The other day a friend of mine posted a photo of her daughter on a popular photo-sharing social media platform. It was a cute, spontaneous image -- the girl's mouth was wide open in an ear-to-ear grin, and her eyebrows were raised to comical heights as she reacted to something off-camera. On closer inspection, however, something was a little ... odd. She was sitting in the backseat of a car, and a metallic strip running along the door next to her reflected her face in a freakishly distorted manner. It was like a funhouse mirror that revealed an alternate-dimension version of her, where her features were exaggerated into a ghostly, inhuman scream.
I came thisclose to typing something like, "OMG, look at Jane's reflection in the door! So weird!" but I stopped myself just in time. Because doing so would have been a violation of The Number One Most Critical Rule of Commenting on Photos of Children, the all-important guideline that no one -- and I mean NO ONE -- ever adheres to.
I'm talking about the Creepy Comment. No, I don't mean the sort of comment where the commenter comes off as sounding like a pervy weirdo who's probably naked under a sweat-coated trench coat while they surf Instagram, I'm talking about the totally unwanted feedback that YOUR kid's photo is creepy in some way.
Take this message I saw a few days ago that was posted in response to an artsy shot of an adorable little girl standing in a living room as long early-evening shadows stretched in front of her:
... reminds me of a possession movie like Omen. Sorry. Just the lighting and composition of the shot.
Dude. Really? REALLY? "Sorry but your kid looks like the Antichrist. Probably you should search her for the 666 birthmark."
In my experience, you can have the most awesome family memento photo ever, and once someone points out something disturbing about it, that's all you can see. It's like the time I shared an image of my son that was slightly motion-blurred, and someone was all, "Yikes, it looks like his hand is a flipper." I tried to ignore that previously-unnoticed detail in favor of the overall image -- but every time I looked at it, I heard dolphin noises. Eee-eee-eee-eee.
Photo-sharing etiquette demands that if you DO leave a comment about the image of a child, you make it a nice one or you don't say anything at all. In an ideal world, everyone also reins in the seemingly irresistible desire to describe the sensation of their ovaries "exploding" at the sight of a baby, or their obsession with chewing/devouring said infant, but even those sentiments are preferable to the Creepy Comment.
Basically, avoid pointing out the following:
• Any resemblance between the depicted scenario and the plot of a horror movie. Right: "Aw, Billy's growing up so fast!" Wrong: "HOLY SHIT IT LOOKS LIKE YOUR TV SCREEN HAS THE RING GIRL IN IT!!"
• A non-smiling child's likely future as a sociopath.
• How horrifically dangerous the photographed situation probably is. ("Jeez, it looks like he's going to fall out of that tree and shatter his spine.")
• The way any toys or dolls in the photo that are obviously beloved by the child are probably going to come to life in the dead of night and rip off their face.
• How the image reminds you of some godawful Friend of a Friend tale. ("My cousin's husband's nephew was playing with a balloon like that when he bit it and choked to death right before his parents' eyes! Anyway, SOOOOOO CUTE!")
• Anything AT ALL that you deem visually unpleasant about the photo. (Curtains seem ghostlike, child's slight red-eye effect makes him look like a bloodthirsty vampire, photobombing brother appears to be considering fratricide, awkward positioning makes child and dog look like freaky conjoined hybrid creature, etc.)
It's the right thing to do, people. Because nobody wants to hear that the cute kid photo they just shared is giving someone the creeps -- regardless of how creepy it may actually be.
Be honest, have you ever left a Creepy Comment on someone's photo?
Image via endora57/Flickr