Little Miss Ogyny

It's hard to imagine that anyone in the audience for TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras has a deep passion for child beauty pageants. Okay, maybe there's a small contingent of fans who like frilly dresses and are impervious to real-time psychological trauma, but most can't help but be appalled by pageant parents' (read: moms') obsession with their children's ability to impress strangers who have god-only-knows what issues of their own (read: judges).

TLC is clearly aware of this freak-show element, as evidenced by their online description of the show:

"On any given weekend, on stages across the country, little girls and boys parade around wearing makeup, false eyelashes, spray tans and fake hair to be judged on their beauty, personality and costumes. Toddlers and Tiaras follows families on their quest for sparkly crowns, big titles, and lots of cash.

The preparation is intense as it gets down to the final week before the pageant. From hair and nail appointments, to finishing touches on gowns and suits, to numerous coaching sessions or rehearsals, each child preps for their performance. But once at the pageant, it's all up to the judges and drama ensues when every parent wants to prove that their child is beautiful."

The irony here may escape pageant parents, but most everyone else is in on the joke: We're supposed to be sickened by everything about these pageants, from the almost violently enforced gender ideals to the heart-breaking insecurity that results in the pint-sized contestants. I'm uncomfortable with how much of this criticism is placed on the mothers (the dads usually tell the camera that they don't really like the pageants, and the few who are into it tend to be painted has hyper-effeminate or just plain creepy), but I'm still glad the show exists. These pageants happen all over the country, and seem to have a profound affect on the little girls who are involved. Hopefully the show's critical lens will encourage viewers to question not only the pageants, but our society's obsession with beauty.

Then again, TLC seems to take a completely different approach to King of the Crown, the pageant show that preceeds Toddlers & Tiaras on Wednesday nights.

"King of The Crown features Cyrus Frakes and his staff at "Gowns and Crowns" as they navigate through the hilarious and heartwarming world of pageant coaching.
Every week Cyrus and his staff take a newbie client through a local pageant as well as showcase previous titleholders as they perfect their winning techniques.

With over 24 years experience in the business, Cyrus is a genuine King of Queens. Cyrus has transformed even the ugliest of ducklings into award winning pageant stars. From Miss Teen to Miss World, Cyrus along with his Gowns and Crowns team has helped their clients win over 1,000 titles."

So, when a woman pushes her daughter to be pageant-perfect she's a horrible person, but when a gay man does it it's charming and lovable? (Digression: I'm so tired of gay men on TV treating women as empty objects whose only goal should be physical beauty. Not only does that stereotype promote misogyny, but it's incredibly insulting to the gay community.)

Granted, Cyrus is working with consenting adult contestants, not children. But if these women grew up in the pageant circuit, how genuine can their enthusiasm for pageants really be? And in any case, a man who makes a living molding women to pageant standards hardly deserves such a gushy take. If we hate to see children subjected to these grueling yet superficial expectations, we certainly shouldn't love seeing grown women subjected to them.

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Comments

4 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Great article. In the last

Great article. In the last paragraph you said "(Digression: I'm so tired of gay men on TV treating women as empty objects whose only goal should be physical beauty. Not only does that stereotype promote misogyny, but it's incredibly insulting to the gay community.)"
Can you please go into detail, especially about how it is insulting to the gay community. Why do women allow gay men to treat them this way? Such an interesting point you make, even though its only in parenthesis. Can you PLEASE write a whole article about this!?!?! I have often thought about gay male misogyny but i've never seen it in words. Me and Im sure others would love to see more thoughts on this subject!

wow!

I had no idea that this show was meant to be critical of child beauty pageants. I haven't seen it, but most of what I've heard my mother-in-law say is how cute the kids are. Do you really think TLC does enough to show the grossness of the situation? Or is it possible that shows like this actually glorify the pageants even more?

True.

Lara, whether the show is truly critical of the parents isn't cut and dried, but if you follow the link above to videos of the most controversial parents (http://tlc.discovery.com/videos/toddlers-tiaras-top-10-controversial-par...), it's hard to imagine there's not some criticism involved. They focus much more on how emotionally trying these competitions are for the kids than how awesome it will be for their parents if they win.

Anonymous, I've been wanting to do an extended post on gay men objectifying women for a long time. Look for it in the next few weeks!

Agh!

The "Toddlers and Tiaras" show is so distressing! It also makes me think about all the other equally terrible but less television-friendly things adults force their children through. I really hope that this and "Tool Academy" and the like help people see how crappy they are and are not just exploiting emotional abuse for entertainment. It would be interesting to see data on who watches these shows and what they take away from them. Thanks for the thoughtful post!