This past Sunday, reality television star (and mother) Bethenny Frankel posted a photo of herself on Instagram. After her five reality series, four books, talk show, multi-million-dollar cocktail empire, whirlwind wedding, life-changing pregnancy, and nasty divorce, public photos of Bethenny are ubiquitous. She is frequent tabloid fodder and snapshots of her toothy grin and fashionable figure are nothing new… only in this particular photo, the 43-year-old mother was wearing her 4-year-old daughter’s Hello Kitty pajamas.
Reaching out to her more than 308,000 Instagram followers, Bethenny modeled the mini-size sleepwear (below) with the caption: ‘This is my daughter’s nightgown and PJ shorts. Think we’re ready to start sharing clothes yet?’
I’m not a Bethenny fan and have never seen an episode of “The Real Housewives of New York City” (the show that made her famous)… but I know enough about her to believe she is: a.) open to publicity of again kind; and b.) savvy about social media. She had to know this photo would stir up controversy.
And, boy did it. If you spent any time surfing the Web in the last few days, you likely encountered various articles, chats, and commentaries about the now-infamous image. Her post unleashed a barrage of over 600 comments ranging from disgusted and cruel to sweet and supportive. Some people were outraged, taking aim at Bethenny’s weight and suitability as a parent, while others found humor in the moment. The haters came out in full force, as did Bethenny’s legions of fans who appreciate her candor and sarcasm:
Critics like Meghan McCain on “The View” felt it was “violently irresponsible.” Instagram critics called Frankel’s actions “sickening” and one encouraged the entrepreneur to “get help.” On the other side of the controversy, over 9,000 people liked it and rallied to her support.
So many issues wrapped up in a single photo, and whether it was intended as a fun mom moment, a not-so-subtle ego-boost for Bethenny, or a publicity stunt, it conjures up a range of emotions for moms like me.
First of course is body image. The photo carries extra weight (no pun intended) because of Bethenny’s “Skinnygirl” persona, extra-slim silhouette, and lifelong struggles with dieting. As the author of a book titled Naturally Thin and founder of a lifestyle brand focused on skinny living, Bethenny’s appearance in kids’ clothing resonates in a certain way. As a healthy size two myself, I think the reactions are overblown. My daughter is 7 and I could squeeze into one of her nightgowns if I tried — which I wouldn’t! I also didn’t sense any bravado in Bethenny’s original message which was more self-deprecating than anything.
Second, there is the question of what example Bethenny is setting for her daughter. In response to the flood of criticisms, Bethenny tweeted: “BREAKING NEWS! World Scandal: Former reality star, failed talk show host & cocktail maven jokes by wearing her kids’ pjs! #itcantbetrue” — then added: “When ur 4 year old peanut says ‘mommy please put my dress on’ & giggles uncontrollably, u do what ur told.” As a mom who has never ever done anything questionable (ha!), I side with Bethenny. As parents, we all do silly things and I don’t know a kid under 8 who wouldn’t find this funny.
For me, the real issue isn’t positive body image or proper modeling –- it’s the invasive presence of social media in our private lives. I have no problem with Bethenny dressing up or taking pictures for posterity. I do have an issue with her posting it on Instagram.
My daughter and I have a wonderful, open relationship, but it would never occur to me to post our most precious moments for the world to see. As a writer, I often address issues related to my children, but that’s quite different from posting or publicizing our most intimate moments on Twitter or Facebook.
As social media becomes an increasingly popular outlet for personal things, we run the risk of cheating our children out of privacy they both need and deserve. Bethenny should play with her daughter and feel free to try on 4-year-old clothes all she wants. She just shouldn’t post it. Keep the private moments private — just you and your child — no relatives, no fans, no followers, no hype, no haters, no hullaballoo.
I’m guessing Bethenny’s daughter, Bryn, doesn’t care what her mom weighs or earns, or how many likes she has on Facebook. At four, she should have plenty of sweet, silly, embarrassing, and intimate moments with her mother. No technology needed.
Photos: Wenn (top); Bethenny Frankel via Instagram (middle)