- Blake Lively spoke out about her kids “being stalked” by paparazzi on July 16.
- A week before, Gigi Hadid wrote an open letter asking that her daughter’s face be blurred in photos.
- Photographers and tabloids in most states aren’t legally required to listen, but they should.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Earlier this month, Blake Lively opened up about a “frightening” interaction she and her three young daughters had with paparazzi while out in New York City.
On July 16, the actress admonished photographers in the comments of a since-deleted social media post by Daily Mail Australia. (Lively’s response was screenshotted by the Instagram account CommentsByCelebs.)
In the comment, Lively accused the Daily Mail of “deceitful” editing which made it look like she was “happily waving” at the paparazzi, when in reality she says she and her kids “were being stalked” by photographers “all day.” She said she only agreed to pose for the photos where she was smiling in exchange for the photographers agreeing to “leave my kids alone.”
“Please stop paying grown a– men to hide and hunt children,” she wrote in the comment. Later, she encouraged fans to “stop following and block any publications or handles who publish kid’s pictures.”
The “Gossip Girl” actress is far from the only celebrity mom to publicly vent about her frustrations with tabloid culture – only the most recent.
The week before Lively shared her distressing encounter, supermodel Gigi Hadid posted an open letter on social media, captioned “a letter from Mamma,” expressing similar sentiments to Lively. Hadid asked “paparazzi, press, and fan accounts” to respect the privacy of her and Zayn Malik’s 10-month-old daughter, Khai, by blurring out Khai’s face in photos.
-Gigi Hadid (@GiGiHadid) July 6, 2021
To many people, Hadid’s request may have seemed reasonable, even obvious. “Our wish is that she can choose how to share herself with the world when she comes of age,” the model wrote. “And that she can live as normal of a childhood as possible, without worrying about a public image that she has not chosen.”
However, the legal precedent for such a request is blurry, at best. And celebrity parents are understandably frustrated.
The laws against photographing children vary from state to state
In most parts of the United States, it’s perfectly legal to photograph anyone, including children, in public spaces.
The one major exception is California, where a law that made it a misdemeanor to photograph the children of celebrities was passed in 2013.
“Kids shouldn’t be tabloid fodder nor the target of ongoing harassment,” the bill’s author, Sen. Kevin de Leon, said in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times.
However, no such law exists in New York City, where Lively and Hadid both primarily reside and had their recent paparazzi run-ins. Rather, face-blurring relies on the discretion – or, as Hadid put it in her open letter, the “integrity” – of the person sharing the images.
So, why haven’t the privacy measures caught on?
Like many things, the roots of this problem trace back to our nation’s founding. Although the Constitution was written long before cameras were invented, the First Amendment’s “free speech and free press” clause is typically extended to include the right to capture images in public.
In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that the press has the right to inform the public about matters of public interest. Photography, being an extension of the press, is justified as information that is vital to public well-being. And to boot, rare images of celebrities’ kids – especially famously private ones – can be extremely lucrative.
Because of the public-facing nature of their work, it can be hard for a celebrity to prove that their privacy was invaded.
One of the few cases of a celebrity successfully claiming the invasion of their family’s privacy was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who filed a lawsuit against Ron Galella in 1972, claiming the notorious freelance paparazzo would lurk outside of her Fifth Avenue apartment.
In the suit, Kennedy Onassis cited specific instances of Galella interfering with Caroline Kennedy’s tennis practice and even jumping in front of JFK Jr. while he rode his bike through Central Park. According to Jamie E. Nordhaus in the Review of Litigation, the court ruled in Onassis’ favor, saying public figures had a “general right to be left alone.”
But in a later hearing on the case, per Nordhaus, the court clarified that “Ms. Onassis could not prevent the taking of photographs of her and her children.”
The ambiguity of this legal ruling is no coincidence. And it’s left a string of chaos in its wake.
A matter of children’s safety
Although Hadid’s plea enters into a discussion that has been taking place for decades now, the rapacious nature of social media and internet culture has only made the need for re-addressing public photography and privacy laws in regard to minors all the more pertinent.
For most parents, their concerns center around protecting their children’s privacy on apps like TikTok and preventing their personal information from getting stolen while the law struggles to catch up.
But for celebrity parents, the stakes are much higher.
In Lively’s case, her recollection of the incident seemed particularly stressful, as she described how “grown men” were “jumping out” and “hiding,” only to “jump out again at the next block” to try to catch her daughters on camera.
And Jennifer Garner, who helped pass the 2013 law that provided celebrity kids with some protections from paparazzi, opened up earlier this year about how the constant presence of photographers “put so much anxiety in our little family” and even made her children scared of cameras when they were younger.
In a March interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Garner, who once invited the police to her home to ask for their help with the paparazzi issue, recalled how her then 5-year-old daughter, Violet, pleaded with the cops: “We don’t want these cameras, they’re scary. The men are scary, they knock each other over and it’s hard to feel like a kid when you’re being chased.”
This intensity in capturing images of celebrities and their kids together is not new. At the peak of her fame, Britney Spears was pursued by paparazzi to a famously aggressive degree. In one instance, Spears, pregnant with her second child, sought refuge from photographers in a cafe only to be photographed inside visibly crying while holding her baby.
In a separate 2006 incident, Spears was photographed driving with her son on her lap. As recounted in the New York Times documentary “Framing Britney Spears,” the tabloids at the time accused her of endangering her child; the pop star countered with a statement saying she’d only done it because of a “horrifying, frightful encounter with the paparazzi.”
“I was terrified that this time the physically aggressive paparazzi would put both me and my baby in danger,” Spears said in a statement at the time, according to CBS News.
Celebrity parents are fighting back in earnest more than ever
Some argue that celebrities chose this career path and must sacrifice their privacy as a form of entry, or that giving up an expectation of privacy is a reasonable price to pay for wealth and fame. But one detail is inarguable – babies who happened to be born to famous people did not opt into a life in the limelight.
Many celebrity parents, including Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, uphold this opinion.
“We feel like being public is a personal choice,” Kutcher said on an episode of “The Thrive Global Podcast” in 2017. “My wife and I have chosen a career where we’re in the public light, but my kids have not. I think they should have the right to choose that.”
Others have been very purposeful in how and when images of their children are shared. Lively and her husband, Ryan Reynolds, have previously found creative ways to protect the privacy of their children, such as using a smiley face to conceal their third daughter’s face in a Twitter post.
Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell also hide their two daughters’ faces in social media posts. The couple has taken a harder line with third-party photos, even starting a no-kids photo policy movement in 2014, hoping to keep images of celebrities’ children from being published without the parent’s consent.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, who have selectively shared personal images of their first child’s face, have similar views when it comes to the privacy of their children. “I think everyone has a basic right to privacy. Basic,” Markle told Oprah Winfrey in March, a few months before the birth of her second child. “We’re not talking about anything that anybody else wouldn’t expect.”
In July 2020, Markle and Harry filed a lawsuit against paparazzi for photographing their then-14-month-old son, Archie, while at home in their backyard. The lawsuit claimed that the paparazzi “intentionally” mislabeled the photos as being taken in a public place because the photographer knew “that unsolicited photographs of a young child in the privacy of his own home are very much unlawful,” according to the report.
Most people would agree that basic privacy should apply to all people, even celebrities and royals, and especially their children, who have not made the choice to have a public-facing life. But in the age of social media, how much privacy can anyone really expect?
Celebrity children are already burdened with what Hadid calls “the stress of the media circus that comes with parents who are public figures.” So in that case, will blurring their faces out really help? We don’t know – but it’s a start, at least.