Each Wednesday at 10pm TV audiences watch on TLC (The Learning Channel) as a few girls and their mothers prepare for and compete in a Glitz beauty pageant. The age range of these girls is about 2 to 10 and the show, Toddlers and Tiaras, is now in its fifth season. The show portrays overbearing mothers pushing their little girls to extremes. The girls each go through an extensive transformation complete with fake tans, fake eyelashes, fake teeth, hair extensions, full make-up, and risqué costumes. Thousands of dollars are spent on what radical second wave feminists in Krolokke’s essay on The Three Waves would call “oppressive’ gender artifacts” (Krolokke 8). These young girls, strongly driven by their mothers (sometimes fathers), grow up in these pageants being judged on beauty, personality, talent, and costumes.
I worry for these girls as they grow up. I worry that they will grow up believing that their self-worth is dependent on how physically beautiful and perfect they are. The show does ridicule these outrageous families and causes controversy based on child-abuse and the sexualization of young girls. In this way, it has done some good by exposing what is messed up about pageants to the world. There is certainly no shortage of blog posts and articles which discuss what is awry with the show and with these pageants. Something more, however, should be done besides writing and talking. TLC continues to make money off of this show as people continue to watch the show and mothers continue to apply to put their children on the show. By continuing the program, TLC is supporting a kind of parenting which does not help girls become “capable, strong, and assertive social agents” like the third wave feminists described in Krolokke’s essay (Krolokke 15). It should be off the air because it supports the parenting that will help these girls grow up into women who depend on the perfection of their beauty to succeed in life, depend on extremes for that perfection, and think they are worth less if they do not reach it.
Although pageant contestants technically get judged on personality, it is obvious, as 9-year-old Haley Da Sha tells her father in season 4, that “Beauty is most important” (TLC). If the thought of fake tans, costumes, makeup, flippers (fake-teeth), and so on doesn’t show how important beauty is in the pageant world, the photo submissions definitely do. Each contestant submits a headshot to be judged of themselves. They are, of course, all dolled up in Glitz pageant make-up and attire. However, the pictures are retouched to the max. In preparation for the Southern Majestic Pageant of season three, episode two, Victoria Gaddy and her grandmother discuss the seven-year-old’s pictures. “Is that my teeth?” she asks her grandmother who responds that “they’re all fake teeth in there, they enhanced it with their magic.” To a question about her eyelashes, the grandmother responds that “they drew them on, and they fixed your eyebrows. It’s in essence a fake picture” (TLC). In essence, these re-touched photos are supporting the idea of perfection—that to win, these girls must be perfectly beautiful. In season five, episode six, 8-year-old Alaska declares: “I want to do pageants till I’m like 1,000 years old, because I’ll still be gorgeous. I might need a couple face-lifts.” This statement portrays how important beauty becomes to these little girls, how it consumes them, and how this way of thinking has the strong possibility of following them throughout life.
Besides getting photos re-touched, parents will put their children through almost anything so that they will be perfect. This even includes ridiculous diets. In season 2, episode 13, eight-year-old Alyssa Privett’s mother puts her on a fruit diet as the pageant nears because her dress has gotten a bit tight. She even says that she has done this before. This is excessive, and not healthy. Children need to maintain a balanced diet so that their bodies can support normal growth and development. Alyssa is not the only Toddler and Tiaras girl put on a diet. In season five, episode four, eight-year old Ever Rose’s mother talks about how they start to watch what the girl eats several weeks before the pageant. “Ever Rose does count calories,” she states, “we stay around 1600 calories a day. She has lost 10 pounds and I think thats really a great thing.” Ever Rose then tells the camera that “sometimes [she does] get hungry”(TLC). I do agree that watching what you eat is a good idea, but counting calories and putting such a strong emphasis on weight is not. The attitude that these mothers have towards weight and the decisions they make towards their girls dieting is not healthy physically or emotionally for the girls. Having such a strong emphasis and connection between food and beauty will ultimately lead to an increased risk in eating disorders—along with all of the psychological problems that go with them. Eating disorders are very serious and can even lead to a very premature death.
Mother’s put such an emphasis on winning that these girls can be very upset when they lose. The girls want it, but the mothers encourage it. In season four, episode one, six-year old Eden Wood covets the title of Miss Ultimate Grand Supreme (overall winner of the pageant). She has been on the show before and is an experienced pageant girl. Eden has gotten recognition and a touch of fame. In this episode, she travels to Hollywood to go on a talk show. Eden thinks she is a star as she has gotten her own book, her own single, and even a little music video. Her mother obviously encourages Eden’s ego as she tells the camera that “Eden is really going somewhere.” Eden and her mother’s ego are bigger, however, than the girl’s actual talent. Eden only wins the title of Grand Supreme and ends up in a tantrum fit of tears. Her mother is not at all comforting and coldly tells her to “stop making a spectacle” of herself (TLC). The way that Eden’s mother builds up the girl’s ego and then doesn’t show the six-year-old love and comfort is a sure-fire way to make Eden think winning and succeeding is the only way she’ll get it. Eden will probably try harder at what she does so that her mother will be happier with her. This will most likely cause Eden to do literally anything to make and keep a name for herself.
It is not healthy for girls to grow up in this atmosphere as it puts extreme pressure on them to be beautiful and perfect. Children at these ages are extremely impressionable and anything extreme can have a huge impact on the rest of their lives. I worry that they will grow up to have confidence and self-esteem issues and will do whatever it takes to reach or maintain their messed up definition of beautiful. TLC needs to stop supporting this atmosphere by continuing to bring these girls into an even stronger spotlight. Unfortunately, the shows viewer ratings are so high that I don’t see TLC shutting it down soon. Eventually, like all programs, it will come to an end, but a similar show will probably be there to replace it. I would love to see an uprising against the show, or at least a nationwide boycott of this and similar shows. Will people actually do this, however? Is there someone passionate enough to take the initiative? In an ideal world TLC would change around entirely so that instead of televising controversy and drama, as shown onToddlers and Tiaras, it would air programs of a much more positive nature. Something needs to be done to actually help these girls. In her Communications Studies Masters Thesis for Northeastern University, Baby, I wish we could get you some lips for Christmas, Corinne N. Connolly states that “we must persist in our efforts to encourage more encompassing notions of girlhood identity and teach children how to combat the hegemonic images they see in the media” (Conolly 85) I would love to see TLC air programs which actively taught children how to truly love themselves exactly as they are—they and everyone else is perfectly imperfect. Children need to figure out who they are without extreme pressures from the media. TLC could help this happen, but is it possible? When and how could it happen? What does it take? Do I myself need to do more than just writing? Do you need to do more than you’re doing? I think that yes, we all need to be doing as much as we can.
Connolly, Corrinne N., “”Baby, I wish we could get you some lips for Christmas”: investigating cultural disregard for girls through the promotion of hegemonic and sexualized femininity, and celebrity in Toddlers & Tiaras” (2011). Communication Studies Master’s Theses. Paper 2. Web. 14 May 2012.http://hdl.handle.net/2047/d20001047
Kroløkke, Charlotte, and Ann Scott. Sørensen. “Three Waves of Feminism.”Gender Communication Theories & Analyses: From Silence to Performance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2006. Print.
“TLC “Guides”” TLC. Web. 15 May 2012. <http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/>.
“TLC.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/user/TLC>.
“Toddlers & Tiaras.” TLC. Authentic Entertainment. Television. 2009-2011.