Is Jessica Simpson's photo of her daughter in bikini inappropriate?
This Instagram photo of 5-year-old Maxi, Jessica Simpson's daughter, has been sparking controversy online. What are your thoughts, parents?
If you have a daughter, you might find it tougher to parent her in some ways. This is through no fault of her own — a lot of judgment is heaped onto women's bodies, and this social scrutiny starts young.
As many proud mums do, Jessica Simpson recently shared a picture of her adorable 5-year-old daughter, Maxwell Drew, on Instagram. But the photo quickly sparked a firestorm of controversy, with commentators arguing furiously about whether the snap was "appropriate".
Striking a playful pose with her scooter, little Maxi confidently models a bikini, sunglasses, and helmet. "Safety first," reads the caption, referring to the safety gear she wears.
What's controversial for many of the online commentators is the fact that the young girl is wearing a bikini — and that her famous mum is sharing it for the world to see. Fans instantly attacked Simpson for not protecting her daughter from pedophiles, and for putting her in 'racy' clothes.
This isn't the first time that the mum has been criticised for little Maxi's outfits. Simpson posted a photo of Maxi in a sparkly mermaid costume at her 5th birthday party. She was promptly bashed by some fans for her daughter's 'revealing' outfit and 'sexy' pose.
An irresponsible mum?
Here's a sample of comments criticising the celeb mum for exposing her child to sexual predators:
"Parents should never post pictures of their children, especially girls, in swimming attire or underwear. Perverted predators copy or screen shot the pictures and share them with each other."
"I would NEVER post a picture like this of my 5-year-old daughter! This is an account anyone can see. Jessica shame on you for exposing your daughter instead of protecting her."
Some critics also felt that the mum was sexualizing her daughter.
"A child posing like that... that's just creepy. If I had a daughter that age I [wouldn't let her] wear a tiny bikini like that and pose herself like a model."
"The people who have simple common sense can see what's going on in these pictures. She's imitating her mom, using the exact poses that her mom uses to get a specific response from people. Plain as day. Is she being encouraged to exaggerate every pose in a sexual way without fully knowing it yet?"
Or simply a proud parent?
Fortunately, countless fans have also come out to support Simpson and little Maxi. They argue that these detractors are the ones doing the oversexualizing.
"There is nothing wrong with this child's bathing suit. She can even wear a pair of board shorts and no shirt if she wanted. If you are sexualizing a child and see a female child as a sex object then that's your problem."
Others pointed out that such vitriolic attacks reflected a rape culture mindset, where women and girls are blamed for provoking sexual attention.
"Your daughter is beautiful. You're clearly a great mom. A child in a bikini isn't a sexual thing unless someone makes it sexual. Ignore these haters. This is ridiculous. When will we stop blaming women and girls for sexual assault and rape?"
"It's like telling a grown woman not to wear a revealing outfit because she might get unwanted attention or worse."
Supporters also reasoned that little Maxi was not in undue danger, since her mum wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary.
"If Jessica chooses to post a photo of her daughter in swimwear (like BILLIONS of parents do every swim season) then that is her choice. She is not going to purposely do something that would endanger her daughter."
"Don't let people tell you how to mom. You're a proud parent posting a photo of your daughter which millions of other parents have posted similar."
Should we comment?
The thing to consider, first and foremost, is whether anyone besides Maxi and her mum should have a say in this controversy. Some would argue that it's a mum's choice to post what pictures they want of their children — the public has no right to interfere.
While this sounds logical at first glance, most of us would agree that this right isn't absolute, even for parents. It would have been far less acceptable, for example, if Simpson had posted a picture of her daughter completely nude.
That's why, after all, Singapore's Undesirable Publications Act considers material which "exploits the nudity of persons or children" objectionable and punishable by law. Arguably, the 'it's her child' defense doesn't quite hold — society does have some right to decide where mums should draw the line.
So... who's right?
The thorny question, then, is where and how we should draw this line. We could argue that seeing little Maxi as sexualized is misogynistic, as Simpson's supporters have claimed. Clothes are clothes — they only become 'racy' or 'inappropriate' when we see the bodies they cover as shameful.
At the same time, those who've cautioned the celeb mum about pedophiles might simply be acknowledging a reality. Pedophiles are out there, and no matter how small the risk, it's natural to amplify this in our minds when it comes to our precious children.
There are other facets of the debate as well. Online commentators (both critics and supporters) have largely left unmentioned the question of little Maxi's right to privacy.
As a minor, Maxi can't consent to having her bikini-clad image circulated by her mum right now. What happens if adult Maxi resents not having control over what the world sees of her private life, 'cute' moments included?
Clearly, both sides aren't going to reach a consensus anytime soon. But the issue is still worth thinking about, not only for those with daughters but for all of us who post photos of our kids online.
What do you think, mums? Let us know in the comments!