You only have to look to reality TV to know that child beauty pageants are not really bastions of positive, healthy reinforcement and good parenting. Shows like Toddlers and Tiaras and King of the Crown are home to horror stories of parents criticizing and sexualizing their children's appearance in the hopes of taking home a trophy. However, if you thought Honey Boo Boo and her Go Go Juice was bad, you've got another thing coming. For the British reality show Blinging Up Baby, a mother dressed her daughter as a Hooters waitress, and choreographed a routine that included pelvic thrusting and full splits.
Oh, and did I mention that her daughter is four?
Liane, a 33-year-old mother from Portsmouth, said in one episode that she chose the Hooters costume for daughter Scarlett both because it was easy to make and because she knows that "they [Hooters bars] are popular in America." The outfit itself isn't so bad: it's a pair of orange shorts, nude-colored tights, and a white leotard, which, frankly, is more than I wore when I performed at ballet recitals as a wee lass. What has viewers up in arms is a) the general voluptuousness and sexuality associated with Hooters employees, and b) the controversial content of the dance routine itself. Scarlett gyrates around the stage, at one point doing the splits in what seems to me a pretty sexual manner.
Liane, however, defended her choices by saying that the pageant is a "controlled environment" and is safer than girls wearing swimsuits to the beach, which is not, apparently, a controlled environment — the exact excuse given last week by an Indiana mom who entered her two-year-old in a pageant. I generally don't see little girls twerking on the beach for the approval of judges, but maybe I just haven't been paying attention?
According to Buzzfeed, Liane has "given up everything" in order to put daughters Scarlett and Bessie-Sue, 6, through pageants. “I am ambitious for them and I do push them," Liane said. Is anybody else's mind going straight to Mama Rose from Gypsy, or is that just me?
Although I have no problem with children getting involved in beauty pageants if both they and their parents decide that it's healthy and appropriate, such pageants can have serious consequences on participants' health. University of Arizona professor and dietitian Martina Cartwright authored a 2012 paper in which she wrote that child beauty pageants are often rife with a phenomenon called "princess by proxy," in which parents push their children into stressful and unsafe conditions just to satisfy their own wants. Such behavior can put young girls at risk for eating disorders, low self-esteem, and body dysmorphia. "Everything was based on what these kids look like and the way that these children were displayed or dressed,” Cartwright said of her experiences at tapings of Toddlers and Tiaras. “They were fully made up; they looked like adult women, pint-size. They were judged on personality, but none spoke a word.”
All of that sounds eerily similar to Liane and Scarlett's story. Apparently, Scarlett didn't snag a win, and Liane was disappointed:
Here's hoping that Liane will allow Scarlett and Bessie-Sue to eventually exit the pageant circuit if they want. In any case, the increase in child pageants is a trend worth monitoring. France actually banned them for girls under 16, and the story of 2-year-old Sunburst International Beauty Pageant competitor Laila Smith is provoking outrage. However, shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Dance Moms continue to garner sky-high ratings. Here's the question: are people watching them because they just can't look away, or because they admire and want what they see on the screen?
Images: Channel 5 (2)