Thursday, February 04, 2010

Contributing to the problem

or, That's a right good question there, Grammy:

Toddlers & Tiaras is so gross it fails even to be a guilty pleasure for me. Parading preschoolers in front of judges while wearing strapless ballgowns and hairpieces and fake teeth and spray tans is at best a demonstration of poor priorities (beauty is important!) and at worst an attempt by the pageant mom (or pageant grandma... or pageant great-grandma) to use their children to attempt to recapture their own fleeting moment of the past. Before I married your father and had you kids and gained all this weight and gave up my dreams, I could have been someone!

But I watched tonight because my niece was featured.

For my poor mother's sake, I'm glad that Gracie was but a bit player in the episode. Grammy is supportive of her granddaughter, of course, but she doesn't buy in to the pageant scene. "Why would they put all that makeup on those little girls?" she speculates.

Why, indeed. I first became aware of this whole phenomenon around the time JonBenet Ramsey disappeared and even back then I was aghast at the whole thing. I never could understand why any parent would want to make his or her little girl look like a teenage beauty queen, with in many cases the accompanying suggestive outfits. (And I'd love to know what those little girls' fathers think of such a spectacle. I have a feeling I know what at least one father would think.)

Honestly, is there any GOOD reason to be putting a five-year-old in high heels and a swimsuit, with enough makeup on her to outfit the entire Dallas Cowboy cheerleading squad? I'm more than a bit ambivalent on the whole concept of beauty pageants anyway, as they put entirely too much emphasis on looks and seem to disregard almost completely the intellect. (That's the last thing we need to be doing with young girls, especially those at that age considering how impressionable they are.) But this, this is a whole new level of disgusting. There are a lot of people who say this is borderline child pee-oh-are-en, and to be honest I can't disagree with that. It should be noted that (and I have Sabra to thank for reminding me of this) dressing children this way was once considered a warning sign of sexual abuse. And even if it isn't so much any more (and I'm not willing to let those who dress their kids like this completely off the hook), I refuse to believe the mentality nurtured in these pageants is not responsible for things like this. If you're going to sexualize toddlers this way, then you shouldn't be surprised if they carry it on as they get older. I would be very, very interested to see if any of those pageant kids from a few years ago are going to be wanting items from that clothing line -- and what their parents say to their demands for it.

While I would hesitate to level accusations of abuse at the parents of these kids, they're still not doing their little girls any favors. I've seen people here and there defend it by saying "the girls WANT to do this," and I think, "well, if those girls wanted to eat Nerds for breakfast, Snickers bars for lunch and Hershey's Kisses for supper, would it be okay if the parents indulged that too?" I suppose you could probably say this is another example of a parent wanting to be the child's friend instead of the parent.

And if all of that wasn't bad enough, how about this?
On one episode, a little girl won...and she burst out into tears. But these tears weren't tears of joy. Little Bella cried because she was relieved she won back the money the family spent for the pageant. Poor little Bella, who is five years old, was worried about the money. When a Kindergarten age child feels the weight of the family finances on her shoulders because of a beauty pageant, it's not fun anymore.

No, it really isn't. If you wanted to you could call it child abuse. Harsh? Maybe, but there's no good reason for a five-year-old girl to have the family's financial well-being riding on her shoulders -- and no good reason for TLC (or anyone else) to be enabling that sort of thing.