When parents share pictures of their children on social media, some images are more palatable than others. And yet, no matter what gets posted, someone (if not multiple people) will Like it. People are encouraged by their friends to post all manner of things on social media, because with every Like or Fav, an implicit nod of approval is communicated to the poster. Inevitably, that person is going to think, "Hey, they Like this! I'll post something similar tomorrow." We all want to be Liked, and for parents, no endorsement is more coveted than a "thumbs up" on pictures of their kids.
It's within that framework of 'social acceptance' that I begin today's column about pictures of kids with food smeared on their faces. Granted, this isn't a subject I've considered writing about before, because my inbox is already crammed with a port-a-potty's worth of bodily fluids that are much more repulsive than pictures of babies eating. But I've written about various bathroom accomplishments and accidents more times than I could count, and as a result, I occasionally want to write about other, less smelly topics that don't involve a toilet bowl filled with "snakes." Subjects like documoms and -dads who photograph their children's teeth/mouths, or their injuries, or their rashes. What's up with that stuff??
Still, those 'icky' subjects revolve more around special circumstances rather than a daily activity such as eating. Eating is something that everyone can relate to! We all do it, sometimes with nacho grease or a blob of tomato sauce glistening on our cheeks, so what's the big deal about pictures of little kids chowing down? Why is this even a point of discussion? Well, allow me to explain. Let's start with the inspiration for today's column:
When someone alerted me to this tweet, I realized I've been glossing over this sub-genre of overshare for years. In fact, I, too, have been grossed out by pictures of kids with food splattered across their face, but it always seemed "wrong" to admit as much, like it paints me as a baby "hater," which I'm not. I wondered who else might feel this way, other than the tweeter, and me, and the dozens of people who have submitted messy food face pictures to STFU, Parents in the past (and who for years I've shamefully categorized as "probable baby haters")? I took to Facebook to find out, and a little while after asking people if they harbor a secret repulsion against said photos, I received this email:
Perhaps the part about 'knowing the child' explains why some of the responses on Facebook were a little defensive. Considering the amount of time small children are eating (i.e. all the time), and how clunky their fine motor skills can be until they're a little older, it makes sense that so many parents have posted pictures of their kids with food on their face. One person wrote, "As the mother of a 14 month old, the reason I share photos of her with stuff all over her face? Is because she basically always has stuff all over her face." Fair enough. However, lots of other parents chimed in with other perspectives. One mom commented, "I have to confess that I have actually posted a photo of my child with food smeared all over his face. I don't know why I did it, as it grosses me out and there is nothing cute about seeing kids with goop all over themselves," while another added, "I have one [picture] of my own kid. He was eating meatballs and it makes me gag when I go back to it. Why would I do that to my friends?"
Most interestingly were the comments from parents who have long thought these pictures are gross, despite having kids themselves. A commenter wrote, "Omg, yes! And I've never felt the urge to post one of my kids. I figure, if I am going to post a picture of my kids it should be cute, and "food face" is repulsive to me. I just do not get it. I'm glad I'm not the only one," while someone else said, "I have a little one and even I hate those pics!! Food all over their face and hair...I don't understand why that is encouraged and then parents wonder later why their kid is such a messy eater???"
Clearly, everyone has an opinion on this subject -- including, of course, non-parents like me and the Twitter complainer who live in fear of their Facebook friends discovering their judgmental little secret. Comments like those ranged from "I find it gross, mostly unappetizing," to "This is like, 90% of the reason I couldn't eat spaghetti for a good while." And while not everyone could agree on whether or not the photos should be posted online, the general consensus was that pictures of food-covered children are not as cute as parents think they are, and no one is ever going to tell them so. No one, that is, except me.
Let's take a look at some examples of the types of foods and photos that cause people to dry heave.
1. Cake-Covered Babies > Frosting-Faced Toddlers
Birthday cake pictures -- especially the trendy "smash cake" pictures many parents take for their child's first birthday -- seemed to unilaterally get a pass in the Facebook thread. Not everyone can look at this baby and say, "Oh, how CUTE!", but most people can appreciate the joy of messily eating birthday cake at such a young age. It's when we start moving into a slightly older age bracket -- and a proverbial childhood love of chocolate -- that things begin to take a turn for the ick.
Pros about this picture:
- This kid is Team Chocolate. I approve.
- He is wearing a chocolate beard and mustache as a result of eating his treat. Funny! What a cute kid.
Cons about this picture:
- Sometimes it ISN'T chocolate. Every person who's ever had a "poop surprise" photo show up in their newsfeed -- especially one captioned something like, "Xandier was eating something dark brown and gooey earlier that got all over his face and hair... and it wasn't chocolate!!!" -- will probably suffer temporary PTSD after seeing a picture like this.
- Chocolate beards were not all created equal. Take, for instance, this picture of another chocolate beard from the same photo series:
Ew. I know she's loving that dessert, but ew. She looks like a ravenous child murderer who just went on a corpse eating spree. Or maybe she went on an eating spree after dipping the corpses in chocolate. Either way, she scares me, and I'm sure she's an otherwise adorable child. Who really WANTS to see this picture?
2. Sauces Make A Splash
Okay, Kelsey, although I disagree -- it'll get a LOT cuter after you wipe that child's face off, because he's not my child and therefore I'd rather see him clean. (Sorry, I'm admitting that out loud. Is there a support network for this type of thing?) But for argument's sake -- here we have a picture of a face lightly smeared with either carrot puree or some kind of orange-y spaghetti sauce, and let's be real: This baby is pretty young. He's not going to be a clean eater for quite some time, and when you're a parent feeding this small child hour after hour, you probably just fall more and more in love with his chubby cheeks and sweet disposition. I get that, and this picture gets a pass.
Fast-forward a couple years, though, and I'm not as forgiving of such things.
Like Jeannine, Andi, and Diane noted, this kid does have beautiful, piercing blue eyes. Eyes that happen to look straight into your soul as you take in his terrifying post-spaghetti dinner stance. He's almost wearing a sinister smirk with all that blood-red sauce, and in my mind, he may as well be holding an ax in his right hand. I'm not saying this picture is totally inappropriate for Facebook, but I AM saying that I could live the rest of my life without seeing it.
3. It's A Mouthful
Textured potato beard and a mouthful of something green. Yep, this kid is REALLY enjoying Nana Mary's supper, a LOT. She's working that amber necklace pretty hard. And it's disgusting.
4. Born Again Yogurt Ritual
One of my all-time favorite STFU, Parents posts was a picture of a child covered in pudding who looked like she was straight out of a horror movie. And now I think I've found her the perfect match. This young lad looks like a newly baptized worshipper of a very specific dairy-oriented religion. The submitter wrote, "This comes from a friend who's a super cool mom, but seriously this photo took my breath away when I saw it! Then I showed my boyfriend and he nearly vomited everywhere. I'm having a problem with too many friends posting pictures of their kids with food all over their faces, and I can't take it anymore."
Well, submitter, I can certainly see why. Also, the "homemade facial" joke? Probably not the best choice of words, Jennifer.
5. Before And After
For today's food face finale, we have Dolores's baby, who is covered in dollops of creamy baby food, or mashed potatoes, or something...and it would be fine -- TOTALLY FINE! -- except for one small thing. It looks an awful lot like this:
Sure, it's understandable that parents post pictures of their kids with food on their faces. No one, not even me, is suggesting that parents altogether stop. But I am asking -- pleading, really -- for parents to understand that this is what people think of when they see your child's face dolloped with creamy food. They think of barf, because the two look practically identical, and since so many parents insist on posting pictures of both creamy food faces AND barf-covered faces (similar to posting pictures of "frosting faces" and "poop-smeared faces"), it's nearly impossible to distinguish between the food and the vomit. Most of us would rather not have to choose. We don't really need to know what your child looks like in either scenario. You know the old expression: Cleanliness is next to godliness. And a clean face on Facebook goes a long way. Trust me.