“Toddlers” Controversy: When is Enough, Enough?

Ana Abraham

CNN recently wrote an article on the controversial TLC show Toddlers and Tiaras. The show, which has been airing since 2009, has been a cause for heated debates over whether the line between innocent children playing dress up and young girls being sexualized by their parents even exists anymore.

In recent footage, a three year old contestant was dressed up to look like Julia Roberts in the movie Pretty Woman. Another episode had a young girl dressed like Dolly Parton, with padding on her chest and buttocks. These two girls were obviously too young to realize the implications of the outfits they were wearing, but there is a strong agreement among critics that their parents should have known better.

Toddlers and Tiaras shows a new pageant every week, usually following three or four contestants from the week leading up to the pageant to the pageant itself. When the pageant itself is shown, TLC lets viewers see before and after pictures of each child. The screen splits in half: one half showing an innocent, non- made up child and the other half showing the same child looking like a doll. The children are subjected to fake hair, nails, tans, teeth, and absurd amounts of make up, often for no more than a small monetary prize or a pageant title.

The show focuses on the children’s parents, oftentimes more than the children themselves. The parents are often short with their children, and they let it be known that the kids have no choice in competing. Some of the children scream and cry and throw tantrums, and some even hit their mothers. Some of the mothers even say that the money they make winning pageants is re-invested into pageants, even though their families are having financial trouble. A therapist from California, Dr. Nancy Irwin, is quoted as saying to a popular news source, “These parents are selfish…spoiling their children, and training them that their value is based on their beauty.”

All this is not to insult pageant children. There are many people who say that pageants transformed their life and their family’s lives for the better. However, the current consensus is that Toddlers and Tiaras has taken a potentially innocent competition sport a step too far.