The TV show Toddlers and Tiaras encourages child abuse. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary abuse is: “improper or excessive use or treatment.” Toddlers and Tiaras is a show based on mothers using their children and treating them like dolls instead of humans. The tiny tots on this show have become famous for their scandalous outfits and routines. We cannot blame the children as many of them are too young to understand the negative responses. From a young age these children are being exposed to an overly sexualized media and then encouraged to participate in it. These girls spend each weekend and most of every day either preparing for or competing in competitions that they may not want to be a part of. They don’t have a say in whether or not they want to compete and often times their mother are the ones pushing them into pageants. The show starts with an introduction to the families that are chosen for this particular week.
Each family is filmed in their own home and they take the viewer through their pageant routine. This episode starts with a mother saying, “I didn’t get to do this stuff when I was little so I think I am living my dreams through my daughter.” The daughter then says, “I like pageants because my mamma says so.” The mother is taking away her daughter’s freedom of choosing an activity that she enjoys. For a show titled about the children, the mothers get most of the attention. After home tours the families show off their pageant attire. One family even showed the dress fitting for their newest gown. Some of the most disturbing parts of Toddlers and Tiaras are the promiscuous costumes, which include: a mother dressing her daughter, Maddy, as Dolly Parton, complete with fake “assets,” or two-year-old Mia complete with Madonna’s cone bra, and finally three-year-old Paisley as the prostitute Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman. Paisley wore knee-high black leather boots and a revealing top and skirt and pranced around the stage as people simultaneously clapped and looked on in horror.
Spray tan and fake eyelashes are one thing but once you dress your kid as an iconic prostitute even Julia Roberts would be appalled. These children don’t know who most of the people that they are portraying are. Their mothers on the other hand know exactly who they are and how people will react to a certain costume. They are setting their children up to have a bad reputation. At three years old these innocent girls are being brought into the spot light by their selfish mothers. However, it is eight-year-old Britney who takes the cake when it comes to being “over-sexualized.”She receives regular Botox injections from her mother before pageants. Are these parents really worried about wrinkles on the face of a girl that doesn’t even have acne yet? When did it become socially acceptable for toddlers to look and act like a twenty, thirty or even forty-year-old woman? Most every little girl wants to feel like a princess, but I doubt any of them want to be a prostitute, nor do they know what a prostitute is. Even when the outfits are age appropriate, the children never have a say in choosing their attire.
A contestant locked herself in the bathroom because she refused to wear a certain dress. These parents spend hundreds of dollars on these dresses; the children should at least enjoy wearing them. Children should be playing with dolls not being one. These children have no say in what they are doing. They are being led by parents that force them into costumes and parade them on stage for their own enjoyment. These parents are in it to win it, whether or not their child wants to compete is another story. They are so focused on using their children to accomplish their own goals that they often end up forcing their child to compete. Along with showing their glamorous wardrobe the families bring the viewer along to the salon for the next step in preparing for a pageant. In preparation for these sleazy outfits, the children are put through a grooming ritual many adults have never braved. This includes spray tanning, buying fake teeth, known as flippers in the pageant world, hair extensions, manicures, waxing and pounds of makeup. One mom went as far as forcing her screaming five year old into getting her eyebrows waxed.
This was not her first experience with waxing; she had her skin ripped off during a previous session. This mother saw beauty as being more important than her own daughters comfort. Two pageant moms admitted that they make their daughters follow strict diets of 1600 calories per day. Forcing children into diets when they are already at a healthy weight can cause those children to turn to eating disorders later in life. “You don’t get as good of a score if your dress doesn’t fit good,” says the mother of 8-year-old contestant, Ever Rose. It is one thing to teach your child healthy eating but when the sole reason is to fit into a certain size dress it has gone too far. Children are growing and as they age they will need larger clothing. Another mom decided to dye her daughter’s eyelashes. Even after her daughter begged her to stop because her eyes were burning the mother insisted on continuing the process. She gave her daughter a chemical burn that could have blinded her but she looked past that just to make sure her child was beautiful. When appearance comes second to safety there is a real issue.
Most grown women don’t dye their eyelashes so why would you dye a 9-year-olds? This same mom also bleached her children’s teeth. The worst part is that the dyeing and bleaching of children is all done under the same roof as the book “7 Worst things a Parent Can Do.” Clearly that book has never been opened. The pain that these children are put through for fifteen minutes on stage is just disgusting. They are being transformed into Barbie’s for their mothers to play with. These mother’s practically ruin their kids childhood, and for what, approval of their child’s beauty from three random people? The families are seen at the start of their pageant day with tired children’s hair in hot rollers and many tears on their faces. Parents like to call their children’s tantrums “Diva Moments.” These children are tired and are in no mood to sit still in a chair for an hour to get their hair pulled and their faces pressed with makeup. The children are sent into hair and make-up that can take up to three hours.
“For children as young as the age of one to be forced to sit still for such great lengths borders on child abuse as parents do not take into account the welfare of their children”(Nussbaum). A significant part of their day is spent on preparation. After each outfit they must change their hair style and touch up make-up which is another hour at least. After their competition routines are finished they change back into their formal gowns, which also includes a hair change and yet another round of make-up for crowning. These children are on stage for all of fifteen minutes the whole day but endure hours of hair pulling and make-up application. During pageants, these kids are still just kids and their parent should realize this. In return to their children’s tantrums these parents scold their kids. A child who is crying because she is tired gets yelled at for being uncooperative.
A child acting out because they are exhausted and uncomfortable is a natural instinct, so why would it be any different when they are in a pageant? The most appalling part is that the tantrums don’t just stem from tired tots. The mothers can be added into the mix. One mother threw her daughter’s crown across the room after she won princess. She cursed and said it was a joke; being princess was equivalent to losing. Rather than supporting her daughter and showing her how proud she was, she stole her daughter’s prize and gave her a lesson on how not to behave. I can’t think of any worse punishment then telling your child they weren’t good enough after they just completed something they didn’t even want to do. To avoid these meltdowns during the pageant, the mothers have resorted to giving their children “go go juice” and “pageant crack.”
Go go juice is anything from soda to energy drinks such as Red Bull and pageant crack is pure sugar. “Additional calories from energy-drink consumption may increase blood pressure, blood glucose levels, BMI, calcium deficiency, dental problems, depression, and low self-esteem. Sugar and caffeine may also synergistically increase postprandial hyperglycemia, which is of concern for children with diabetes” (Gamble). These children that are already being judged on appearance are being given a substance that may cause depression and low self-esteem. Talk about adding fuel to the flame. Many moms use pixie sticks to boost their child’s energy level during competition. Everyone gets tired but is filling your child with sugar really the best way to get them to perform? They have their worst moments televised for the world to see.
What mother would allow such embarrassment for their child? Even if the child was just having an off day, all the viewers see the child as a spoiled brat. Their reputation is tarnished by their parents, and they are too young to even realize it. Over the course of the pageant, many phrases such as, “don’t you dare embarrass me,” can be heard. As contestants and parents wait in the wings the children are reminded of how they should perform. When a child starts to cause a scene backstage the parents become more concerned with their own embarrassment instead of the child’s needs. The child is told to do well for their mamma, and then they are pushed onstage to compete. They are not only vying for the judge’s approval but also for their parents’. Once onstage, the children do their routines while their families stands in front of the stage showing them what their next move is. The routine is more about how well they can copy their mother instead of showing off their own talents.
Once again, the mothers are using their children so that they can stand out. Most parents feel that their child is a reflection of themselves, but when they do everything in your power to create a reflection it has gone too far. They have crossed the line of shaping your child into a respectful and kind human being and turned them into clones. These mothers mold their children so that everyone will see their child as a replica of them. As crowning starts tensions are high. Mothers sit anxiously in the audience while their children wait stone faced. Once onstage, the confusion begins. For the first round the goal is not to get called, meaning you are eligible for a higher title. If the child is not called, then the waiting game starts again. The parents stare at the stage waiting for their child’s name to be called so that they can collect the trophy that they have worked so hard for.
The children seem delighted with their prize, but the parents are almost disappointed that they didn’t win the top title. Why can’t these parents be content that their child is happy rather than be upset that they didn’t get the award that they wanted? These mothers are using their children so that they can feel like they accomplished something. They do pageants for themselves and are unable of focusing on their child’s enjoyment. When the child loses the parents vow to spend more money on coaching and better dresses.
They keep trying to push a square peg in a round hole instead of finding an activity their child can excel at. They refuse to let their child be who they want to be, which is damaging to the child and may cause issues as the child ages. They have no appreciation for anything other than physical beauty and have a false sense of identity. The need for the child to win this particular competition is incredible. Why don’t the parents just spend more time with their child? Let the child find out what they enjoy instead of sculpting them into something they will never be. This would be more affective than simply finding a new activity, because it would allow the child to explore and feel in control of their life.
After the pageant is over what happens? Many children will face psychological problems which may grow into disorders as they age. In a study done by Anna Wonderlich, it was discovered that there was, “a significant association between childhood beauty pageant participation and increased body dissatisfaction, difficulty trusting interpersonal relationships, and greater impulsive behaviors, and indicate a trend toward increase feelings of ineffectiveness” (Wnderlich,296). These children grow up in an atmosphere where superficial is the new normal. They add so many fake items to make themselves acceptable for a pageant that it may lead to fake items being used to create a false identity. They make a connection between beauty and winning. There is a sense that beauty is how you get what you want. There is so much pressure put on these children to perform that they equate performance to how they should act all of the time.
The line between role playing and identity becomes blurred and the pageant reputation wins out when choosing how to behave. They are constantly around competitive mothers and adopt a judgmental attitude towards the other competitors and towards people in general. Since they compete for most beautiful they may judge other people on their beauty. The winners of these competitions often feel superior in comparison to other people and this feeling of power over others can lead to bullying. These young girls contract self-esteem issues from the constant battle of trying to be the best. They are constantly reminded that they need to be the best and that they need to be better than the other girls to win. They may also feel inferior from not winning and think they cannot succeed in life because they can’t win a competition.
Another problem is physically- based concept of beauty which has the possibility of turning girls to eating disorders to uphold that physical beauty. Depression may also arise because of the need to feel beautiful and not being able to fulfill that need. These pageants teach the competitors that there is only one mold of what is beautiful and that individuality is frowned upon. A unique sense of style or an odd talent is wrong. The girls are expected to conform to what is mainstream so that they can win.
On top of the many mental games this competition puts children through they also form a dependency on others to make decisions for them. Since their mothers usually make all of the choices when they are younger they may grow up to be passive and submissive. This passiveness is not only for decision-making but they also look to their mothers to measure their worth as the judges do during pageants. These mothers are raising their children to have a hard time fitting into society. By not allowing these children to figure out how to do things for themselves they are enabling them and showing them that they don’t need to work out their own problems.
Using the definition of abuse from Merriam Webster dictionary: “improper or excessive use or treatment,” it is clear Toddlers and Tiaras does encourage abuse. The parents on this show use their children to satisfy their own childhood dreams. They are pushing their children into a competition they are not capable of understanding and take away the crucial developmental stage of making friends and sharing toys. The children are so busy trying to beat out the other girls in their division that there is no way to develop a friendship. The children’s meltdowns are aired to the public and the parents are instilling a false sense of identity in their children. These children are being set up to fail because they missed out on most, if not all, of the key moments in childhood. Toddlers and Tiaras Captures the worst moments of the pageant world and highlights the most outrageous competitors and families.
Nussbaum, Kareen. “Children and Beauty Pageants.” Children and Beauty Pageants. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2012. <http://www.minorcon.org/pageants.html>. Wonderlich, Anna. “Childhood Beauty Pageant Contestants: Associations with Adult Disordered Eating and Mental Health.” Eating Disorders 13.3 (2005): 291-301. Gamble, Kate. “Red Bull Gives Kids More than Wings.” Red Bull Gives Kids More than Wings. HCP Live, 16 Feb. 2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2012. <http://www.hcplive.com/pop-medicine/Red-Bull-Gives-Kids-More-than-Wings>. TLC: Toddlers and Tiaras
Courtney from Study Moose
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