By Laura Sierra
For all those who have watched Toddlers and Tiaras on TLC, it is evident that this controversial show exploits young girls into acting and dressing a certain way in order to rise to the expectations of the competitive pageant life. With the stresses and pressures from judges, other competitors, and especially their parents, these girls develop unhealthy concepts of appearances and maturity levels that are inappropriate for children their age. From little girls wearing fake teeth and butt pieces to walking on stage with skimpy outfits, it is beyond anyone to understand how TLC could allow such performances and child abuse to be viewed by millions on The Learning Channel.
When watching Toddlers and Tiaras from the comfort of your home, one can’t help but notice how much these girls go through to exceed pageant expectations. Girls as young as four get spray tanning, waxing, false eyelashes, layers of make-up, and hair extensions in order to ‘beautify’ themselves for these events. Families spend up to thousands of dollars on training, costumes, makeovers, and, on top of that, travel expenses to bring these girls on stage. Granted, those who make it all the way to the top with awards can win money and prizes, but is this price worth paying to sexualize and corrupt the idea of body image for young girls? Behind all that goes on, it is not the judges or even the program that aires this to blame for, but rather the Parents (mothers especially) who push their children for this, dressing them up and creating this false expectation that this is how a women should grow up to be. Jessica Bennett, in her Newsweek article “Generation Diva: How our obsession with beauty is changing our kids“, refers to a passage by social critic Susie Orbach:
“In Susie Orbach’s new book, “Bodies,” the former therapist to Princess Diana argues that good looks and peak fitness are no longer a biological gift, but a ceaseless pursuit. And obsession at an early age, she says, fosters a belief that these are essential components of who we are—not, as she puts it, ‘lovely add-ons.’ It primes little girls to think they should diet and dream about the cosmetic-surgery options available to them, and it makes body the primary place for self-identity.”
This passage speaks the truth about many pageant girls, and the sad reality is that the negative effects will only continue to mark these children as they grow older. Although this cannot be generalized for ALL pageant girls, it is apparent that the lengths taken and the image the little girls set up for themselves on-stage cannot be deemed as ‘morally correct’, considering how vulnerable and influenced these girls can be before they enter their pre-teen years. Justin O’Neil, in his Scholastic Scope article, “Should 4-Year-Olds Be Beauty Queens?”, writes the following:
“Perhaps more seriously, some believe that beauty pageants send the damaging message that appearance is the most important thing about a person. Critics also worry that instead of celebrating individuality, pageants encourage girls to change their looks to fit narrow, invented standards of beauty. There is concern as well over the way contestants imitate the fashions and behaviors of adult celebrities, strutting across the stage in short skirts and revealing dresses.”
In today’s society, this can only be considered the ‘norm’ for pageant girls alike, and besides the obvious sexualization of young girls taking place on stage, we have this being aired to millions of viewers across North America on TLC. This channel was once known for its educational value back when it established itself in the 1980s, playing shows such as Paleoworld and A Baby’s World that had learning purposes that benefitted the public. Over the years, though, it began to change its original demographic and aimed to appeal to a broader audience by moving away from their original roots and focusing on a more obscene, intellectually substandard type of television. Now on TLC, there all types of shows that follow the weirdest of stories in America, whether it be mental health in shows such as My Strange Addiction or bizarre and controversial marriages such as Sister Wives. Even though this channel has received its fair share of criticism by its switch to appeal to a different type of demographic, no one can deny the awe some of the channel’s shows leave you with and the leering factor it has created in gaining its extremely high rates in television.
By broadcasting Toddlers and Tiaras, TLC is promoting the opposite of educating the public, but rather gaining a greater audience for the sake of advertising and entertainment that to some extent makes fun of the American culture. Proof of this is in TLC’s latest addition, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a reality show that focuses on the life and family of beauty pageant participant Alana Thompson, aka Honey Boo Boo, who was originally discovered for her crazy antics in Toddlers and Tiaras. People magazine published an article back in 2011 on the controversy headlining ‘Gone Too Far?’, concerning the outrage the “Costumes, Tantrums and Pushy Moms” has caused some viewers. TLC’s executive vice president and general manager, Amy Winter, defended TLC’s part in a People magazine article, saying:
“Some of the costumes the families come up with may be deemed inappropriate, but we’re just observing and documenting. We’re not costuming the kids… We’re not passing judgment and we’re not condoning anything.”
It is clear that Toddlers and Tiaras is an exploitation of young girls who are growing up in an environment that is far from normal, and the program that airs this simply promotes this unhealthy activity for the sake of advertising and audience entertainment.