A participant in the audience analysis of the TLC reality program “Toddlers & Tiaras” provided this response when asked what she learned from the show, “I think this show is a great example of reality television. There isn’t much to be learned from it – it is all about the drama and gaining more viewers.”
Although she makes an excellent point, much can be learned from the behavior of the people who participate in the show.
Each episode of TLC’s “Toddlers & Tiaras” follows three young beauty contestants as they prepare for a particular pageant.The contestants’ coaches, usually their mothers, work on their routines and fit them for costumes that can cost upwards of a thousand dollars.Although an occasional father serves as coach or gopher, most fathers appear only on the periphery: They materialize to cheer on their children during pageants or to fund the enterprise.One mother encourages her 3-year-old daughter to plead with Daddy to give them all his money for pageants, which sends the message men happily but ignorantly hand over their hard-earned money to manipulative women who obviously learn such sneaky tactics at a young age.
Many mothers depicted on the show fit the pageant mom stereotype of overweight, middle age women who live vicariously through their daughters.However, younger smaller-sized moms also exist in the pageant universe.Regardless of their body shapes or ages, every mom obsesses over the costumes as well as the makeup, tanning, hair extensions, and fake teeth (flippers) that will transform their pretty daughters into almost unrecognizable glamour queens.
After all, one must pay a price for beauty.The parents pay with their wallets. Expenses for entry fees, costumes, beauty regiments, photographs, stylists, and coaches accumulate.The young contestants also pay.They frequently express terror at the sight of the tanning spray and must be coaxed into taking part in a practice that has become routine for the full-glitz pageants. On one episode, after a mother complains about her daughter’s hairstyle, the stylist teases the child’s hair so angrily the girl cries. In another infamous episode, a 5-year-old child screams as her mother forces her to endure eyebrow waxing.
Once the children have morphed into mini-Miss Americas, they take to the stage where adult strangers judge them on their appearance.The contestants also perform talent routines.One 10-year-old shows off her contortionist skills.After she practices her program, which is not unlike a carnival act, she complains of a headache.Her mother reminds her that the routine always gives her a headache.During an interview at the pageant, the girl brags that her talent probably shocks the judges and the audience.
They should be shocked, not only at her talent, but at the little girls who wear seductive clothing and dance suggestively in pursuit of a crown.Some parents describe pageants as a sport, but that’s a way to deflect criticism and compare pageants to Little League.In Little League, they keep score based on runs.In pageants, they keep score based on twirls and hair height.
TLC interviews parents and contestants as they await results.No matter the episode, the parents and contestants repeat a variation of the same nervous mantra, “I want (her) to win.”Pageants allegedly breed self-confidence, but that’s difficult to believe when you see anxious little girls plastering fake smiles on their faces as they hope to hear their numbers called.
Of course, the bratty little divas do not lack for confidence.They’re pageant moms-in training and make snide comments that sound like they’re coming from an adult instead of a toddler.Just when you wonder who makes this children, a mom says physical beauty will help you achieve more in life and adds, “Mass murderers on trial for killing thousands of people…it’s hard for society to convict somebody’s who’s really attractive.”
Pageants moms like the one mentioned above did not fare well in the audience analysis of “Toddlers & Tiaras.”Indeed, words such as “crazed,” “obsessed,” and “narcissist” were used to describe the moms.
Of the 14 people who participated in an audience analysis, 12 (85 percent) were female, and 13 (93 percent) expressed negative reactions to the show.Thirteen members (93 percent) of the group comprised a Media Criticism class while 1 person (7 percent) is employed at a private university and is also the mother of a toddler.
Those surveyed conveyed concern for the manner in which the show presents
gender roles including the controlling mothers and invisible fathers.One group member wrote, “The show tells us that girls should focus on beauty and winning and look to men (dad) to pick up the bill.Mothers push and nag until they get what they want.”
Group participants also addressed the way gender roles relate to the female contestants.Most believed the show seemingly values beauty over intellect and other attributes and sends the message girls must attain physical perfection. One individual wrote, “It teaches little girls that their worth in their looks; that they should concentrate on their appearance and not their education/intelligence or personality. Those attributes (along with everything else) take a back-seat to being ‘beautiful.’”
Although the show’s lone supporter in the group did not think the costumes sexualize the children, writing, “I think it is wonderful that these girls have to guts to get on stage and perform and have the confidence to do this,” most others group members disagreed. One participant noted, “The routines that the children gyrate to are akin to stripper performances.”
Group members also focused on other aspects of the show including the rivalry among contestants – “The girls are taught from an early age that every girl they meet is a competitor, not a friend” – as well as how, in their opinions, pageants steal the contestants’ childhoods.
Last September, Maddy, a 4-year-old contestant on the show dressed as Dolly Parton.TLC promoted Maddy’s performance with this release, “Maddy has a secret weapon: an outrageous Dolly Parton costume complete with fake boobs and all!”One week later, 3-year-old Paisley dressed as Vivian, the prostitute Julia Roberts played in “Pretty Woman” (Mazzulo, 2011).
The “Pretty Woman” costume sparked controversy among pageant moms and a feud between Paisley and 5-year-old Isabella, who accused Paisley of stealing her tanning style (Canning and Behrendt, 2012).
Pageant parents profiled on the show make snide, yet subtle, comments about one another all the while raving about the friendships their children have fostered on the pageant circuit.The children mimic their behavior.In one episode, 7-year-old Karmen boasted, “babies can’t beat me,” which calls to mind the “no other girl is your friend” ideology (Grosaru, 2011).
Before taking to the stage, the girls take part in an extensive beauty regiment, but it’s not just girls on “Toddlers & Tiaras” who are interested in beauty products. “According to the market research firm Experian, 43 percent of 6-to-9-year-olds are already using lipstick or lip gloss; 38 percent use hairstyling products; and 12 percent use other cosmetics” (Bennett, 2009).
However, there is a difference between a child experimenting with makeup and a 5-year-old being forced to endure a procedure that leaves her screaming in pain, all in the name of enhancing her looks.After “Toddlers & Tiaras” filmed a mother forcing her hysterical daughter to have her eyebrow’s waxed, Tom Rogan, a producer for the show, defended the mother and added, “pageant parents believe strongly that having their child being successful in pageants is a stepping stone to a good life.They learn values from that, discipline from that, they get a sense of self-esteem and self-worth” (Dawn, 2001).
Do young pageant contestants gain a sense of self-esteem?Or, as members of the audience analysis suggested, do they lose their childhoods?Do they gain self-worth?Or do they learn to value beauty over other attributes, distrust females, and view men as nothing more than walking wallets?What’s more, how much responsibility should “Toddlers & Tiaras” bear for presenting these gender stereotypes?
When I started this project I had never watched the program.What I saw annoyed and angered me, and I blamed the program for perpetuating the aforementioned stereotypes.By the time I finished the project, I had decided “Toddlers & Tiaras” was not the villain.I have no doubt it exploits the families and manipulates their stories, but I’m glad it’s exposing the pageant world.If mothers are dressing their toddlers as movie prostitutes and waxing their hysterical 5-year-old’s eyebrows, all in the name of winning a crown, I’m glad somebody’s getting it on tape.
Bennett, J. (2009) Generation Diva. How our obsession with beauty is changing our kids. Newsweek.
Canning, A., and Behrendt, T. (2012) ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ competitor Isabella Barrett, 5, criticizes 3-year-old rival for wearing hooker costume. Retrieved March 3, 2012 from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/entertainment/2012/01/toddlers-tiaras-competitor-isabella-barrett-5-criticizes-3-year-old-rival-for-wearing-hooker-costume/
Dawn, R. (2011) Toddlers & Tiaras producer explains pageant moms. Retrieved March 3, 2012 from http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/41302280/ns/today entertainment/t/toddlers-tiaras-producer-explains-pageant-moms/#.T1J3IXlEL8E
Grosaru, L. (2011) Toddlers and children beauty pageants – Risk factors for severe psychological turmoils. Psychology Corner. Retrieved March 3, 2012 from
Mazzulo, Y. (2011) Toddlers and Tiaras has gone too far. Retrieved March 3, 2012 from http://www.examiner.com/women-s-issues-in-national/toddlers-and-tiaras-has-gone-too-far
Toddlers in Tiaras The topic of child beauty pageants has always been a controversial and interesting topic, insignificant to some, and worrisome to many. Write Skip Hollandsworth falls into the latter category; he writes in an article published originally in magazine Good Housekeeping in October of 2011 that “developmental and emotional problems can stem from the pressure and value system that pageants embody” and that the behavior encouraged by these pageants is leading to increasingly sexual behavior in girls far too young to display these behaviors. Initially and throughout the article I had similar sentiments and opinions towards the concept of beauty pageants for children, and the article gave me a stronger ground to stand on. Through the clever implementation and masterful use of countless anecdotes and other emotional appeals to the audience, Hollandsworth easily manages to inform the audience of the damaging effects of child beauty pageants and convinces them to hold a negative point of view towards the practice. Hollandsworth begins his article with the introduction of a meta-narrative that he will continue throughout the article, telling about a young girl about to enter into a beauty pageant and how her mother