Netflix has sucked me in to the show Toddlers and Tiaras. Okay, so officially I sucked myself into because I have every mental and physical capacity to turn the whole thing off. I’m the one who clicks “Play next.”
If you’ve never watched TLC’s masterpiece, the show follows youthful beauty queens and their mothers (occasionally, their fathers) as they prepare for various pageants around the country.
The pageant preparations are weird, and certainly quite disturbing. These are little girls—most are six or seven, but some as young as two—and their mothers are dressing them up like incredibly polished adults. One dad who watched a pageant even commented how strange it was to see his daughter with a child’s body and twenty-year-old’s head.
Obviously, it takes a lot of work to get a child looking like a twenty-year-old. These girls are spray tanned and put into bedazzled dresses that cost upwards of one-thousand dollars. Their mothers put curled hair-pieces onto their heads, apply lipstick and gobs of eye-shadow, and—perhaps craziest of all—put in fake teeth called “flippers” to remedy their youthful gaps.
Some of the girls seem to hate the pageant scene. They throw tantrums, or look forward to the next event only because after its completion they will be able to go home. Some scream when their mothers apply their hairpieces, or hate practicing their talent for that portion of the talent portion.
These girls obviously shouldn’t be doing pageants, but what about the girls who seem to love it?
As we all know from the constant hubbub surrounding JonBenet Ramsay’s beauty pageant days, pageants probably sexualize little girls. Yes, this is sometimes true, but more often than not, little girls are made to look like perfect dolls. What does this tell them about their self-worth? According to pageant values, self-worth comes first from a woman’s looks, and second, it comes from looks that are not even hers.
Many of the mothers echo each other in saying that pageants have improved their daughters’ self-esteem. But there is no other self-esteem to be learned in pageant aside from the self-esteem that comes with the belief in one’s beauty. These little girls may have self-esteem—but it is self-esteem that will be sorely tested with junior high, pimples, puberty and high school prom queens.
Then what will pageants have taught them? Their beauty—or, their self-worth—is finite and fleeting. Do we need anything more to make women think this of themselves?