A social-media star before turning one
Experts warn parents to consider the effects before posting baby photos
Baby Joey Marie Choi is only halfway through her first year of life and already she’s an Internet celebrity with a tickle trunk that would make most cosplayers jealous.
She’s been dressed as singers Sia, Beyoncé, Game of Thrones hero Jon Snow and even Eleven from Stranger Things — all while blissfully asleep. The photos are so excruciatingly adorable, they’ve been shared all over the web.
“After Joey was born . . . it was hard for me to stop staring at her while she slept because I was so in love,” said Laura Izumikawa, a Los Angelesbased photographer and Joey’s mom. “I literally did not want to miss a single minute of her new life.”
While the photos are undeniably creative and adorable, experts in child psychology worry there could be consequences down the line for children whose parents gained notoriety for photographing them as youngsters.
Izumikawa never intended for the photos of Joey to go viral. She started snapping shots of snoozing Joey for her parents, but when she started getting creative with props and posting the pictures on Instagram, Joey’s popularity skyrocketed, as did her own — Izumikawa has a whopping 493,000 followers on Instagram.
“In the beginning I had this mother-bear type of panic and wanted to shut the (Instagram) account down because I wasn’t sure how to take in all the attention,” Izumikawa said. “But after reading countless messages from people all over the world about how these photos make their day . . . I decided to keep the account public.” Joey isn’t the first tot to go viral. Finnish artist Adele Enerson’s photos of her sleeping daughter were so popular she’s published a book called When My Baby Dreams.
Photographer Jason Lee started taking creative and goofy pictures of his daughters in 2006 to send to his mother, who was diagnosed with cancer and couldn’t see her grandchildren.
And California-based photographer Sioin Queenie Liao, who’s been taking pictures of her 6-year-old son Wengenn in enchanting dreamscapes since he was a baby, has published a Chinese version of her book in Taiwan and is working on an English version.
“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Liao. “A few parents did, however, ask me for my thoughts about the possible impact of exposing young children (on) social media.”
And it’s this very issue that concerns Marshall Korenblum, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.
“I don’t have one homogenous response (to these photoshoots),” said Korenblum, who is also the chief psychiatrist at the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre for Children and Families, a children’s mental-health centre in Toronto.
“And the reason is that context is important. Who are the pictures for and why are they being taken?” For example, Korenblum thought Lee’s photos of his daughters were “nice and loving.”
“The dad was taking the picture for his ill mother. The kids are awake and they are old enough to give implicit consent, and the pictures are of things kids would kind of do ordinarily,” he said.
In contrast, Korenblum bristled at the sleeping infants in costume, in part because the babies can’t give consent and because they “adultify” kids by putting them in clothing or in situations that are typically adult, rather than childlike.
“The dream sequences, I had a neutral reaction,” Korenblum said. “In one sense, they are wonderful pictures and to think that you’d like to expand a child’s dream world and share that with everyone else, that’s kind of nice.”
But if those photos are then used for profit, or to boost social media status, then he says it’s no longer for and about the child, but the parent. On top of that, there’s the issue of photos being shared thousands of times online with strangers, some of whom could be predatory.
At the end of the day, Korenblum said, parents need to ask themselves: Is this for the benefit of the child, or the parent? Is the child being ridiculed, or celebrated? And how do you think they’ll feel about these photos when they grow up?
Liao admits she doesn’t know how Wengenn is going to feel about his dreamland shots when he grows up, but she thinks he will likely treasure them.
“I want him to know that this is the work of love, as my heart was overflowed with joy while creating the album,” she said.