Daughters of the King for sale on Instagram

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Instagram
A keyboard is placed in front of a displayed Instagram logo in this illustration taken Feb. 21, 2023. The New York Times has done a comprehensive investigation into parents who are using Instagram so their girls can become "influencers" -- and a lot of the revenue stream is driven by pedophiles. (OSV News Illustration/Dado Ruvic, Reuters)

There are some news articles one consumes with the same reluctance as one accepts a repellent medical treatment. “A Marketplace of Girl Influencers Managed by Moms and Stalked by Men,” which was featured in the New York Times in late February, is one such piece. It’s important to know what is going on, but it very nearly brings one to one’s knees, too.

It’s easily found online, but here’s a synopsis: “Girl influencers” are underage girls whose Instagram accounts show them wearing “strappy” dance and sportswear, skimpy or shape-revealing leotards, cheerleading costumes and more. Think Kardashian fodder but aged anywhere from 5 to 17 years old. Lipstick and mascara are perfectly applied as they peer over sunglasses to pout or blow kisses.

“Managed by moms” means just that. Most of these girls are being posed by their own mothers who manage the accounts, deciding which deals will be made with which outfitters for free or discounted merchandise, what poses will be publicly posted and which will be packaged as photo sets and reserved for “subscriber” eyes only. Presumably, the youngsters have some say in what makes up the “wish list” from which appreciative and generous fans can make “gifts” to them.

Subscribers to the most successful of these accounts are mostly men — strangers willing to pay for “chat sessions” or even for the privilege of buying a girl’s used leotard, if Mom will sell it.

Wisely electing not to show the subject photographs, the Times described a few, supplying screen grabs of comments the photos elicited: “…a real photo of a 9-year-old girl in a golden bikini lounging on a towel,” reads one entry. Apparently a parent dressed and posed their little girl like Princess Leia in “The Empire Strikes Back” for the entertainment of men whose comments cause the hair on one’s arms to stand on end.

The InstaMoms are aware. “I think they’re all pedophiles,” admits one, who began her daughter’s account in 2020, when the girl was 11 years old. Now boasting 100,000 followers, the adolescent models “evening dresses, high-end workout gear and dance leotards.”

Subscribers fork over $10 per month to look.

Unwilling to walk away

Another mother insists, “I really don’t want my child exploited on the internet, but she’s been doing this so long now, her numbers are so big, what do we do? Just stop it and walk away?”

Well, yes. Even with “big” numbers and (probably) “big” revenue, if you know your daughter is being sexually exploited, you must make it stop.

Some mothers insist the “modeling” is an essential part of building a resume toward the good-school/established career goals that parents have bought into for too long. But how are they really shaping the future for these girls? One “InstaMom,” whose daughter is 17 — an age where she should be pondering her vocation or professional calling — is “worried that a childhood spent sporting bikinis online for adult men” has diminished the girl’s sense of herself: “She’s written herself off and decided that the only way she’s going to have a future is to make a mint on OnlyFans,” she told the Times. “She has way more than that to offer.”

Yes, very likely she does, but her mother — the person whose regard, behavior, influence and opinions would have meant the most to her during the girl’s formative years (and who should have encouraged her daughter to explore her gifts and potential) — has instead helped solidify the notion that all she has to offer is her body.

“OnlyFans,” by the way, is a website that permits users to sell adult content to subscribers.

A culture of abuse

A terrible consequence of commodifying human beings is that they begin to define themselves by how they’ve previously been treated, especially when they have been bought and sold — even if only over the ether. Child sexual abuse doesn’t require physical horrors to teach its victims that they are good for little beyond sex. That message can convincingly come through to kids purely through observation, through how they are being treated or psychologically conditioned.

The whole culture contributes to this abuse. Social media limits how many disgusting comments the InstaMoms can delete. Madison Avenue hammers home the message that everyone needs a valued product in order to become a valued product and encourages a level of material and bodily conformity incompatible with the truth that one’s life can be full, happy, healthy and meaningful without Stanley cups, high-end sneakers or the “right” look.

“Image is everything” is the deceitful message we’ve been getting for decades. These InstaMoms have absorbed it and are raising their daughters amid that which is overcome only by prayer and fasting.

The mom of the 17-year-old seems to realize it. “With the wisdom and knowledge I have now, if I could go back, I definitely wouldn’t do it,” she admitted. “I’ve been stupidly, naïvely, feeding a pack of monsters, and the regret is huge.”

Hopefully, it’s not too late for her daughter to hear and believe that she is a daughter of the Most High — worth more than rubies, even if none on earth ever notice her at all.

Elizabeth Scalia

Elizabeth Scalia is culture editor for OSV News.