Friday, January 29, 2010

Toddlers in Tiaras: A Review

Hey ladies,
I want to apologize for being a MAJOR flake in terms of blogging responsibilities. But this one should be fun. I'm proud to present to you a review of an episode of TLC's brand new season of Toddlers in Tiaras. The program follows three contestants and their mothers as they vie for the Southern Majestic Pageant Tiara. This includes spending quality time holding dance-routine practices, shopping for prop materials, attending private pageant coaching classes, and choosing outfits (in this case in the following categorical themes: western, luau, groove, swimwear, glitz and beauty... swimwear?). Chelsea is eleven. Victoria is eight. Ariana is four.

I have always wrestled with the idea of beauty pageants. I can't find it in me to support little girls being judged this way. Beauty? Talent? Making them stand onstage in front of a crowd of people while one girl's dream comes true and ten others' are crushed? This can't be good for their self-esteem, and with kids that young you never really know what could end up leaving an emotional scar.

But don't get me wrong -- these girls are tough. Ariana, Chelsea and Victoria were all very competitive, in fact. And frankly, by the looks of the footage of them behind the scenes after having lost a category, they didn't seem to get too miffed about it. But the pageant moms were singing a different tune when it came to losses. A sinister, minor tune. After all, pageantry doesn't come cheap these days. The contestants of the Southern Majestic Pageant in North Carolina spent anywhere between $2700 and $30 000 each. The grand prize seemed to be pretty key for the moms. And it was only $750.

The problem with cash prizes is that they provide the opportunity for adults to get blindsided. It's easy to give in to children (there's no doubt they're having fun), but when you look around after dropping a thousand dollars on a dress your kid will outgrow in less than a year, you're going to be looking for reimbursement. And then the element of stress enters into what is already (arguably) a pretty shitty idea of a pastime for young girls.

Victoria, age eight, stands in front of the broad bathroom mirror practicing facial expressions. Her grandmother stands in the background, repeatedly instructing Victoria to open her eyes wider. "See how your eyes are squinty? That's what we need to fix." Victoria reaches up and opens her eyelids wider with her fingers.

Chelsea's mom is her daughter's "worst critic... I don't want to hear the good. Tell me the bad." But Chelsea, age eleven, having a blast. She spends two days beautifying (she even shaves her legs!) and says she looks "really pretty when I'm all dressed up."

At one point Ariana's mom voices a concern about the swimwear category. "I have a problem with the swimwear and two-piece suits, because, you know, creepy people... I'm mean, she's only four." Unfortunately, this narration is played over footage of Ariana getting ready for the swimwear segment (wearing a two-piece) and, even more unfortunately, they hired a professional pageant make-up artist who looked like the EPITOME. I scoured the internet for his photo, but, alas, couldn't find one.

Victoria's mom noticed her repeatedly yawning offstage while waiting for her turn to perform, which concerned her immensely "...I don't know why she's yawning... she appears to be a little bit off today, and... that's, you know, that's disappointing to me." Victoria's mom also reports deliberately keeping the financial cost of the pageants from her husband, as well as explaining the concept of "photoshop" to her daughter when Victoria questions her teeth in a headshot; "I don't get that...." Neither do we, Victoria. Neither do we.

Ariana, the youngest girl, walked away with the "Mini Supreme" title, and reportedly a $1.99 tiara, but falls just short of the cash prize. Her mother later stipulates; "you know, they really rip you off that way... It makes you wonder, is it really worth it?" When put that way, it KIND of sounds like the main focus isn't that Ariana enjoys and feels good about herself, but rather suggests that cash prizes are the main incentive.

Anyway, there's no doubt that the girls are having fun. They all did moderately well, each of them taking home at least one tiara. But of all the hobbies a young girl could have, how, as parents, could you really support that kind of activity? In this show, it seemed that money was the biggest driving factor for the parents, and that heavily affected the feedback they gave the girls. The second driving force was probably the competitive spirits of the moms, closely followed by those of the girls. Of course a little healthy competition never hurt anyone, but what kind of standards does this kind of competition set for young girls? And what kind of repercussions does it have later on in their development into young-womanhood?

I have only known two girls with pageant experience. One is very sweet, and one used to be a notorious bully throughout grade school. Obviously not all girls that participate are negatively affected, but would a young girl who has been positively affected by participation in beauty pageants feel the need to victimize other young girls? Isn't that kind of behaviour known to be an indicator of LOW self-esteem? Even if the parents' incentives are uncompromised and their only wish is for their daughter to enjoy herself, does it make this kind of activity appropriate for such young, impressionable girls, especially given the development of self-image around these ages? What do you think?



  1. It's so hard to tell as an outsider whether the child really enjoys it or if it's just the parents. I don't think I can get behind putting girls so young in pageants, it just reinforces the beauty standard from a young age and gives them the idea that their looks are what's most important about them.

    I had a friend whose mother put her in pageants when she was younger, and I don't think the pageants were the only problem there, but she had all kinds of self esteem issues. She was a bigger girl and her mom started putting her on crash diets when she was around 10 - I didn't really realize how messed up it was at the time, but I remember her coming to school and saying she could only eat one of these bars for lunch and taking pills. Sad. (Not to mention that she's putting Alex's younger sister in pageants now...)

  2. I agree with Michelle here....pageants do seem to be centered around two interlocking things: cash prize and outward beauty. If you are the best-looking person, or at least the most outwardly-suited to the judges critiques, you will win the prize.

    To me, the concept of the "best" person winning the prize is an unhealthy one no matter what the judging critique is --- particularly when it's being made such a media fuss over (i.e. I'd still think it was pretty unhealthy to have a bunch of young girls do some reality show on who was the best artist) for the reason that it creates this feeling of hierarchy at a very young age.

    Obviously, we do live in a world where there is some sort of hierarchy in almost all subject areas. There are certain singers, painters, ecologists, models, teachers, etc who have been publically recognized as "better" or "best" ....but I don't know if that's the healthiest thing to begin emphasizing at such a YOUNG age.

    And, in this case in particular, as Michelle identified, it does reinforce a standard of outward beauty rather than any other talent that can be developed by individual motivation and effort. (Though, I suppose someone COULD potentially argue that an individual could motivate themself to do their makeup prestiguslouy, or to pay for plastic surgery...)

    It also seems like it's very probable that the moms are living vicariously through their daughters, placing a lot of undue pressure there...But, yes. Long story short. I don't think it's a good idea.


  3. Many pageant moms try to sell their dresses on ebay after their child is in the pageant. Many moms buy "shells" (pageant dresses that are not decorated) and put the rhinestones on themselves to save money. A glitz pageant dress is hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars, and a "shell" is about 20.00. The rhinestones are pretty inexpensive too, a few dollars for a thousand of them.

    It is reality TV. The television producers intentionally pick people who are crazy. Are your college age children all like the people on Real World? No. They are not.

    Not all moms are trying to live through their daughters.