In November 2014, Tucson, Arizona, photographer Heather Whitten snapped a moving photo of her husband, Thomas, and young son Fox. In the image, Fox is sick with a salmonella infection, and him and Thomas sit nude in the shower. Thomas sat with Fox in the shower for hours, trying to keep his fever down as well as wash off the diarrhea and vomit as it came. It was an intense moment.
“As I sat in the shower with the two of them I was just overwhelmed with the scene in front of me,” Whitten writes of the photo on Facebook. “This man. This husband and partner and father. He was so patient and so loving and so strong with our tiny son in his lap. His whispers of reassurance to Fox, that he would be ok and that Thomas would take care of him were so steady and so honest.”
Thankfully, Fox fully recovered. Whitten shared the photo on her blog, but she didn’t share it on social media until last week, almost two years after she took it. What prompted her to post it: The photography blog lightinspired used the image on Facebook, and Facebook banned the blog’s page for a few days after it was reported for nudity. Facebook’s guidelines prohibit pictures showing bare buttocks, genitals, or breasts with exposed nipples. Whitten decided to post the photo herself on Facebook to stand up to what she feels are stringent rules.
Quickly, her stunning image and powerful words about the photo went viral. She has over 19,000 comments and 137,000 likes on the post, which went up just on May 2. And she’s had her own Facebook account banned twice—for 24 hours at a time—because of the image.
“I think it’s just an influx of people reporting it, and they have to kind of pay attention to those,” Whitten tells SELF. “Obviously I’m offending somebody on a high volume.”
To Whitten, the photo isn’t sexual or exploitative in any way, as some people have claimed. She simply wanted to show a moving moment in her family, and she felt comfortable sharing such a raw image. Most of her stunning photography focuses on capturing natural moments of her husband and four kids, often with nudity involved. She says she respects that other people might not make the same choice, but the platform shouldn’t censor her work.
“My family may be different than yours. But, that doesn’t make your way right or my way wrong,” she writes on Facebook. “You may never take images of your family like I do… you may never share images of your family like I do. But, that doesn’t give you the right to silence my voice. To take away my right to share our experiences in an uncensored way.”
She’s faced consequences for her photos on Instagram, too. Her Instagram account—which features images of her children’s bare butts and photos of her breastfeeding, all captured in an innocent way—was recently deactivated without warning. She had to email Instagram for four days to get the account back.
“There’s no vagin
ke it as far to get an entire Instagram wiped out or an entire business page or artist page and get them locked out of it for 24 hours, I think these punishments are pretty ridiculous. I definitely wanted to speak out against that more so than the opinion of it because I respect people’s opinions to disagree.”
Whitten, keep sharing your incredible work! Read her full post on Facebook below:
This was the image that I talked about in my interview with Rebecca last week.
This was November of 2014, Fox would be hospitalized that night for salmonella poisoning [that we never figured out how he was exposed to].
Thomas had spent hours in the shower with him, trying to keep his fever down and letting the vomit and diarrhea rinse off of them both as it came.
It was a powerful moment for us as parents. Our intuition was starting to fire off that this was much more serious than just a virus but we’ve had much more experience with over reacting than not so we were trying to hold off.
As I sat in the shower with the two of them I was just overwhelmed with the scene in front of me. This man. This husband and partner and father. He was so patient and so loving and so strong with our tiny son in his lap. His whispers of reassurance to Fox, that he would be ok and that Thomas would take care of him were so steady and so honest.
Fox had always been more “my twin”. He clung to me more than Persephone did in that first year and would always choose me over Thomas for comfort. But, in this moment, he needed and wanted Thomas.
I stepped out and grabbed my camera and came back to snap a few images of it and, of course shared them. I was taken aback by how many people missed the story or didn’t even look past the nudity to find the story. They were just hung up on them both being nude and being in the shower. I had crossed a line. It was too intimate. It shouldn’t be shared publicly.
But, I disagree.
My family may be different than yours. But, that doesn’t make your way right or my way wrong. You may never take images of your family like I do… you may never share images of your family like I do. But, that doesn’t give you the right to silence my voice. To take away my right to share our experiences in an uncensored way.
There is nothing sexual or exploitative about this image. There aren’t even any “private parts” showing.
I wish I could express this all in a better way. I wish I were better spoken and not as rambling. But, this is important to me. And, I hope that one day there will be a platform that not only allows this kind of freedom for families and artists like my own… but, welcomes them without fear.