As I am typing this, I am in the middle of a TLC marathon of Toddlers & Tiaras. If you are a smart person, you have probably never watched this show. Because it's kind of horrifying.
This is not one of those feminist rants against beauty pageants. Like sports, beauty pageants are a thing I have no interest in ever being near physically, but do enjoy watching movies about. (Drop Dead Gorgeous is a favorite of mine. I also like Mini Driver's Beautiful, and of course, Miss Congeniality.)
My problem with Toddlers & Tiaras is that... how young is too young for a beauty pageant?
Me thinks this might be too young.
When I was growing up, I saw JonBenét Ramsey's coiffed hair and made-up face on the cover of tabloid magazines as I walked past them in the grocery store all the time. I knew very little about the case as a 6 or 7 year old, other than this was a beauty queen child who had been murdered. Never having enjoyed being on stage much, this certainly never made beauty pageants attractive to me.
I really could not get away from this image when I was a child.
It was also weird for me that JonBenét Ramsey was around the same age as me, but that I actually looked my age. This same uneasy feeling comes back whenever I am sucked into watching Toddlers & Tiaras.
Lots of kids play dress up, experiment with make up, or wish they were older, and most parents support their children pretending and playing like that. Fewer parents actually go as far to make these childhood fantasies a reality. And these are some pretty disturbing fantasies. Watching marathons of 6 year olds shaking their pelvises like they're Pussycat Dolls while wearing fake teeth, fake hair, and fake tans is really unsettling. A lot of the girls on T&T say they like pageants and enjoy performing and being on stage... but whatever happened to tap lessons? Or musical theater?
There was an internet-wide outcry when Noah Cyrus (Miley Cyrus' 9 year old sister) showed up in a tight, short, vampish dress at a red carpet event. People were outraged that her parents or handlers or whoever hadn't stopped this age-inappropriate mess from happening. Bloggers asked questions like Anyone remember how Abigail Breslin dressed when she was 9? I am sure that Noah, as a child in a family of stars faces a lot of pressures and wants to be like her cool older sister a lot... But T&T is a whole different monster. The girls are younger, the dresses are smaller, and the emphasis on femininity and beauty is stronger.
Noah Cyrus was over-sexualized in that dress. And while the girls in T&T are wearing floofy pink dresses or bathing suits with sequins, it's the same thing. These are girls too young to even have lost their first baby teeth yet. Some of them are still babies. The over-sexualization of women is a huge problem in the US, but people have generally accepted that as an unavoidable fact of American culture. But what about stretching that over-sexualization to 6 year olds? Toddlers? Babies?
I am by no means a reality-TV fan, but I do think it is interesting how even in all its ridiculousness and show-boatness, it does turn a mirror back on society. While some things do get amped up for TV, we watch shows like Real Housewives, Bad Girls Club, Toddlers & Tiaras, Jersey Shore, or Laguna Beach because we like watching characters we recognize. And even though we watch and complain, we keep watching because we live in a culture that supports these kinds of people and activities, no matter how over the top they are.
I could have not watched 4 episodes of Toddlers & Tiaras today, but despite my disgust at the things these parents are doing to their daughters, it's fascinating. I can't help but wonder, how are these girls going to approach the world, femininity, independence and confidence when they get older?
Edit: (1-10-11) Sociological Images just posted 2 commentaries on the sexualization of young girls. One about child models and the other about Toddlers & Tiaras. Interesting! Check 'em out!