I have to admit that I was not particularly upset when network television dropped the Miss America Pageant because of low ratings, and this annual parade of beauties with frozen smiles and wide eyes had to find a new broadcaster, first signing with Country Music Television (CMT) and then with TLC (it has dropped its original name — The Learning Channel).
Perhaps I should not be surprised that TLC will continue to televise the Miss America Pageant (last year it was broadcast from the Las Vegas Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino) and also has a hit reality show that features beauty pageant queens in the making — "Toddlers & Tiaras."
Posting its highest rating on July 9 with the second season premiere, "Toddler & Tiaras" helped TLC's ratings "sizzle" with "growth across multiple demographics," according to tvbythenumbers.com. But what is the fascination with a reality show that forces little girls mainly, though there are some boys, to conform to an adult standard of beauty and sexuality?
I have come to the conclusion that people watch "Toddlers & Tiaras" for one of two reasons: the first is to see the transformation of innocent and beautiful little girls into sexy miniature divas, and the second is to watch the parents, particularly the moms, live vicariously through their daughters.
What would possess a mother, and in some cases a father, to tease a 4-year-old daughter's hair into a bird nest the size of a beach ball and then after adding extensions lacquer the creation with hairspray?
That would probably be the same parent who would spray paint a tan on a 6-year old so she will look more "natural" in the swim suit competition. Parents are cautioned not to overdue the phony tan, which is more orange than tan, because contestants can lose points.
For the perfect smile, diminutive beauty queens must have perfect teeth. That can be a problem in childhood when kids begin losing baby teeth and have obvious holes in their grins. Or perhaps the child has crooked permanent teeth but is too young for braces. The solution is false teeth — a plastic beaming smile.
For alluring eyes, eye shadow and mascara can be heavily applied, and eyebrows can be plucked and drawn in. False eye lashes can flutter for the judges. Lips can be painted and made to look plumper. The face becomes that of an adult woman, often times a sexy, seductive woman.
In a report by Andrea Canning and Deborah Apton for ABC News, Annette Hill, the owner of Universal Royalty, which runs the Texas State Beauty Pageant in Austin, states, "We like all the glamour, we like the rhinestones, we like the sequins, we like the big beautiful hair." Hill's beauty pageants have been featured on TLC.
Talent competition requires dance routines and bizarre costumes to catch the judges' eyes. The moves are choreographed with poses of coquettish flirtation and attire more often appropriate for a Vegas show girl.
Mothers, armed with fake hair, fake teeth, and fake tans, are creating little fake adults of their children. The website for "Toddler & Tiara" states that the show "follows families on their quest for sparkly crowns, big titles, and lots of cash."
Obviously some children enjoy getting dressed up and performing for judges, but others are doing it because the parents want them to. The stage moves don't come naturally to many of the children, but the mothers are there, standing in the back behind the judges going through the walking and dance routines with almost as much camera time focused on them as the children on stage.
It's really about the parents. Mickie Wood, a former beauty pageant queen, told her daughter Eden, "We have to be perfect!" The camera picked up the line, and TLC used it in the show. Wood, in the article by Canning and Apton, defended the Vegas style outfit for her daughter: "She's covered everywhere. When I think of a showgirl I think of a beautiful glamorous woman. It's old Hollywood and not sexualizing my child."
It could be argued that TLC's "Toddlers & Tiaras" is a training ground for its Las Vegas version of Miss America. Both shows exist because of ratings, basically to sell soap or cars or whatever the American public is convinced to buy.
The American Psychological Association on its website published its 2007 Report of the Task Force on Sexualization of Girls which stated the following: "When children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them." Why, as a culture, are we making little girls sexy and teaching them that their worth is based on their appearance?
ABOUT THE WRITER
Carol Jensen is a long-time Barstow resident, graduating from Kennedy High School and Barstow College, where she was an English instructor for many years. Much of her time now is spent writing political and social commentary. She may be contacted at email@example.com.