It was a troubling privacy case at the time. A mother had signed consent for a photographer to take nude photos of her 10-year old daughter for a Playboy layout. Garry Gross was the photographer. The child was Brooke Shields. The Associated Press tells the story for those who do not remember it or weren’t alive at the time:
In 1975, the actress’ mother, Teri Shields, consented to allow her daughter, then a child model, to be photographed nude for a Playboy Press publication. They earned $450 for the shoot, which included a full-frontal nude image of the girl standing in a bathtub.
When Shields’ acting career took off years later, she said she was embarrassed by the continued circulation of the images. At 17, Shields sued Gross in New York to stop him from selling the images, arguing that they were an invasion of her privacy and caused her embarrassment.
But after a lower court granted her an injunction, the state’s Court of Appeals decided 4 to 3 that the teenager could not break the contract signed by her mother that allowed Gross to take the pictures.
The court said Gross could continue to market the photos except to pornographic publications.
Read more in the Chicago Tribune.
What bothered me most about the case at the time was not what Gross did. What bothered me most was that a mother could ever — no matter how she justified it to herself — allow or encourage sexualized images of her young child to promote the child’s career. The same concerns would arise years later when I viewed photos of Jon Benet and thought how sexualized they were.
The Gross photo shoot was not the only nude images of Shields as a child. At age 12, she was also in a movie called Pretty Baby that involved full nudity. The full nudity scenes were often deleted or reframed in public viewings as society became more sensitive to to the issue of exploiting child nudity and pornography.
Parents make many decisions for their children. And although Shields never blamed her mother for the decisions made and appreciates her efforts to promote her career, Teri Shields is not a woman I ever wanted to meet, other than to shake her and ask her what the hell she was doing. I’m sure a lot of stage moms will take offense at my view, but I don’t care: I thought it was wrong then and I still think it’s wrong. In fact, it’s probably even more wrong now when the Internet archives everything as a child may ultimately regret or suffer adverse consequences for photos that the parent(s) permitted or authorized.
With Gross’s death, I expect there will be other media coverage of the controversy over child nudity and what happened to Brooke Shields. I know a lot of people I respect view laws that attempt to prevent child pornography as excuses for censorship of the Internet or too-infringing on rights, but children do need some protection. Sadly, all too often it’s from their own parents.