Toddlers and Tiaras: The War on Pageant Mothers


Photo-shopped images like this one are the kind that make a pageantry look like an event that puts children on display like dolls. (Courtesy of Discovery Press)


I thoroughly enjoy reality TV. Look for me on a Thursday night, and I’ll be awaiting the 10:00 p.m. showing of “The Jersey Shore.” If you want to know what I’m doing on a Sunday night, no need to ask—I’ll probably be watching a re-run of “Real Housewives” or “The Millionaire Matchmaker.” Despite these favorites, there  are a few shows I refuse to succumb to, one of them being “Toddlers and Tiaras.”

Photo-shopped images like this one are the kind that make a pageantry look like an event that puts children on display like dolls. (Courtesy of Discovery Press)

Just one of the many jewels TLC has presented us with, “Toddlers and Tiaras” follows the lives of pageant moms and their toddler or elementary-school aged children as they perm, tease and tweeze their way into the limelight. I think the show is purely an exploitative tool. It uses kids for higher ratings, and I can’t believe the mothers allow their children’s worst moments to be televised.

Recently, I went to the taping of a talk show hosted by a white haired fox (who will remain unnamed for legal reasons) and the whole show revolved around these children and their moms. The host encouraged the audience to ask questions of the parents, but it felt to me that he was just inviting the parents to be attacked.

The focus of the discussion became about the pageants themselves, rather than the fact that these children have their childhoods recorded for the world to see. Audience member after audience member accused these women of bad parenting, suggesting their daughters would be forever scarred not from having their childhoods aired on national television, but by the pageants themselves. And that’s when I lost it.

I don’t like the idea of putting one’s child on television, but the audience seemed to miss that point altogether and could only criticize the pageants. I found the audience’s total disgust for the pageants themselves another point entirely. Before I knew it, I found myself defending the pageants and forgetting about the television factor.

Apparently, this audience thought every girl who ever joined a beauty pageant would end up anorexic, depressed or suicidal. They wouldn’t be healthy. Or feel confident. Or become well-adjusted human beings.

One mother featured on the show taught her daughter the importance of healthy-eating through calorie counting. Well, hold the presses, how dare she want to prevent childhood obesity. Another mom fed her daughter skittles occasionally to keep her energy up during pageants. My mom used to give me smarties sometimes, and I didn’t form any long-term addictions.

Some audience members wondered at the girls’ adjustment to school, as if the girls spend every day on the pageant runway. Did this audience not realize that these girls live normal lives most of the time? The show captures their lives for only a few days at a time.

I took dance for 13 years. If cameras had been there to capture the two weeks leading up to dress rehearsal and the final recital, I’m sure it wouldn’t have looked any prettier. I threw tantrums, but I was also four-years-old when I started. It wasn’t exactly the best-behaved phase of my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my parents were teaching me dedication and hard work and how to stick by something even when I didn’t feel the most inclined to do it.

These girls aren’t learning the importance of make-up. They’re learning how to stay confident when in a room full of other girls. They’re learning how to hold their head on high, even if they fail. Failing doesn’t hurt them; it encourages them to step back up and try again.

Some moms, admittedly, do go overboard, and I don’t condone their choices. June Shannon, one of the mothers from the show, thinks it’s okay to feed her daughter “go-go juice,” a mix of soda and an energy drinke. Despite the hilarity of the YouTube clip featuring Mrs. Shannon and her daughter Alana “Holler for a Dollar,” she clearly needs an intervention. The show, however, makes it seem like every mom on the show is whipping up these concoctions.

Another mom made a questionable decision with her daughter’s costume, letting her wear Julia Robert’s hooker ensemble from “Pretty Woman.” I couldn’t believe she’d let her daugher wear such an outfit. This mother and and “go-go juice” mom immediately become the focal point of the show and give the other mothers a bad reputation. But most of the mothers are just letting their girls have fun in age-approriate dress-up clothes while getting to ham it up on stage.

It’s easy to criticize these parents from the comforts of the couch. One woman in the audience of the talk show I attended asked why she wouldn’t just enroll her daughter in a sport. Girls asked me all the time when I was younger why I didn’t do sports, and the honest truth was I didn’t like them. I didn’t see the point of chasing a ball around on a big field. Yet for some reason, I found dancing fun.

These mothers just want their daughters to have fun and enjoy themselves. Every once in a while, a rare mom stood up in the audience and said her daughter, too, was in pageants and by her request. I was in dance by my request, and when I was ready to quit senior year, my parents let me. These girls aren’t being scarred for life; they’re being prepared for it. The regrettable point is that such life lessons have to be televised. That’s what critics should be arguing.