The Maxwell Simpson “Controversy”

(Last Updated On June 16, 2022)

I don’t ordinarily like to post family snapshots here.  Not because they aren’t artistic, but because they are generally intended to be private, and I respect that.  In this case, however, I am going to make an exception, because these images are already widespread across the web, and because they perfectly highlight the disconnect between the child welfare types and most people who take photos of children, whether for art’s sake or for personal reasons.

Recently singer Jessica Simpson posted a couple of images of her toddler-age daughter Maxwell posing in a swimsuit.  While most people find these images to be fine, there is a small minority of critics who have, as such types always do, generated a lot of controversy over nothing.  So, here are the images originally posted to Instagram (here and here):

Jessica Simpson - (Title Unknown)

Jessica Simpson – (Title Unknown)

Jessica Simpson - Kiss

Jessica Simpson – Kiss

What is immediately apparent about these images is that they are no different from perhaps millions of innocuous family photos of little girls in swimsuits that have been taken by parents nearly since the advent of photography.  The key difference is that Maxi’s mom is a celebrity, and one known for being sexually provocative as part of her act.  Are some critics perhaps transferring their impressions of her mom onto little Maxi?  Or, are they simply seeing sexual intent where it does not exist?  Either way, what it means is that, because a few people cannot look at innocent pictures of toddlers in swimsuits without thinking sexual thoughts, we are all now forced to reassess what we otherwise probably wouldn’t have given a second glance to, and to actively consider the sexuality of this three-year-old.

There is the problem with the child sexualization debate in a nutshell, and it has repercussions for the debate over child pornography.  If the interpretation of whether something is child pornography is about perception rather than content, as some legal experts argue it does, then the very act of considering whether such an image is sexual makes sex offenders of us all.

Officer Friendly: Did you look at the image of the child puckering her lips and think any sort of sexual thoughts?

Viewer: Well, yes, but . . .

Officer Friendly: Well, then, you are under arrest.  You have the right to . . .

If this scenario strikes you as absurd, consider that there have been cases where people were arrested for owning or producing what would’ve otherwise been perfectly legal images simply because others perceived those images to be pornographic.  When it comes to borderline images like nude shots of children, intent is everything in law.  Which is why it is important that we challenge this mindset at every opportunity, in the name of legal precedent.



6 thoughts on “The Maxwell Simpson “Controversy”

  1. I hope you see my comment as related to this discussion. In the USA (maybe other countries as well), it’s become a big issue when children in public are photographed by strangers. Never mind what the image seems to convey. Photographers are being harassed by people who assume the worst and law enforcement over photographing children in public spaces. Despite the fact that this too is perfectly legal. This is where hysteria takes us. Photographers asserting their rights by continuing to photograph children in public spaces and publishing those photos play an important role in maintaining that right.

    • Oh yes, it is very much related. I recall reading recently about two young celebrities, a brother and sister, who were associated with MTV, I believe. They were doing a tour of parts of the US and were in West Virginia, I think it was. They photographed some teens there and suddenly there was lynch mob ready to do them bodily harm. They wrote about their experiences. It’s pretty disturbing, but it’s probably come to the point where professional street photographers will need to hire bodyguards to photograph minors in public places. The hysteria has gotten insane.

  2. Well, my take on it is slightly different.

    I, like the puritans and censors, see in these images something of the incipient, inchoate sexuality of a 3 year old – a girl playing at being feminine/sexy and enjoying her attractiveness.

    I’m very happy with photographs that show children exploring and enjoying their sexuality.

    The problem lies entirely with those who are offended by child sexuality and would want to stamp out any evidence that children are sensual, sexual beings right from birth.

    I have problems with child porn, but not because it shows children being sexual but because I can’t see how the distribution and production of it could be an act done in the child’s best interest.

    But I suspect that the reason the law comes down so heavily on such images isn’t because of ‘child protection’ reasons, but because such images can be strongly subversive of the illusion so necessary to capitalism, that children are asexual.

    We see how shallow the ‘child protection’ excuse is when children are dragged through the legal system and end up on the offenders register for having taken and shared photographs of themselves. We live in a society that wants to repress all evidence of child sexuality.

    • That might be true if we were talking about a child in the tween years, but in this case the child is so young that there can be little doubt that there is no intent here to be sexual on the child’s part. Nor do I think the mother intended to express her toddler girl’s sexuality. Whatever sexuality is there, then, is imposed by the viewer, which is the point of my article.

  3. Well…

    I saw the puckered lips and thought “how cute”. And “if that was my kid I’d be glad to kiss ’em.”

    Contemplating sexual contact? No, no, no!

    In general agreement, though, that there should never be an offense describable as “Crimethink” in American jurisprudence.

    With extant “hate crimes” legislation, that ship has sailed.

  4. Some people get crazy if they see an innocent picture of a nude child.
    Now it’s a picture of a child in a bathing suit.
    Before long, maybe they will be raising hell over a picture of a child wearing a winter coat. (And long pants and boots.)

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