A little word on common sense…

Hmmm, where to start?  Lets talk common sense…

The past week has seen much tragedy in the world – we have marathon runners being bombed, fertiliser plants exploding and a country that is a stones throw away from the biggest civil war we may ever witness in our lifetime.  These are big issues.  Historic events that will change the lives of everybody affected by them.  And then, there is this:

Kotton Kandy Ice Cream swimsuit

Kotton Kandy Galaxy Leggings


The images that you see above have caused an absolute furore in social media circles during the previous few days.  I styled them and photographed them during a recent commercial shoot with a fledgling childrens label, named Kotton Kandy.

It all began when a high profile “parenting guru”, posted this on her Facebook page:


In reply to this original post were hundreds of comments, some of which included:

“I call it sexploitation.  Disgusting!”

“That is just gross.  They are little girls…”

“Lollipops? WTF were they thinking, just terrible!”

“Some of these girls were made to look at least 16!! And none of them were over 12?  WTF?!?”

“What’s with the pic with the cupcake – double meaning there!”

“OMG, look at that expression with the cupcake?!  Disgusting!”

“…downright creepy!”

and the best one of all: “I think we have all been victim to a rather brilliant marketing ploy.  We all went to the site and had a look!”

(erm, believe me, there are much less stressful ways for Kotton Kandy and myself to “market” our businesses.)

This post was eventually taken down, after about 150 comments were posted.  Many were positive and rational points of view, but many reflected similar opinions to those voiced in the above quotes. One would think this may have been the end of it all, but that was not to be.  During the ensuing two days  I was the recipient of many Private Messages through Facebook, disparaging comments on my Facebook Business page and emails.

To be fair, it should be known that the initial post didn’t actually point to me or my business, however, having been a part of the shoot, I thought it morally correct to come forward and offer my support to the company, Kotton Kandy, who had been singled out as being to “blame”.

Ok, so in the same vein that Pinky and her followers have been so public about expressing their opinion of the images we captured.  I think it is fair, that I do the same.

Firstly, I would like to point out that I have been personally contacted by the mothers, father, and even grandparents of each of the girls who modeled in the shoot, who not only expressed their support, but also how perplexed they themselves are about the uproar as they had been not only comfortable, but proud of the images that we all created together that day.

Next, I would like to point out that I spent about 6 weeks styling and sourcing the clothing, furniture and accessories that were worn by the girls in the images advertising the LEGGINGS.  The concept decided upon by the designer, was one that would be a cross between the well-known show “Lazy Town”, Japanese Anime fantasy fashion that is so popular right now, and the style demonstrated by the well known range of dolls called “Lalaloopsy”.  The designer sourced a range of colourful wigs, to assist in bringing the concept to life, and I styled each outfit/props to compliment the wig/leggings for each outfit.

We had a professional makeup artist on the day, who attended to their makeup.  We decided on natural makeup, but with fake eyelashes to open their eyes up to give that exaggerated, big eyed look commonly found in the Anime style that I mentioned previously.  I actually had the makeup artist tone down the colours as we didn’t want it to look too “old”. (I wonder what the public reaction would have been had we gone to town with makeup similar to what they require my daughter to wear at her ballet concert?)  They had on, as well as their lashes, a light foundation and powder (to prevent shine from the studio lights), some soft pink blush, a natural coloured eye shadow, and a natural pink lipgloss.  I have seen 12 year olds at the mall wearing much, much more, and matched with midriff baring tops, short shorts, and platform heels too!

I was also aware that there may have been a handful of swimsuits to photograph on the day, but that Kotton Kandy would be doing the styling for these.  The designer had additional wigs on hand that were to be used for the swimwear, separate from the ones I had been working with to style the shots for the leggings. My own daughters were to be a part of the shoot and I expressed that I would not be comfortable with them wearing the swimwear (I think I may have been psychic with my gut feeling there!) look at here.  On the day of the shoot, the designer presented me with approximately 15 separate swimsuits to photograph.  We were running over time, (partially my fault as one of my daughters had become unwell during the shoot and I had to take time out to attend to her) but in good faith, I decided to complete them all as I was trying to save my client the cost and logistics of arranging an additional shoot.

With regards to the swimwear shots, the image below seemed to attract the most attention.  The one on the right with the model looking away is the one that was used on the Kotton Kandy website.  There were many, many comments expressed about the “inappropriateness” of this shot, and how it is extremely “sexual” in nature.

Let me tell you how this shot came about.  After photographing a handful of swimsuits, it occurred to me that we should photograph the back of one of the garments so that potential customers could see the full design.  Most of the wigs that the designer had selected for the swimsuit shots were long and covered the back, so when the model came to me wearing this, I took it as an opportunity to get a good shot of the back detail of the garment.  I had her stand with her back to me, and move her wig to the side and took a single frame.  This little girl has a beautiful, intense and mature gaze, and at that moment, it occurred to me that others might find it a little confronting, so I had her look down, away from the camera.  I took two frames, and said “thanks sweetie pie, we’re all done”.  And that’s it.  For some reason, many have construed this as me having instructed her to “be seductive”.  Go figure.  The fact that she is not smiling seems to be extremely offensive to people.  I understand that it may not be to everybody’s taste, we live in a world of free thinking!  However, because a child isn’t smiling, it is “sexual”?  Here are just some of the comments that this image, the one on the right, received:

“Fake eyelashes on a little girl in a swimsuit.  I find it disgraceful.”

“That photo with the watermelon swimsuit – very upsetting!”

“That swimsuit shot seems very sexualised.  Little girls should not be made up with coloured hair, fake eyelashes and loads of makeup in my opinion.”

“Sultry pouts, in my opinion, are just not appropriate”

“The swimwear shots are a bit disturbing.  I felt uncomfortable with those.  I think the little girl’s expression is just strange”

“Playing dress-ups & putting on wigs, fine.  But pouting all made up with false eyelashes & in swimsuits to boot… AND having their photograph taken?!”

“The outfits are cute, the poses/makeup/expressions in some of the swimsuit pics are downright creepy!”

“I agree that the swimsuit photos don’t sit right with me. That is not a reflection of you but the eyes that the little girl is pulling. It is very adult and sultry to me.”

“…the wee girl in the cozzie with the false eyelashes, looking over her shoulder is absolutely inappropriate. It is a sexualised pose and totally unnatural for a little girl to be ‘staged’.”


So, the masses have spoken.  Apparently, children should smile 24 hours per day, and never look over their shoulders, and especially not when wearing swimwear, in a fashion shoot that is trying to showcase the features of a product.

There was plenty of support shown too.  And there was even some rational thinkers who looked at the full website and had the hindsight to post the following:

“Not all little girls want to wear frills and play barbie dolls, some of them want to wear different, funky clothes.  Just because its not your idea of what little girls should wear or look like doesn’t make it wrong.  There is absolutely nothing “sexy”about it”.

“Little girls don’t always smile people!! In fact, smiling isn’t cool, ask any teenager!”

“The wigs are a very fun colourful touch to some fun looking clothing”

“The styling in these photos are exactly what little girls do, my daughter whenever she has a photo taken goes straight into pose mode, they LOVE it!”

“I agree that smiles would lighten the mood but not smiling doesn’t make it sexual”

“My daughter is 8 and wears false eyelashes and makeup for dancing competitions and there is nothing seductive or sexual about that”

“If you ladies are seeing these images of those young girls as sexual, perhaps it is you that has the problem”

“Lollipops in a kids fashion shoot so it must be sex-related?  the world has gone mad!”

“the swimwear ones are aimed at showing the swimwear rather than the girl from what I can tell”  (BINGO, it is a product shoot, afterall)

Many people stated that they were disturbed that “none” of the images showed happy expressions on any of the girls faces.  That they didn’t look to be happy or enjoying the shoot.  Hmmm, I beg to differ on this point:


Those are all taken from the shots that were on the website.  Plenty of smiles, I would say?  I simply instructed the girls to “have fun” with their outfits/posing.  I would have loved to have a little more “activity” in the swimwear shots, running, jumping, skipping etc.  However, chose to sacrifice this for more static and thus modest poses that ensured their legs were crossed/closed and nothing inappropriate was visible. hmmm.

Then there were comments passing judgement on the language used on the Kotton Kandy website:

“Their site claims to have a “Delectable range of swimwear!” GROSS!!”

Ummmm, lets talk commonsense here again folks.  The brand is called “Kotton Kandy”.  We used fairy floss, marshmallows, lollipops and cupcakes in the shoot, and the language used on the site is designed to reflect this.  There is a general “candy” theme used through-out, both in the imagery and the language.

In the original post, it also stated: “pictures of only body parts like in adult advertising” and there were a few references to this through-out the replies and comments too.  I guess that they were referring to images such as these, which in the fashion/photography world are commonly referred to as “product” or “detail” shots:


Then, there was this: “I find the use of the rollerskates disturbing.  Are they trying to make her into a sexy derby girl?”  in reference to this image here:


To me, this is possibly the most offensive comment of all.  The image above is my own 6 year old daughter.  The rollerskates are her own “Barbie” skates.  She is sitting in a vintage chair, wearing all pink and styled and posed in a way that was intentionally “whimsical, girly” in a bid to place the focus on the “pink swirl” leggings that she is wearing.  There is nothing provocative or “sexy” here!  It sickens me, as her mum, to think that even one person could consider that I would put my own daughter on public display in anything remotely “sexual”.

Finally, these images were just as controversial:


The pose in the first image was deemed “inappropriate”, and “disturbing”.  The second image drew comments referring to her holding the lollipop to her mouth.  I won’t repeat them or their interpretation of what this could mean here. In a similar way to my explanation of the swimsuit image above, I would like to explain how these shots came to be.

For the first shot, I instructed the 12 year old tween model to “have fun with it.  lets try and have some variety from the other shots we have done, lets try some different poses.  do you have any ideas of what you would like to do?” She turned herself upside down.  We had to shoot it very quickly as her wig was about to fall off, so in an instant I asked her to stretch her legs straight (so that the leggings that we were advertising could be clearly seen), I clicked the shutter, and she sat up.  Very sexy stuff!  (Sorry for the sarcasm, but to me, as a mother of five who spends most of my days whining at my kids to “sit up properly” and to stop “putting their feet up on the lounge”, to hear of people viewing this behaviour as  “inappropriately sexual” is extremely confusing to me.)

For the second shot, after she sat up, I said to her “ok, have some fun, pretend you are singing into the lollipop, like you would if you were listening to your ipod, but do it with a smile!” And this is the shot I captured.  I said “yaay, very cute, I think we’re done with this one!” She hopped up, had a look at the shot on the back of my camera and giggled at how funny she looked.  Then went over to change for her next shot.

With regards to the wigs that were used in this shoot, there was much divided opinion there, but many people deemed those “inappropriate” too.  My children wear wigs ALL the time!  I have used them in my shoots a lot over the years, and I have to fight my kids to keep them out of my prop box as they are always in there playing with them!  I’ve even one awards with images of my children wearing wigs.  The colours and styles that we chose for the wigs were all selected to complement the style of the leggings that they were being teamed with. We chose varying lengths to give some variety to the images.  Keep in mind that this was the partially inspiration for the wigs:


These dolls have buttons for eyes, now THAT, is creepy!

And if you go here: Lazytown Gallery, you will see the images from “Lazy Town” that we took inspiration from.  Dare I say it, but I believe she may even be wearing false eyelashes, a wig, and makeup!

I wonder, if people had seen the Kotton Kandy images had originally been displayed as follows, would people have taken the same offence to them?    I think it would elicit responses such as “cute”, “whimsical” and “quirky”.


And here is a thought to consider. A comment on my Tanya Love Photography Facebook page suggested that our society as a whole is “becoming increasingly desensitised to the sexualisation of young girls, which makes it hard for us to see.”  I beg to differ.  Rather, I believe that we are becoming *over-sensitised* to this issue.  People are seeking to find a sexual connotation amongst completely innocent representations, of fashion and products.  To those who were there on the day of the shoot, including the mums, the stylists, the models and assistants, nothing we created was in any way “sexy” or intended to be.  The kids were showing expressions and poses that were a bit quirky, a bit sassy, and maybe a bit “bratty”  and with a bit of “attitude” too, but in no way whatsoever, “sexual”.  The comments about the lollipops and cupcakes being included in the shoot are absolute proof of this!  Since when has an image of a fully clothed child, lounging about on a chair, and about to eat a cupcake or singing into a lollipop been interpreted as anything but just that?  Well, never in my experience, but it is a great example of just how “over-sensitised” people are to this issue.

I am regularly approached by mothers asking me to take “portfolio” shots of their girls as they would “like to get them into modelling to build their confidence”.  Every single time I have received one of these enquiries I have refused to do them.  I explain this as being because I feel uncomfortable advocating modelling as a hobby or as a career path for any child.  The fashion and advertising industry is harsh.  Rather than building a child’s confidence, that kind of work strips them of it.  They will face regular rejection, based on nothing other than their looks.  I explain to these mothers that I am happy to photograph kids for my clients products, and I am happy for my own children to “model” as long as I am the photographer.  The reason is because I know that they will be treated with dignity, love, and respect, and their feelings will be carefully considered through-out their experience (well, I maybe a little bit of a cranky mum when photographing my own kids sometimes! ? ).  I am regularly told by parents whose children I have featured in shoots or portraits I have captured, that the kids talk about me and their photo shoot for weeks afterwards.  I have even had them ask me to return so that we can play again!

In summary, I would like to offer my “official statement” on this matter, and after doing so, I will not be drawn into any more defense of my work, as quite frankly, I feel that nothing legally, or morally untoward has occurred here.

“As a professional photographer who specialises in capturing the beauty of childhood in all of its forms, and as a mother, it affects me deeply that anybody could look at my work and see anything other than a creative, quirky representation of a creative, quirky concept.  To those who have labelled these images with disparaging words such as “deeply disturbing”, “disgusting”, “filthy”, “sexual”, and “seductive”,  this is a sad reflection on our society as it is today, and of what we have been conditioned to “see” in what we are visually presented with.  It is important to keep in mind that one day, the girls in these images are going to look back at them and know that people were thinking this whilst viewing them.  They will assume that they are being labelled the same.  Damage to their confidence and sense of self-worth will inevitably be done.  This breaks my heart.

I am not naive enough to expect that everybody will love the work that I produce.  As they say “to each his own”.  We live in a world of subjectivity, and that is perfectly fine.  But to add these kind of labels to my work, and consequently to the girls in the images and the products being advertised, I do find this personally offensive.

Whilst I have provided explanations for the method in which these images were produced, I am not making “excuses”.  I am proud of the connections that I create with the children that I photograph, and the effort that I go to to represent them as the beautiful little souls that they are.   Likewise, I am proud to have worked hard to produce a collection of fashion-forward, quirky images that beautifully showcase a vibrant product and brand.”

And the final word on this matter, goes to a lady named Dana who commented on Pinky’s original post with this: “Little girls can’t be sexual beings because they’re not! It’s the perception of the viewer.  I don’t go to the beach and see a little girl in a bikini and think her parents are sexualising her.  Do you?”  Some food for thought, don’t you think?


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  • Amber Gardener - Well done on a blog – that I believe you shouldn’t have had to write, you shouldn’t need to explain yourself.

    As a photographer myself – technically you are brilliant and you have succeeded in creating a quirky-fashion shoot. As a mother to 4 children 10 and under – I do not find these offensive nor sexual.

    How else can you photograph a swimsuit to be worn by under 12’s? They were standing against a white wall – with legs together and hands at their sides.

    Good on you for writing this blog – sceptics/nay sayers and those perhaps with their own twisted mind – will always see the bad in something different. That is the ART world us photographers live in. Being judged.

    My first opinion drew my eyes to the different beautiful fashion – as a mother to a 10 year old girl – I like her to wear different tasteful items, there are plenty in this brand to work with.

    Keep on doing what you do. Because those who GET you are the most important opinions you need to worry about.

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