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Has the obsession with celebrities’ children moved into dangerous territory?


By Sarah Finnan
14th Jul 2022
Has the obsession with celebrities’ children moved into dangerous territory?

North West asked the paparazzi to stop taking photos of her. The internet's response? To laugh and make the subsequent photo into a meme. Has the obsession with celebrities' children bordered over into dangerous territory?

I’m sure you’ve all seen the photos of Kim Kardashian and her eldest child, North West, jaunting around Paris by now. Originally there for work – Kim walked in the Balenciaga haute couture show last week – the reality star-turned-business mogul decided to extend her trip and stayed in Paris a couple of extra days alongside her daughter and some friends. 

Showing North – now nine years old – around the City of Love, Kim brought her offspring to some of her favourite hotspots. There were photos of them at the Louvre, hugging in fabulous Parisian hotel rooms and of course, sitting front row at Jean Paul Gaultier’s AW22 show (beside Anna Wintour, no less). 

Stop sign

Obviously, being a Kardashian comes with its perks… but it also comes with its downfalls and the twosome’s trip was plagued by paparazzi attention the whole way through. Clearly fed up by the incessant photo-taking, North decided to take things into her own hands at one point – using her invite to craft a handmade stop sign which she then held up and directed at the crowd of awaiting cameramen. 

Sharing a clip of the now-viral moment on Twitter, Kim wrote it off as a funny act of rebellion by her very opinionated youngster. “Anyone who knows North knows how funny she finds this video! North I guess had it with people taking pictures of her so she wrote on her invite STOP and held it up and wanted them to just focus on the show,” Kim explained. Many people have been concerned by Kim’s blasé attitude to the whole thing though and the mum of four has since come under fire for dismissing the incident as harmless. 

Growing up as a Kardashian means living life in front of the camera. Both Kendall and Kylie were subjected to it from a young age, and now the next generation of Kar-Jenners have found themselves at the mercy of the spotlight, but it’s not necessarily a life they chose for themselves. With North now old enough to speak up for herself, the paparazzi versus celebrity kids fight rages on. 

Moral debate over children being photographed

The moral debate over whether famous children should be considered “fair game” just because of who their parents are has long been a point of contention. This time last year, both Blake Lively and Gigi Hadid spoke out on the importance of protecting minors in the media. 

Wanting her child to be able to experience the beauty of the world, without worrying about the looming threat of hidden cameramen ready to pounce, Hadid took to Instagram to ask for a little consideration from the public. 

Like Kim, Gigi also has first-hand experience of what growing up in the spotlight is really like and though this is a life she ultimately chose for herself, it’s a decision she wants her own daughter to get to make one day too. 

“It would mean the world to us, as we take our daughter to see and explore NYC and the world, if you would PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE blur her face out of the images, if and when she is caught on camera,” Hadid wrote on Instagram at the time, later admitting that the “dramatic paparazzi frenzies” are even “overwhelming and disorienting” to her, as an adult. 

“I know the laws change state to state, and I’ve seen some paparazzi photos of kids in NYC with their faces blurred – but from asking around, I believe that that comes down to the integrity of the photographer, publications, or fans sharing the images,” she said, adding, “I hope this can continue the conversation to protect minors in the media, even if they come from a public family.”

Lively reiterated much the same message, detailing a past exchange between her and the paparazzi; one she described as “f*cking scary”. Commenting under an article that the Daily Mail Australia posted on social media, Blake requested that the publication remove the photos of her children – accusing them of editing the photo montage together in such a way that made it look like she was happy to pose for the camera and calling them out for their “deceitful” tactics. 

“The real story is: My children were being stalked by men all day. Jumping out. And then hiding. A stranger on the street got into words with them because it was so upsetting for her to see. 

“When I tried to calmly approach the photographer you hired to take these pictures in order to speak to him, he would run away. And jump out again at the next block.”

Asking if background checks are done on any of the photographers hired “to stalk children”, Blake later questioned whether the team had any morality whatsoever. “Do you simply not care about the safety of children? The photographers who would speak to me, I was able to agree to smile and wave and let them take my picture away from my children if they would leave my kids alone. Because it was frightening… Please stop paying grown-ass men to hide and hunt children. There are plenty of pictures you could’ve published without the kids. Please delete. C’mon. Get with the times,” she finished. 

Royal flush

Back in 2020, The Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle sued a paparazzi agency over photos taken of her and her son Archie in a park on Vancouver Island. 

According to the UK agency Splash, the photographs were “an important matter of public interest” following the duke and duchess’ decision to step down as senior royals. Markle’s legal team maintained that she had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” citing JK Rowling’s court ruling in 2008 (over photos taken of her son) that protects celebrities’ children from being photographed without their parents’ permission, unless their parents have exposed their children to publicity.

Markle won the case against Splash, releasing a statement that said, “This settlement is a clear signal that unlawful, invasive, and intrusive paparazzi behaviour will not be tolerated.” 

Earlier that same year, Meghan and Prince Harry took legal action against news agency X17 for flying photography drones over their home in LA. 

Anti-paparazzi bill

Several other celebrities have added their two cents to the conversation – including Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner. “I’m sickened, I’m disgusted and I’m respectfully asking everyone to stop following us around and stop trying to take pictures of our daughter and especially printing them,” she previously said in an Instagram story.

Almost a decade ago, actors Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner testified before California’s state lawmakers in support of an “anti-paparazzi” bill designed to impose harsh penalties on photographers harassing celebrity children. 

“My daughter doesn’t want to go to school because she knows ‘the men’ are watching for her,” Berry, who was pregnant with her son, told the court at the time. “If it passes, the quality of my life and my children’s lives will be dramatically changed.”

The bill was ultimately signed into law in California in September 2013, with penalties ranging from a year in jail to tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Jennifer Garner, who has three children with Ben Affleck and is one of the most outspoken stars on the subject, told SiriusXM that the bill being passed was “life-changing,” because instead of 20 photographers following her family, now they only have one or two.

No children photo policy

Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard continued leading the charge, putting pressure on print, online and TV outlets to enact a “no kids” photo policy, urging their fellow celebrity pals to skip publications on red carpets or turn down interviews if editors didn’t agree. 

People Magazine was amongst those to institute the policy, with then-editor Jess Cagle noting, “It was the humane thing to do – these kids didn’t ask to be famous. We didn’t want to support an industry where kids are being terrorised or chased.” As he put it, if fewer publications were willing to purchase photos of kids, then that cut off the demand and lessened the motivation for photographers.

However, almost a decade later celebrities are still having the same conversations – even in 2022, an era much more attuned to sensitivity, privacy and the impact that such overbearing media attention can have on a person and their children.

Dale Cohen, the director of the Documentary Film Legal Clinic at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law, thinks this will always be a contentious topic… no matter how technology and perception of the paparazzi evolves. 

“In all honesty, I think this is a subject that cycles in and out of public view,” Cohen told The Washington Post. “My guess is that each generation of celebrity parents learns how to deal with the costs of their extremely effective use of the media and their popularity, and what the downside of that may be.”

The issue has only grown more complicated over the years as social media blurs the lines between what is acceptable and what is not. Fans feel increasingly entitled to know intimate details of famous people’s lives… and tabloids/the paparazzi are only too happy to supply that demand for content. But at what cost? And shouldn’t North West asking them to stop be enough to tell us that the obsession with celebrities’ children has gone too far?