Gauri Khan’s recent Instagram post drew a severe backlash from the public as well as several media outlets. The reason? Khan’s 17-year-old daughter can be seen sporting a bikini.
This is not the first time Suhana Khan’s pictures have gone viral for wearing beach-appropriate clothing. Back in March 2016, a picture of the teenager vacationing was subject to similar public scrutiny. Media outfits have not held their tongues and called the young girl ‘jaw-droppingly hot’ and described her sun tanned back as ‘sexy‘. The comments drawn by these pictures are unflattering and distasteful.
The life of an average teenager indulging in similar activities is usually spared from such widespread dissection. Then why must star-kids, by the mere virtue of their birth, have to undergo such intense, embarrassing and unrestricted inquisition for simply acting their age?
In a country where the right to privacy had been a debated issue until recently, celebrities have never even stood a fighting chance. Their career choices seemed to have rendered them less entitled to a life away from the public eye. Celebrity children are embroiled in the same mess that their parents have learnt to ignore after spending several years in the limelight. We could argue that the loss of such privacy is a natural exchange for the privilege of belonging to an industry that thrives on nepotism, but it is undeniable that these youngsters deserve a lot more privacy and freedom to live their life. They should not be bearing the brunt of their parents’ reputation.
Star-kids lead sheltered lives but they are well aware of the repercussions of their sheer existence on social media platforms. Taking a leaf out of their parents’ books, they have learnt to develop a thick skin and the courage to fight back. Suhana Khan has made her Instagram account private to keep prying eyes away. Sridevi’s younger daughter Khushi, who enjoys an active social media presence, was recently a victim of body shaming. The girl fought back, giving a befitting response to all her haters. Aalia Ebrahim, the daughter of Pooja Bedi, was a victim of slut-shaming. She too aptly shut the trolls down with her explanation of the idea of consent. These girls are out there to prove that the lack of freedom of expression and privacy is not the price they will pay for social mobility. The fact that they’re having to do so is itself indicative of the media’s disregard for their privacy.
The parents are equally irked by such insensitive breakdown of their children’s lives. They have adopted different means of dealing with it. Shah Rukh Khan openly condemned the unwarranted media attention bestowed on Suhana’s clothes. Sridevi’s older daughter, Jhanvi, was spotted sharing a moment with her alleged then-boyfriend, and it was not long before those photographs started doing the rounds on the internet. In what came across as an angry retort, Sridevi clarified that her daughter wasn’t allowed to have a boyfriend. Shweta Nanda, on the other hand, advocated her daughter’s privacy and attempted to part reason-with and part guilt the media when they went after Navya Naveli Nanda. Nanda used the space in her column to depict her daughter as more than her media portrayal. While stating that her daughter has a “strong sense of self”, she went on to draw attention to the plight that such nonsensical journalism might cause to an impressionable, young girl.
The media might be targeting star-kids but teens everywhere are more than likely to feel the heat of it. Youngsters have a large social media presence and extensive media consumption. We live in a society where seemingly fancy Instagram and Facebook posts act as social currency for the ordinary teenager. One on hand, teenagers face the pressure of having to keep up with their peers. Most of the time, they use social media to prove their “social worth”. At this age, being “uncool” attracts social stigma and alienation that teenagers severely dread. On the other hand, they fear self-expression using this very same social media for they might meet the same fate as their star-kid counterparts, without having famous and powerful parents to defend their right to freedom and privacy. Ordinary youngsters might not be subject to paparazzi but it cannot be said when an innocent post of theirs might be picked up for being seemingly scandalous. In April, a 17-year-old girl from Rajasthan was shamed for putting up pictures on social media, after a stranger morphed her face onto a naked body. Falling victim to such unwanted publicity would wreak havoc to their self-esteem and shame their existence in stereotypical Indian society.
Media ethics have been defenestrated. In an age where traditional journalism thrives on the defamation of youngsters, it seems hard to reinstate any sort of conscientious principles in reporting. Teenagers are heavily impacted by social media. Such uncalled-for attention delivers a blow to their self-confidence and development. Regulations need to be implemented to protect the privacy of individuals, especially children.
To start with, a bill on the lines of California’s Senate Bill 606, that penalises the photography of children based on their parents’ profession, would give impetus to the cause. Law enforcement agencies need to be trained to handle incidents of social media abuse and understand the gravity of its ramifications. In the meantime, educating teenagers on taking their privacy more seriously and learning to report abuse would be a start.