The Women in the Child – A Controversial Image


This is Brooke Shields aged just ten years old. The photograph was taken by fashion photographer Gary Gross (a more then appropriate name in my opinion) who specialised in dog portraiture. It was taken in 1975 and was to be part of his project called ‘The Women in the Child’. These photographs were taken with the permission of Brookes mother, Teri, and first appeared in the publication Little Women, and eventually in the Playboy Press publication ‘Sugar and Spice’.

Now, let me preface by saying that I have made the conscious decision to only use a cropped image of her face, as I believe the images that make up the collection are nothing short of child pornography. Therefore, I am only going to analyse this controversial ‘text’ in regards to the cropped image I have selected.

Gross explained the idea behind this image as being an exploration of the femininity in prepubescent girls compared to adult women. The image clearly denotes an attractive and ‘made-up’ prepubescent girl, who is leaning against a white wall, staring intently down the lens of the camera.

However, when we then move to what the image connotes, the image becomes far more complicated. Brooke has had her hair and make up styled to not only make her look like a woman, but a women who has a strong hold on her sexuality. She has been covered in body oil and is completely naked except for a choker necklace (which I believe connotes that she is just like the dogs Gross usually photographs). Although she is leaning up against the wall for support, she has been positioned in a way to signify her sex appeal.

We then move on towards what her gaze connotes. Although she is only a child, she looks towards the camera with an explicitly vulnerable ‘come hither’ stare, with her lips pressed into a seductive pout.

It is true that people will interpret media messages in different ways based on their own ideologies. However, I must admit, that in regards to this complex image, I have a hard time believing that most people would read this message as anything other than grossly inappropriate.

I don’t believe the ‘artist’ Gross has managed to achieve his objective of exploring the femininity in prepubescent girls.  In fact, I believe he has done the exact opposite. What makes young girls beautiful is their youth, yet in this image he has tarnished that by making them up to look like mature women. In a way, it is rather ironic.

Further Reading:


Image courtesy of Gary Gross via listverse 


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4 Responses to The Women in the Child – A Controversial Image

  1. oliverghee says:

    My word, this is a fantastic topic for this weeks post. Gross-Ly inappropriate indeed (get it….). I’ve never seen the full image, but from your writing (which I think is the perfect amount of formal/informal for a blog post) I can image it’s highly sexual connotations. I hate the way this idea of observing the “woman” in tweens way before they’ve reached sexual maturity is becoming a pop culture. Everyone reads way too much into it. I know that as a ten year old I was just picking my nose and playing schools.
    I know we have an annoyingly strict word count, but if you wanted to rake it further you could look into the those shows about stage ‘moms’ and child models….I can’t remember what they’re called, but they always seem to appear on channel ‘Go’ and such. Shocking stuff. Just a different angle.

    Good stooooff anyhow.

  2. arr990 says:

    Thank-you so much for your comments, I really appreciate your feedback! 🙂 To be honest, I had a internal debate about whether or not I should write about this image that is plagued with SO much controversy. Now I am glad that I did.
    I could not agree with you more about the sexualisation of young girls who have years ahead of them before they are women. I have not watched any of those reality shows (I have heard about them though). However, there is this Australian mockumentary called Razzle Dazzle, about the world of dancing and young girls. It is highly entertaining and will give you a good laugh, while also dealing with some pretty serious issues. If you get the chance you should have a look 🙂

  3. Pingback: Navigating the Notorious Grey Area | Who, What, When, Where, Why and How?

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