No one's ever done a study of creepiness. I thought I'd change that.
That which frightens us also makes us laugh. That this is so is most obvious when you see someone laughing on a roller coaster, but this is more generally true as well. There is a tension release mechanism that applies both to comedy and to horror. What makes something creepy is the inability to decide whether something is safe (laughter) or dangerous (horror); it is lack of information, usually, that leads one into creepiness.
In American society, creepiness almost always involves an element of sex. I think this is because creepiness suggests we might have information we shouldn't, that we've stumbled upon something secret that should be kept private.
Here's some examples. I think the information I give after each photo lessens the creepiness.
This is my current favorite. Is this infantilizing a woman? Is it sexualizing childhood?
Here's what the original source says:
"By photographing exclusively Russian immigrant women in traditional
pin-up poses, Irina Davis is inventing her own genre of Russian pin-up.
The concept is to portray pure beauty, femininity and sexuality, Irina
is telling the story of a crisis of Russian national identity, and the
frustration and confusion of self-identification with the Old Country,
the New World. Her goal is to bridge the gap and seduce the spectator
with alluring imagery, trapping him into empathizing with a foreign
Just what are we looking at here?
Annie unwillingly became a brief internet celebrity. She had to wait until she stopped growing before she could have breast reduction surgery and her breasts grew unusually large. This is just a photo of a teenager playing with a small child - anything else you read into it is your problem.
Is this exploiting an anorexic?
This is part of a serious work of art by Ivonne Thein. She used Photoshop to make a model look emaciated; it's supposed to be horrifying. The fact that we can't see the face is dehumanizing (also, the technique she used doesn't work well on faces), the picture is intentionally harshly lit and with washed-out colors, to make it even more grim. Personally, I don't think it works; I've seen people this thin and they don't look like this. The reality is much worse.
Lastly, here's one that I don't think is sexual at all.
Ella Harper was a sideshow performer in the 1880's. She had an extreme case of hypermobile knee joints, which is a fairly common condition that could even then be prevented and treated by common medical practices. She quit the sideshow after a few years and seems to have led a relatively normal life thereafter, though records are hard to come by.
Happy Valentine's Day!