I want to preface this with an assurance that this piece is not moral posturing. I will not be suggesting that sharing images of very young children is in any way sexually deviant or even that the viewers of those images are doing so for any reason other than to learn about your child’s development and to find solidarity and understanding with other parents or children.
This is in response to a video I saw shared on the Facebook group Cerebral Palsy Worldwide. It was not originally posted there and there is no way of really knowing how far this video will be shared or viewed.
The video in question is of a rehabilitation session featuring a young girl (likely under 5 or 6). The girl is dressed only in her underwear and is learning to walk using a walker. I will not post a link to the video because I find these sort of videos being shared publicly problematic.
I understand the point of the child’s state of undress. It is easier for the doctor or therapist to see the child’s movement clearly so that they can better judge progress and suggest improvement. I even understand taking video as it helps on an individual level to keep track of progress and past therapies. To a lesser extent such videos can help in an educational capacity, showing physiotherapy and medical students both technique and familiarizing themselves with the way certain disabilities manifest before they are given access to patients.
Even then I would counsel parents to be cautious about giving their permission for video to be used in ways that are not directly related to the care of their children. This is primarily because these videos while informative can serve to dehumanize the children in them both in how they are portrayed and in the way the images are used.
For most children, nudity is not an experience associated with medicalization. Children are frequently naked for many innocuous reasons like bathing or from a simple desire to play naked (most of us have been there). Yet there are specific boundaries placed on children and nudity that they internalize even if they ignore them like the appropriateness of time and place and context. Running through the sprinklers is fine as is bath time but nudity and closeness to strangers is taboo.
I was aware of the distinction and was often uncomfortable during my annual check-up with the orthopedic surgeon when I would have to walk around in my underwear so that the doctor could check my gait, hip alignment and leg length discrepancy. I was keenly aware that under other circumstances that this situation would be considered deviant. My only indication that this was somehow an exception was that my parents remained nearby.
Children don’t function well with undefined exceptions. They may accept them but uncomfortably. Having a record of how their experience differed from their peers only adds to that discomfort. Something is different about you, the rules are different but no one explains why. The idea of a video of that separateness being uncontrollably circulated is cringe worthy as it so starkly differs from images of children shrieking with glee as they run through sprinklers.
It tells you that your body is somehow inherently different. You don’t get to experience the world the same way. Our bodies are not deserving of the same respect and deference. Instead our bodies are free to display to any and all even when we are at our most vulnerable.
We are not seen as happy playful children but instead as patients and exhibits for study.
I understand the impulse to share knowledge and experience with people in similar circumstances but this is a time when it is far better to use words rather than pictures. Even though having a disabled child can often feel like a public event please try to keep their actual medical lives private.
If you are approached by a medical professional who wants to show videos of your children for educational purposes. Make sure that the images are used only in classrooms and are not made public.
If you want to educate more widely and feel that video is the appropriate medium, try to show more than just the medical side of your child. Give context. And above all choose the clips carefully so that if your child finds them later on, that they don’t feel alienated by how they have been publicly portrayed.