Until a couple of weeks ago, I had never even watched a single one of its episodes, and was already horrified by its central concept: TLC’s show Toddlers and Tiaras documents pageants in which little girls, some as young as one, dress up (or down, at times) and, their faces caked with makeup and bodies covered in paint, compete to win prize money based on their looks. Then I figured that I was being unfair; how could I have an opinion about a show I had only heard about? Surely there had to be something good about it, if it was still on air after its January 2009 debut.
But after watching a couple of episodes, I have to say, there really does not seem to be anything good about it, other than to bring to light the systematic sexualisation of little girls for the sake of winning money. These pageants teach girls that sexualising oneself at an age where sex is something one cannot understand for the sake of winning money is commendable.
It would be easy for me to start railing at how horrifying this is, but I don’t think such an attitude would help. It’s also easy to portray the parents that not only allow, but encourage their children to enter these pageants as evil and self-centered. But I do not think that is the case. I honestly believe that a majority of these parents do have the well-being of their children in mind. The questions rather is to figure out how this came to be.
All species have in mind their survival, and for that reason, the adults teach their young ones skills to survive in this world so that they can, one day, also procreate and so, ensure the survival of the species. With this in mind, one only has to look at the decadence in society to realise that perhaps this is what these parents are doing. So perhaps this culture of pageantry is just a way for these parents to introduce and hone skills their children would need to thrive in a world that is increasingly rewarding sexualisation. These parents could simply be empowering their daughter to use their beauty in a way to get them the money needed to live a secure life.
So railing against these parents would not only alienate them out of a much-needed conversation. It would also deter from addressing the core issue: there is something wrong about a society that not only allows for, but rewards over sexualisation. This is all the more problematic that humans have a noble purpose of knowing and worshipping God. Humanity is not supposed to be led by its lower nature; rather, it is supposed to be controlled by its higher nature. This higher nature allows for the lower one to be expressed in a way allowing humans to still be as noble as they are meant to be. A beautiful little girl, appropriately well dressed, is after all a sight that touches most hearts.
A species survival is guaranteed by the way it nurtures its young ones. Sexualising little girls and further toying with them for the sake of our collective entertainment is wrong. Perhaps this is what the books in the Hunger Games trilogy really are about. Stripped from the outward glitz of Toddlers and Tiaras, it feels like these pageants are in essence doing the same thing to our children as the people in Panem were doing to theirs. We all need to look at ourselves and at our contribution to this kind of society, and reflect on what we can do to create a society in which skills honed in pageants as they are currently held are not only unnecessary, but harmful.