Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Baby fame

It's astonishing what some parents will do for vicarious fame. Photo / Supplied
It's astonishing what some parents will do for vicarious fame. Photo / Supplied

Controversy was sparked by North & South magazine's August cover shot. Showing a distressed baby being held upside down by the ankles, the image discomfited a lot of people.

Midwives, who featured in the lead story, were affronted at the implication that this is how they treat newborns while, according the latest issue of North & South, the Children's Commissioner suggested the magazine refer to his office for guidelines on reporting about children.

Debate raged over whether the photograph had been digitally altered or not. This question was clarified on the Facebook page entitled 'Shame on you North & South Magazine' (with 800-plus likes) by Debbie Caygill who revealed it was a genuine photograph (available from Getty Images) of a father holding his newborn son by his feet.

"Way to go, Daddy!" Caygill wrote, presumably with more than a touch of sarcasm.

It reminded me of attending a photo shoot for a supermarket chain back in the nineties.

As part of a campaign for beef, the advertising agency had devised a series of in-store posters depicting unpleasant scenarios for which the succulent meat would serve as an antidote and restore happiness. (This idea came after the first concept - involving cowboys lassoing cattle - was rejected in the wake of research that found most household shoppers don't want to be reminded where meat actually comes from.)

So, along with a woman driving a car through torrential rain and being crammed in a bus with other commuters, one of the scenes that needed to be photographed was five mothers with five wailing babies.

It had seemed quite straightforward when we viewed the mock-ups in the office but once the mums were lined up with their own babies in strollers even those in charge of the shoot seemed at a bit of a loss.

Someone - maybe the art director - would have said something like: "Errr, okay, everyone's looking good. We're just going to need those babies to start crying about now."

I recall thinking: "Well, this is going to be interesting."

Those mothers must have felt really conflicted. Their natural maternal instinct would have been at odds with their ambition for their offspring to make it big in the cut-throat world of baby-modelling in Auckland.

I wouldn't have been surprised if they'd walked off the set. But not one did.

Rather a couple of the more enterprising mothers started to get things moving. One of them reached around and snatched a toy from her surprised child. The other jolted her pushchair. Both mothers responded to their baby's wide-eyed stare with a steely gaze.

Unnerving as it was to witness, it worked and it was contagious. Once a couple of the infants were crying the others started too.

The mothers took their positions behind their respective strollers and looked appropriately frazzled. The photograph was shot and a poster was born.

So too was my astonishment at what some parents would do for vicarious fame.

I'd really hate to be explaining that particular image to an enquiring child a few years down the track.

Posed photographs of babies crying, hanging upside down or doing both at the same time, along with the US-style beauty pageants where little girls are transformed into Vegas show-girls, are disconcerting evidence of a parent's raw determination to make their infant or child a star at almost any cost.

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Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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