‘Bad mother’ selfies

As I will be discussing on this blog, notions of good and bad are used extensively in relation to women’s photographic practice, in a way of controlling other – unrelated – behaviours. Selfies are a particularly good example of this distinction between acceptable and not, with numerous web galleries displaying the selfie ‘gone wrong’. ‘Wrongness’ in this context relates to a variety of factors, reflecting both technological unfamiliarity (taking the picture at the wrong moment, or from an unflattering angle) and a spoiled identity (depicted doing something unacceptable or unattractive to the viewer).

Although numerous oppositions exist (the ‘sexy’ selfie relying on the ‘unsexy’ selfie for definition, the ‘flattering’ selfie similarly requiring its less valued counterpoint), the archetypical ‘bad’ selfie exists at an intersection of ‘bad’ behaviour and perceived undesirability. This is the ‘bad mother selfie’, which comprises a self-taken image of a semi-nude woman (or in an otherwise revealing outfit or pose), where there is a child visible in the background. The child in these examples are not involved in or a feature of the woman’s pose – on the contrary, they appear as if by accident, and many appear oblivious or at least disinterested in the photograph being taken. The images, however, are held as evidence, and the viewer is asked to speculate on a situation in which they:

discover old photos on the internet with you in them that confirm your mother was a slut and a half.[i]

Images of ‘bad mothers’ serve to shame the subjects, and act as ‘proof’ of deserving that shame, with the condemnation regulating women’s sexuality, and imposing ideas of ‘appropriateness’ in relation to women’s presentation of self.

Another attention whore XD now that she is not prego anymore, she doesnt get all the attention…so she does things like this (sic)[ii]

Fucking pathetic. Take care of you kid bitch and stop worrying about how hot you look in the mirror [iii]

This discipline is enacted not just on the women depicted, but also on the viewer, who is encouraged to be complicit in the policing of the boundaries between motherhood and sexuality.

The criticism to be found on sites such as Student Beans[iv] and EpicFail concerns a symbolic clash, between sexuality and children, which means that the viewer cannot respond to these images as ‘normal’ sexy selfies, therefore leading to criticising the subject for their ‘attention whoring’ and for setting a bad example.


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