Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pure Pageantry

When you spend most of your days taking care of children with chronic illnesses who have parents that are scared suspicious (a gentler and more mistrustful form of shitless), having a life outside the hospital is key. 

When you’re only guaranteed four days off a month, you need escapism.
Lately, my favorite getaway is TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras. You can’t get further from reality.
The program is akin to watching an anthropologic study unfold. There’s a culture, a culture you even recognize as human, but it is completely foreign. Or in this case, jaw droppingly back-asswards.
The most recent episode I watched flashed a 3 day old baby boy donning a onesie that was basically the equivalent of a  t-shirt tuxedo. 

I’m not sure which voice in my head was screaming the loudest... HE HAS NO IMMUNE SYSTEM! HE’S A HE! FAKE-O T-SHIRT TUXES ARE ONLY OKAY IN ATLANTIC CITY!
Interestingly, they very well may have been in Atlantic City. The show seems to showcase locales that are generally well past their prime. 
Much like the contestants' parents.
I will give the program some benefit of the doubt though... It’s hard to imagine anywhere with a modicum of liberalism embracing junior tiny misses. By eliminating those, right off the bat you’re left with West Virginia, the deep South, Youngstown, Ohio, and most other destinations that would add steep competition to an “Armpit of America” crowning.
On the show the parents generally fall into three main categories:
  1. Shameless former pageant princesses themselves (surprisingly the minority)(at least in terms of who is featured on the show)
  2. Those who are obese, impoverished, insecure, or some combination of the three, and using their children as a public dumping ground for their own self hatred
  3. Repressed gay men
It all boils down to one thing: projection. They may as well call the program Vicarious Living Goes Blingin'.
There is a mother on one of the episodes who enters all five of her daughters into competitions. The eldest two are fraternal twins who were about 6 years old when the show aired. In an interview their mother says, aloud, in front of television cameras, for people to see and hear, “Mary looks like mommy, and she’s the one who wins the most. I definitely think she’s the prettiest of the group. Her sister, Jezebel, has a bigger nose and is just... timid. I don't expect her to really do much.” 
The show then cuts to the two girls in separate interviews. Mary says she loves pageants b/c she wins. Jezebel says she doesn’t like competing against her sister because it makes her feel bad.
Uhm, hello. Pathology much?
She's three.

The irony being the years and years of therapy these kids will rack up will altogether probably cost less than the amount their parents have invested in toddler pageantry careers.
It’s insane.
They're airbrushed to boot. Airbrushed. Pretty sure skin is never nicer than when you're under the age of 5.

The documentary usually starts out in various competitors homes and they then follow the competitors through their categories on to crowning. Too frequently they have wide angle shots of low income housing with dilapidated roofs, outdated kitchens, and just other stigmata of hard financial times, and then pan to the mothers talking about their daughter’s $3,000 dresses. 
As in $3,000 for one dress. That they will wear as a 5 year old. Which means it will fit them for like five minutes.
How terrified are you right now?

These little girls get spray tans (at least it's just spray? slightly redeeming?), manicures, facials, pedicures, fake nails, fake eyelashes, and “flippers.” Not aquatic flippers as an accessory to the swimsuit competition like I originally thought, but rather a panel of plastic fake teeth that they can wear over their unsightly natural teeth. Mothers have said they choose this option to hide their child’s yellow teeth, lost teeth, crooked teeth, or abundant gums.

I mean seriously. You think you're gonna sleep tonight?
You can just see all the self-esteem the parents wish they had getting leeched out of their offspring criticism by criticism. 
And their routines... oh God, the routines. It’s so horrifying you can’t look away. You really can’t. It varies from comic awkwardness to painful foreshadowing of future stripper careers. The worst are the fathers who are choreographing the routines and are clearly looking past their kid to visualize the true calling as a Vegas show girl they (the dad) could have had if they weren't born into a den of evangelical Christianity. 
DSM-IV diagnoses at these things are more ubiquitous than hairspray. 
I understand the arguments for building confidence and supporting what a kiddo thinks they want their hobbies to be... but good lord. The parents will say in their interview that oh, their 30 month old ASKED them to do pageants. They WANT to be on stage.
The cameras then cut to the child’s individual interview and the kid has a speech delay so stark they have to run closed captioning on the bottom of the screen so that we can understand that they say, “Mommy makes me.”
Furthermore, the awards these kids get are things like, “Best Smile,” “Most Beautiful,” and don’t even get me started on the hierarchy of Grand versus Ultimate versus Supreme versus Brattiest Brat of all the Brats. What message does that transmit?
It’s fascinating, disgusting, and transfixing all at once.
I have to say though... even if some of these parents are way wakadoo and off the deep end, it's kind of nice to see them involved in their child’s life. And there are the rare families here and there who you can tell legitimately are doing it for fun and are able to keep their kid balanced.
But then there are the others, ohhhh the others, who make really terrible parents, but really great television.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, can we be BFF's? As Mean Bean has started nights for 6 weeks, I also have been sucked into the intriguing world of child pageantry. I thought this was a secret I had to keep but now I am open about my love for that 'grand ultimate supreme $10,000! '

    (although do they realize when they spend $1200 on a dress, money on dance lessons, fake teeth, spray tans and nails.... They actually aren't making money. And those crowns look plastic.