There’s an aisle at the supermarket that has a sign above it that reads “ADULT CEREALS”. Every time I see it, I snigger inwardly at the thought of sexually explicit cornflakes. (Pornflakes. You’re welcome.) It’s not big, and it’s not clever: I know that. But all these years living in south Manchester have taught me to grab whatever slivers of humour one can from life.
Anyway… A friend’s FB feed this morning pointed me in the direction of this: a page on Boredpanda showing some of the best entries to the 2016 Birth Photography competition. (Yeah: I know. I had no idea, either.)
I guess that birth photography is a bit of a niche field. The one that won “Best in Category: Labour” is, for my money, a brilliant picture. Some of the compositions are astonishingly good – but then, come to think of it, childbirth isn’t exactly a surprise, so I suppose that if you’re going to invite someone to photograph it, they’re going to have plenty of time to make sure that the lighting is right.
A second thought that the pictures raise is this: no matter how much people bang on about the miracle of birth… well, nope. Look at the labour picture again. I can’t begin to express how glad I am that that’s never going to happen to me; and I’m even more convinced than I was that I don’t want to play any part in inflicting that on another person.
But my overriding response is something in the realm of astonishment that some of the pictures are blanked out as having “mature content”.
I mean… really?
For sure, I guess that one would want people to approach parenthood with a sense of maturity; and one’d perhaps want people to view these pictures sensibly. But what makes these pictures apparently worthy of a warning is that they all show some nipple or vague-genital-area (except the final image, which is… simply weird). Now, there’re contexts in which it might make sense to give people notice that you’re going to be showing normally-taboo parts of the body. But when the whole point of an article is to do with childbirth, to hide the bits of a human body that are most directly related to the actual delivery and nutrition of another human strikes me as being odd. There’s obviously nothing obscene or titillating about any of the images; they do, of course, have to do with sex, but they’re not sexual or sexualised. There’s something rather hyperbolically prudish about the decision; I can’t see any particularly good rationale for it. If you happen to prefer not to see pictures of the childbirth process, don’t click on a link to an article about childbirth photography. (I suppose that there might be some people who hide a link, treating it as a kind of natal rickroll… but even then, being unexpectedly exposed to an image of how almost everyone on the planet came to be on the planet seems hardly to be the worst thing in the world. And if your friends think that sending you to the Boredpanda page counts as a prank in any meaningful sense… well, they’re even more easily amused than I am in a cereal aisle. Pity them.)
I can’t help thinking back to the cover of Chumbawamba’s Anarchy. Finding that in the racks of my favourite record shop back in 1994 made me do a bit of a double-take. (Apparently, iTunes still won’t show the original design.) Undoubtedly, the whole point was to generate precisely that reaction. Even there, though, there’s no cause for too tight a clutching of the pearls. The shock comes from the unexpectedness of the image, rather than from anything objectionable about the image itself.
The Boredpanda article doesn’t even intend to shock. Noone should be so upset by images of childbirth as to require a content warning.
Oh – and notwithstanding the headline, the pictures don’t show “what it’s like to be a mom”, unless you think that motherhood is reducible to labour. But exactly what constitutes a mother, or indeed a parent, is for another post.