Last night Gigi and Bella Hadid appeared in the 2016 Victoria’s Secret Fashion show in Paris. Their mother Yolanda posted a picture of the siblings as little girls, wearing angel wings and nothing else. The image is titled ‘Dreams do come true’. Sweet, right?
The trolls of Instagram think not. Some people have commented that the image is an example of ‘child pornography’ while others say it’s inappropriate. Media publications were eager to jump on it, calling the image ‘controversial’.
There are a few important points to note here.
Gigi and Bella Hadid are not children anymore. They are legal adults who are not vulnerable in the same way that children are to the creeps of the internet. Posting naked pictures of actual children would be different, depending on the image (we’ll get to that next), but this picture was taken 17 years ago.
As grown-up women who choose to model professionally, Gigi and Bella presumably understand the risks of their work. They have bodyguards, PR people and internet scrubbing magicians who protect them from the unpleasant consequences of images of them – as babies or adults – being online.
But this is not child pornography. Child porn sexualises children through seductive clothing, the pose of the body, and the gaze (the way that the subject looks at the viewer). Nudity and pornography are not the same thing. They do not have the same intended or actual effect on the viewer. With pornography, the intended effect is to evoke desire.
The basic question is: does the image try to make children look sexy? If not, it’s probably not child porn. In this case, I do believe that commentators who are seriously concerned about child porn are barking up the wrong tree.
Finally, there’s the argument that even if the picture is innocent, it’s inappropriate for the internet because there are creeps who will find it sexy anyway. The logic of that argument would require that naked babies are ‘not allowed’ because ‘some people’ might find them sexy. By that logic, Huggies adverts would be illegal. Perhaps we need to be focusing more on the ‘some people’ rather than erasing innocent pictures from the world.