“I won’t give you a kiss,” I say to my Mum and point at my swollen pout. “For obvious reasons.” She laughs and gives me a big hug instead.
I’ve been feeling under the weather recently and staying with my parents while I’m unable to work. For some people, having their toenails individually yanked out might be preferable to living with Mum and Dad for a few months, but I have the good fortune of having a close relationship with The Parentals.
As a single woman, I feel really lucky to have supportive parents who will take me back into their home and care for me both financially and emotionally when I’m ill or feeling low. I’ll often lay my head in my mum’s lap and she’ll stroke my hair, or I’ll cuddle up with her in bed when I need a bit of affection.
She’s my mum.
As I come from such a tactile family, where a cuddle and a sense of humour are the answer to most of life’s ills, I was surprised – and confused – by the recent reaction to Victoria Beckham sharing an adorable snap of herself kissing daughter, Harper, to mark her fifth birthday. Almost immediately, the designer was inundated with negative comments and complaints, some even suggesting that the image was somehow “inappropriate”, “suggestive” or just plain “weird”.
Not since Brexit has such a topic divided public opinion and sent social media into a bizarre frenzy.
While some people took to the internet to defend Beckham by leaving supportive comments or posting pictures of themselves kissing sons and daughters with hashtags #loveislove and #letchildrenbechildren, others objected to the picture.
“Eww sorry I’m old fashioned it looks like they’re making out,” read one comment.
“It is strange to kiss your parents on the lips. Stop saying to other people it isn’t,” read another.
Then there was my personal favourite. “A lot of kids get cold sores from their parents kissing them on the mouth.”
While that is probably true, given than one in three people carry the virus HSV1 that causes cold sores, the fact that our little tots will pick up the harmless condition at some point in their lives is inevitable. Would this particular person suggest that our children never kiss anyone for the rest of their lives, you know, just in case? Or perhaps stick their sprog in a protective sphere like Jake Gyllenhaal in Bubble Boy?
As usual, psychologists were rounded up by the national newspapers to add their opinions to the mix. Rather sensibly, most argued it was in our children’s best interests to be more tactile and affectionate in their early years so they are aware they are loved and supported.
An article published on Live Science stated that research suggests intimacy between parents and children has “a positive effect on a child’s development” and that “there is no real evidence” to support claims that kissing a child on the lips leads to sexualisation of children.
In my opinion, it was all a huge overreaction. A product of a society which feels the need to police the behaviour of others, particularly parents, and predominantly women.
We only have to look at the backlash that breastfeeding mothers face for posting snaps feeding their little ones. Once again, these images are often sexualised, complained about (social media notoriously detests the female nipple) and deleted by the powers that be.
Dubbed “brelfies” these images swept the internet with many celeb mothers like Miranda Kerr and Gwen Stefani posting snaps in support. These images prompted many negative comments regarding not only their inappropriateness, but how they might make other mothers feel who choose not to, or cannot, breastfeed.
Now I am not a mother. I cannot comment on how such photos make me feel in that capacity. But I am an avid user of social media, and I don’t see the problem with either of these images. Mothers kissing children on the lips. Mothers breastfeeding their children. I don’t find them offensive.
When asking my friends what they thought, they were confused by the whole issue.
“It’s the most natural thing in the world,” said my friend Sarah, who is mum to eight-month-old William.
“I can’t believe it was ever even a thing,” added another.
When I was living in the same town as my good friend Jade, I often went round to her house in the evening and helped tuck her two little ones up in bed. We’d read a story and then kisses would be given. Her eldest would always kiss me on the lips. She would not do this to a stranger but, as a close friend of her mum’s – and someone who has known her since birth – she often showers me with affection in this manner.
It infuriates me that we see a need to criticise or judge seemingly loving parents who want to show adoration for their children on a public forum.
For me, the real concern, and question, should be surrounding the backlash against these images, rather than the content of the image itself.
Why are we sexualising these images? Why do they make us feel uncomfortable? Why are mothers facing such criticism?
While I was reading the media and public reactions to Beckham’s image (which has now been deleted from her Instagram account) one comment in particular struck me: what would the reaction have been if it was Harper’s father, David, in the picture and not Victoria?
It’s an interesting one to think about. Would there have been such a backlash against the popular, doting father? Would it have been deemed unnatural, weird or inappropriate? Is it because it’s a same-sex kiss that the offence was caused?
“They look like lesbians,” was one of the weirdest comments I came across.
Personally, I don’t think a single negative comment would have been made if Mr Beckham had been in the picture.
But the thing to keep in mind about these comments, backlashes and debates is that it’s never really about the image itself. Not really. It’s about something else entirely. It’s about our own insecurities, experiences and lives. Some families are more tactile than others. I know mums who don’t hug their own children but that doesn’t mean they love them any less than my mum (who is such a hugger) loves me, they just express it in different ways. There is no “normal” when it comes to families.
As soon as I am better, and my lips aren’t like swollen sausages, I will repay my mum for all her kindness in the way I know will make her feel the most appreciated and loved, and that’s with a big fat smacker right on the mouth. Oh, and probably a bottle of wine.