“Please turn the channel. I’m begging you.” It was horrifying, the vision before my eyes. It was a car wreck, a train wreck, an infected scab I couldn’t stop picking and I had only just realized I wanted nothing to do with it.
“MOM! I want to watch this! Do you want me to hang out with you?” My 8-year-old had stumbled into my room whilst I lay on what clearly was my deathbed. Struck down by food poisoning or flu or some sort of 72-hour cancer, I’d been holed up and bedridden so long I’d forgotten what the outside world was like. And when my sweet, cherubic baby girl came to sit with me, I was so glad to have company (in the way that the dying so often are), I agreed to watch the horror that was now scarring my brain.
Toddlers in Tiaras.
“Sydney, seriously, this is so awful, so wrong—we’ve got to turn the channel. It’s making me–” but then the four-to-five year old group was up showing their “outfit-of-choice” segment. This was beyond what anyone could have anticipated. I know 4-year-olds. I’ve raised 4-year-olds. These outfits were clearly not chosen by 4-year-olds.
“What’s so wrong about it?” Syd’s question was so blunt it caught me off guard and I huff in silence like an apoplectic fish as I search for the words to explain. “They’re dressed all—and make-up—they have hair extensions…” Eventually what exactly does bug me about it finally leaps from my throat: “They’re dressed up like adults, acting like grown women!”
But inside my brain is screaming, They’re flirting! And how do I begin to explain to my little girl that being flirty is akin to solicitous behavior, a sexuality—in her naïveté (thankGAWD)—she has absolutely no way of grasping? That these girls are making a display of themselves as objects, and that she—as a female—is not simply a flirty object but a critical-thinking INDIVIDUAL? That this behavior isn’t cute, it isn’t innocent, but rather, terribly sad?
Instead of saying all this I sat in a pained and huddled lump and begged her to give me the remote. And that’s when one of the 10-to 13- age group girls pops in her veneers and struts across the stage. Veneers?
What is this focus on artificial beauty? I don’t understand it. Each of the show’s segments portrays mothers who are strong willed and who clearly want the best for their daughters—but child pageantry comes off as a ridiculously misguided attempt at showing little girls how to achieve the things they want. “Yes, it’s hard work, but if you wiggle and smile just so, you’ll win in the end.”
Why are we sexualizing our little girls? If you think we’re not, take a stroll down ANY Halloween costume aisle. As my niece, Allyson, put it: “Hi, welcome to any Halloween store! Oh, you’re a teenage girl? Your choices are ‘look like an idiot’ or ‘look like a whore.’ Which would you like?” This, from a 15-year-old girl.
We tell them to beware the monsters that lurk in the hearts of strangers, and yet we constantly show them images of female-as-coquette, female-as-object, and we turn them into eye-candy their very predators desire.
Just as she hands me the remote, the credits begin to roll. I am sick throughout—physically with the flu, and emotionally with humanity. I was ready for something more civilized.
“Oh good! Extreme Hoarding is next.”