images. I feel it simultaneously shows the innocence of a child and the closeness that comes with being a mom. This is a moment that many mothers have had with their sons or daughters. The photo of the boy pulling down his mother's underwear, I will admit, could be me. My children are very curious about bodies -- their own and mine, their father's. We don't freak out and hide from their curiosities because we don't want it to give them an unhealthy view of nudity. Not all nudity is pornographic. It's the same people with that unhealthy view of nudity who have an issue with seeing a mother breastfeed.
My children (I have twins as well) know their anatomy by name and they ask about the penis and vagina and what they call Mama's milkies. I tell them ... the truth -- the truth that works well for my nearly 4-year-olds, but those moments we have had aren't documented in photographs for the world to see. That is where you once lived, kids. You lived in my belly for 9 months before you were born. And you came out of my vagina. (Or you came out of a pocket in my belly for all the c-section moms out there.)
I'm not sure it's what we are seeing that is the issue -- I would guess that most parents have encountered the very same kind of moment. It's that the image is out there forever. Carucci's children, however, are now 8 and I'm sure she consulted with them on releasing these images to the public. The fact that her son said yes to this being out there tells me that they are an incredibly open and healthy thinking family. Hopefully he feels the same at 16. This family seems close; they have a bond; and all the photos I've seen in this series are real -- even the "staged" ones. They are all parts of motherhood any one of us could have experienced, and probably have. They are all moments Carucci beautifully captured. She said of her photographs:
I thought becoming a mother would change who I am and I wanted to reflect that. Things change, not just our bodies. There is something that unites us all in becoming mothers. It’s not the purely beautific Madonna and Child. I hope it reflects a universality.
Motherhood is challenging. It is frustrating and beautiful and whimsical and intimate and bewildering and magical and mindblowing. It's naked and raw and honest. It's full of questions and answers and more questions. It is everything. And everything we are is everything to our children who in turn want to know everything. Isn't it up to us to tell them the truth? To be real and honest instead of uptight and closed off?
What do you think of this image and Elinor Carucci's series "Mother"? Does it go too far? Is it wrong to have an image of your child like this out there?