The following ramblings are based on real-life experiences, mishaps, and downright screw-ups. Names (of past, present, and future boyfriends) have been changed or omitted to protect the innocent. And the guilty...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Trash Talk Tuesday

Howdy everybody!  It's Trash Talk Tuesday again!!  As promised, this week I will delve into the WONDERFUL world of child beauty pageants!!  WOO HOO!!!  Hold on to your butts!  It's going to be a wild ride!  (Well, not really.  Just felt like saying that.)


Aside from shows about teen pregnancy (see last week's Trash Talk), the only reality TV that can truly suck me in are those shows which follow baby beauty queens.  I'm not sure what draws me to this entertainment medium.  It's definitely like a train wreck - you just can't pull your eyes away from it!  The insane mothers, the 3-year-olds that look like 30 year old prostitutes, the sequins, the hair extensions, the 4 ft tall trophies.  It's a veritable cornucopia of rhinestone encrusted horror.  And I love every minute of it.

The otherwise obscure topic became of interest to the American public following the devastating murder of Jon Benet Ramsey.  The six-year-old's death brought to light the surreal and controversial world of child beauty pageants, and the caricatures behind it.  Let me now walk you through the evolution of child pageant shows...

Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen

Following the media frenzy surrounding JonBenet's murder, HBO decided to follow a white-trash (sorry to be so blunt, but it's true) Florida family around the Southern kiddie pageant circuit.  Swan Brooner - and no, you can't make up a name like that - had plateaued at the ripe old age of five.  Instead of throwing in the towel, her trailer trash mother decided to hire infamous gay pageant coaches  Shane King and Michael Butler to whip her little girl into shape.

While mom and Swan travel from fleabag hotel to fleabag hotel, we watch Swan's family implode back home. Brother Bubba is off in juvy, sister Silva is a bit of a teen tramp, and mom's pervy boyfriend is just trying to hold it all together.  All the while, Swan is forced to compete against her coaches' daughter - the reigning queen of, well, pretty much every pageant in the history of pageants (holder of 27 national titles at age 7).  Thank God, poor little sweetheart Swan finally catches a break and wins the coveted title of Miss Grand National Star Grand Supreme.  And a whopping $2,500 to go with it.  That should make up for the roughly $70K good  ol' mom spent to get her there.  I mean, who needs a house without wheels anyway?  

Little Swan's Winning Performance of "Where is Love" 
(You may want to turn the volume DOWN for this one...)

Side-note on Living Dolls.  I remember seeing this for the first time back when it originally aired in 2001,and this is definitely what kicked off my -albeit unhealthy- love of kids in crowns.  For some reason though, I could've sworn there was a follow-up series that featured Michael and Shane, and followed them through coaching a handful of kids (including Swan and their daughter Leslie).  Anybody else remember that?? 

Living Dolls developed a bit of a cult following, from what I understand, so it's surprising to me that there hasn't been anything like it made since.  Until 2009, that is.  Enter both Toddlers & Tiaras and Little Miss Perfect...

Toddlers & Tiaras

TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras has much more of a documentary feel than it's counterpart, Little Miss Perfect, and follows 3 or 4 different girls each week through preparation for and competition in a variety of pageants.  TLC has exposed us to such wonders as the Chitlin' Strut, Beautiful Dolls, Darling Divas, and Texas Walk of Fame.  A couple of the more seasoned veterans (5-year-old Eden Wood, for example) make multiple appearances on the show, but for the most part, we see fresh faces each week.  And fresh moms.  T&T doesn't try to hide the fact that pageant moms are hella crazy, and they don't seem to have to do much in the way of staging to drive that truth home.  Point in case (and please watch this.  It's unbelievable, heartbreaking, and sickening all at the same time.  For those of you with kids - could you even begin to imagine behaving this way??): 

Not all of the pageant moms are psycho bitches though.  Some of them are just plain psycho.  Again, I bring up Eden Wood.  She could honestly get a whole post for herself (and may one day).  Her mother is incredible.  She's trying to build an Eden Empire a la the Olsen Twins.  Here's a snippet of crazy, crazy Mickie Wood, discussing, among other things, the "Eden Wood Doll" and clothing line... 

Love Eden??  Want to join her fan club? (God, I hope not, because that would be horribly creepy.)  Well, YOU'RE IN LUCK!  In a recent Good Morning America appearance, Mickie Wood asked America to please follow her five-year-old on Facebook.  Yep, Facebook.  And this isn't a cute profile like some of my friends have set up for their kids.  This is full-blown marketing insanity.  Check it out... http://www.facebook.com/pages/Eden-Wood/133962794274#!/pages/Eden-Wood/133962794274?v=wall

Little Miss Perfect 

Little Miss Perfect takes a different approach to child pageantry.  Each week we meet two kids who are competing in their respective town's Little Miss Perfect Pageant.  The show is hosted by the kids, their moms, and pageant director and self-proclaimed god Michael Galanes.  LMP is what is called a "high glitz" pageant, which means kids need to be spray tanned and don fake nails, hair extensions, and GOBS of makeup in order to really compete.  Every now and then LMP will follow a "natural" girl, but rarely do they win.  Usually, the mom that spends the most, gets the crown.  I say the mom gets the crown because - let's be real - it's NEVER about the kids.

Crazy moms abound on LMP, too, but I think this show tends to script both the parents and kids far more than T&T.  Perhaps because it's on We TV, and is supposed to be fluffy entertainment, LMP seems to shy away from the extremes in pageantry.  Yes, moms are overbearing and kids are dressed up like china doll hookers, but the controversial parenting is typically omitted.  I think We might be trying to avoid some of the repercussions TLC suffered following the Jamie Sterling episode.  Apparently someone posted her address online in a hate forum, and she was stalked and harassed at home.  TLC endured severe backlash following that and other episodes, and its "Top 10 Most Controversial Parents" have resulted in a lot of the same questions from the general public that surfaced after JonBenet.  Besides, if LMP had super loony parents, they might steal some of Micheal's thunder.  We wouldn't want that!

So, that's the synopsis of all the crazy crap you can watch on kiddie pageants.  As for my opinion on the effects of pageants on these kids?  Well, it's kind of like any other hobby, really.  So often we see kids involved in a sport or other activity not because they love it, but because their parents are living vicariously through them.  This is especially true in pageantry, and is evidenced by the fact that the majority of the pageant moms are overweight to obese, and typically demonstrate a pronounced lack self-esteem.   Just like anything else where children are unduly pressured to perform, pageants can warp a child's self-image, stunt their personal development, and create unrealistic and unhealthy expectations.

That said, they aren't all bad.  Some girls (and boys, in the case of T&T) legitimately enjoy doing pageants, and they're wholeheartedly and healthily supported by their parents.  My cousin is a beauty queen, and has been competing in pageants regularly since she was 13.  In her case, pageantry has increased her confidence, poise, and public speaking ability, and has given her a great outlet for her true passion and greatest talent - ballet.  She's won several thousand dollars in scholarship money, and has been able to get involved in mentoring and community service projects as a result of her titles.  In cases like hers I say (to quote Swan's coach Michael Butler) YOU GO GIRL!

Thoughts??  Discuss!!


Meghan said...

wow. i am stunned. I have a 4 year old (granted he is a boy) but I can't imagine that kind of life style. All I can say is Satan is doing a GREAT job exploiting kids!! Thanks for sharing, i have never seen those shows and now I must say I will steer clear of them. G.I Joe is more our thing around here..hehe.

S Garner said...

Wow.. you write well.. witty even but I would say this is quite one sided wouldn't you? Even you yourself admit that your relative enjoys them, it has raised her self esteem, confidence and even earned some scholarship cash. Sure there are whackos in every sport, hobby and family but come on. You are leaning 98% towards exploitation and bad parenting when, if you've been in it at all, (which my guess is you have not) you'd see that its the crazy ones that really are the rarity. There is no excuse for Miss "this one is prettier than that one", granted that's a horrifying thing to do to kids. Same as the parents you see pitting one sibling against the other in football, baseball, lacrosse and so on. Crazy pageant moms make good tv and give people like you a way to really dig in and bash the whole idea of pageantry. But.. truth have it, its great Mommy and me time, it should be done only when the child wants to do it.. which is sometimes not evident until they are a little older and can express their wants and needs. I see nothing wrong with a Mom putting a dress on her baby and walking her across a stage. Who really cares? This is far from exploitation even at this age. They meet other kids, make new friends, feel good about themselves and so on. I was a pageant coach for 7 years. I did not coach the Moms with a wad of cash but preferred to coach the ones who were short on it, or were friends of mine. The main reason I started doing it was to help the kids who were new or couldn't afford the insane $100 per hour coaches so that they too could have exactly the same advantages at least in modeling and talent. I did ask Moms to leave my group of girls if it was evident the child wasn't into it and it appeared the Mom was doing it more for herself and the A #1 thing I promoted was inner beauty, self respect and good sportsmanship. There's way more to pageants than you can imagine and to see someone as intelligent as you appear to be make such broad insinuations is rather disheartening to me. It seems like you did your research.. or did you? What exactly did you research on the good side of pageants? There certainly is a lot of good in pageantry.

And for Miss Satan.. come on.. be real. Are the "trashy football Dads" all taken over by Satan too? Do you believe everything you read?

Stolen Sentiments said...

Ah yes, S Garner - one sided perhaps. But that's why I include the caveat that these posts contain MY opinions. I appreciate your perspective, and absolutely respect it. And, I really enjoy sparking debate and good conversation, so bring it! I have not claimed to know anything more about pageantry than what is captured in documentaries, but they are pretty damn scary. Again - as I said though - I know the good pageants have done for my cousin. I think it might be inappropriate to push the very young girls into it, though. At least to the extremes that are profiled in shows like LMP and T&T. They are not old enough to truly know if they want to do it, and you have to admit that some of the routines and costumes definitely border on (or blatantly cross into the realm of) exploitative. That being said, some of these girls, and their families, take a refreshing approach to the pageants, and showcase the child's natural beauty and talent. In those cases, it's truly enjoyable to watch. It sounds like you supported the latter approach, and I think that's awesome. Good for you for helping the girls who couldn't otherwise afford good coaching, and for protecting their interests. You need to get on TV and show the world that side of pageantry!

Keep reading and commenting! (Even if it pisses you off.)

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