Kim Kardashian Shouldn’t Be Over-Exposing Her Five-Year-Old Daughter – But Neither Should We

As North West land her first solo cover, aged 5, we're quick to criticise Kim Kardashian for overexposing her. But, asks Julian Llewellyn Smith, aren't we all basically doing the same thing on Instagram?

North West

by Julia Llewellyn Smith |
Updated on

As a model, she stands out from her rivals. It’s not just her silky straightened hair, styled into funky pigtails, or the way her eyes, enhanced by neon pink eyeliner, look confidently at the camera, nor the sassy way she wears her iridescent Dr Martens and peachy-pink dress. No, what’s really special about WWD magazine’s latest cover girl is that she’s five.

This is North West, daughter of Kanye and Kim Kardashian and – according to WWD, fashion’s hottest face since... well, her 23-year-old auntie Kendall Jenner, who tweeted that her niece was ‘giving me a run for my money’. It wasn’t clear if Kendall was joking: after all, WWD’s headline made it clear that time was up for her, and equally ancient counterparts such as Gigi Hadid. ‘Move over Millennials, a new generation comes of age!’ shouted WWD’s coverline.

North, it went on to explain in an article illustrated by shots of the little girl baring her midriff and coyly gazing out from under a parasol, represented the new stylish ‘Alpha’ generation. ‘[North’s] distinct fashion sense belies her age,’ the writer cooed. ‘And lately so does her eye for make-up.’ Naturally, North’s biggest cheerleader was her momma, who gushed to her 128 million Instagram followers: ‘My most stylish and beautiful baby girl shot her 1st cover,’ just like my mum might have boasted to her mates that I’d remembered my two lines in the Nativity play.

Yet not everyone was as thrilled as Kim that a reception-class-aged child was being treated as a fashion icon. Thousands replied to her post with blurry shots of themselves, gap-toothed, wild-haired, at the same age, demanding to know why North wasn’t ‘playing in the dirt’ and bewailing that not even five-year-olds could escape Instagram’s aesthetic demands. It’s unlikely Kim was ‘bovvered’. After all, she’s long been receiving stick for her social-media posts of North, such as the Christmas family shot showing her in scarlet lipstick from Kim’s KKW range. Some have accused her of photoshopping shots to make her daughter’s tummy smaller; last year, she was attacked for apparently altering the face shape and eye colour of a newborn Chicago.

Yet it’s hardly as if Kim’s the only one flaunting her offspring on social media. Research shows that by the time they reach five, the average British child will have featured in almost 1,500 online photos. Some of these will be purely for the delight of grandparents and close friends on private Facebook and WhatsApp accounts. But increasingly, parents are choosing to share their children’s most intimate moments on public Instagram accounts, with the old guard of pushy stage and dance mums replaced by a new breed of Instamums determined to turn their offspring into social-media stars.

The results can be hugely lucrative. Take two-year-old American twins Taytum and Oakley Fisher who, having been featured on the day of their birth on their actor mother Madison Bontempo’s account, today boast 2.4million Instagram followers, meaning they can demand six-figure sums for every sponsored post they – or rather their management team – upload. (The girls don’t yet endorse many brands as they’re too young to reliably play with a product they’ve been gifted or tell the world how much they love it.)

Their baby sister Halston is due any day now, but already has 111,000 followers, though she’s slacking in comparison to @BabyLuyendyk, the foetus of Lauren Burnham and Arie Luyendyk, who married after meeting on reality dating show The Bachelor. The baby won’t be born until June, but already has 210,000 followers, liking her scan images and updates such as, ‘Today I’m the size of a head of kale!’ No wonder more and more British mums, inspired by the likes of Jools Oliver and Tamara Ecclestone, who mix images of their kids with brands they work with on their social media, are following suit.

But not everyone approves of treating your baby as a cash cow. Recently, Stacey Westwood from Essex was criticised after she banned family from sharing their own pictures of her one-year-old son Ralphie, whose Insta was set up the day he was born and now has 20,000 followers, in case they ‘damaged his brand’. She defended herself, saying, ‘It sounds awful referring to him as a brand because he is a human and a child but, essentially, the name that we have created is a business.’ At the same time, 20-year-old Danielle Wall was slated for removing blemishes from shots of her daughter Isla (1,600 followers), ‘to make her look more professional’.

According to Amy Thornton, 31, from Newton Aycliffe in County Durham, the world of Instamums has become much more competitive in the eight years since she set up @OskarandErika (32,000 followers) when her son Oskar was four months, adding her daughter Erika, now five, when she was born. ‘None of my friends had heard of Instagram, I just did it for a bit of fun and it was a surprise bonus when people started sending us stuff,’ she says. ‘But today people start accounts with the aim of becoming an influencer through their children. There’s a lot more pressure, which I’m glad I didn’t feel.’

As a result of her success, Amy’s now a professional photographer. She edits her photos to professional standards but would never alter children’s features. ‘But I now see a lot of other pictures where kids’ faces have been tweaked – it’s horrendous. I also keep my shots age-appropriate and never show any flesh, but I see a lot of images of young girls in things like crop tops, where there’s a hint of sexualisation. That doesn’t sit well with me.’

Child psychologist Dr Nicole Gehl says many parents are too intent on gaining followers to consider if images are inappropriate. ‘People get sucked into this Instagramming machine and all they think about is themselves,’ she says. ‘It’s clinically proven our brains receive a dopamine hit from every “like”, like a chemical high, and people are so desperate for these they don’t think about their children. People argue everyone puts pictures of their kids online now, so why not join in? But it doesn’t matter if everyone’s doing it: it’s still irresponsible, and disrespectful to expose kids to the internet and all the self-esteem issues and abuse that come with it.’

Dr Gehl also warns that – however much an Instamum may claim her children love modelling, they can’t give meaningful consent. ‘There’s no proper legislation surrounding kids on social media,’ she says. ‘ is generation of kids are the guinea pigs and in years to come they may decide to sue for earnings they think should be theirs, or for being made to work long hours posing for parents’ shots.’

In France, parents have already been warned that they face potential fines or up to a year in prison if they share intimate details of their children online without their consent. If the teenage North decides she hates the eyeliner shots, Kanye and Kim could be looking at a costly lawsuit.

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