It didn’t take long for the story about the Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County refusing a donation from the “Tattooed Hippie Pirate Mommas” group to make national news. The group, a loose confederation of mothers with tattoos, piercings, and personalities that are “a little more loud,” raised $3,000 for the non-profit by publishing a pin-up calendar in which its members posed for photos that showed off their tattoos and bodies. When they offered that donation to the CACDC, however, the organization declined, stating in an email to the group that “due to the highly conservative nature of our organization, we are going to have to respectfully decline being one of your beneficiaries.” 

This outraged members of the group, who felt like it was a slight against their individualism (“What they’re saying is ‘we don’t want money from you tattooed freaks,’ one member posted on Facebook), and after the Dallas Observer picked up on the controversy, the CACDC issued a longer statement, explaining the decision more fully: 

The Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County appreciated the generous offer made by the Tattooed Hippie Pirate Mommas organization; however, the money was raised with a pin up calendar that could be perceived by some as sexual in nature and our Children’s Advocacy Center’s mission is to provide justice and healing for children who are the victims of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, we could not accept the proceeds of this pin up calendar’s sales because of the calendar’s possible perception, and not the hard working mothers who sponsored it.

It wasn’t the tattoos and piercings that turned them off, in other words—it was the sexy pictures. An organization that fights exploitation didn’t want to risk the perception that they’re funded by exploitation. It’s a more reasonable position, at least generally, in that it doesn’t reject the Mommas because of the same stereotypes that led them to form the group in the first place. 

But what gets lost in the controversy over the rejection of the donation is a bigger question about the nature of exploitation. There’s an argument to be made that certain types of pinup calendars are exploitative. The 2014 calendar from, say, Austin-based restaurant chain Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill features women who work for tips in the service industry and is published by a man who can’t necessarily relate to being in a position where he’s getting paid to not wear much clothing. The models in that, or the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders calendar 2014, feature women whose conventional beauty is treated as a commodity by men. But that’s not the situation with that Tattooed Hippie Pirate Mommas, who published the calendar themselves, arranged the photo shoots on their own, and featured women with rather more diverse bodies than those employed by Bikinis.

The body types that appear in the Tattooed Hippie Pirate Mommas calendar aren’t commodified as sex objects as frequently as those of the Bikinis servers or the Cowboys cheerleaders. Indeed, the Mamas’ photos remind viewers that the lived-in bodies of women who are mothers are every bit as capable of being sexual as those that have been airbrushed to perfection. And it’s a pretty satisfying screw-you to deliver that message in the form of a calendar. 

To put it plainly, there’s a world of difference between the commodification of women’s bodies in calendars published by men, and subverting that commodification in a calendar published by the very people who posed for the pictures.

But it’s a nuance that might be hard for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Denton County to properly explain if, say, some of their larger donors failed to grasp the distinction. The CACDC’s mission is to serve children who need help, and if they’re concerned about their ability to raise money to fulfill that mission, it’s hard to fault them for being overcautious. 

In any case, both groups seem keen to put this behind them now. The Tattooed Hippie Pirate Mommas Facebook page indicates that they’ve spoken, and the next time they meet, they’ll be on the same page: 

I just fielded a call from Dan at CACDC. He wanted to personally apologize for the way they reacted to the news of our donation offer. We dislike the negative publicity this caused both of our causes and are moving forward. Dan invited us to work with the center in the future, and it will be our great pleasure to do so.

Both groups have worthwhile missions, and it’ll be nice to see them dovetail in the future.