Published: Monday, September 19, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 16:09
There's been a lot of talk on the blogosphere recently about the influence of the media on kids, especially on the sexualization of young girls.
Five-year-old girls are being admitted to hospitals because of eating disorders, blaming the women they see on America's Next Top Model; a French clothing company is marketing lingerie for 3-month-old girls (Google "Jours Après Lunes" if you don't believe me, but be warned, it's not pleasant); Forever 21 is also coming under fire for its new "Allergic to Algebra" and "Too Pretty for Homework" T-shirt designs, which some believe encourage young girls to put their looks before their education and perpetuate the stereotype that girls aren't good at math.
But if you really want to see something that will make you want to keep your future kids away from anything related to media, look no further than the TLC reality show Toddlers & Tiaras, which goes behind the scenes of child beauty pageants. The show leaves no stone unturned, showcasing everything from spray tanning to teeth bleaching that pageant parents do to get their little girls ready for the stage. In the past few weeks, though, the show has gone from guilty-pleasure fun to a somewhat uncomfortable viewing experience. There has been footage of 3- and 4-year-old girls dressed in undoubtedly adult costumes—one little girl dressed like Dolly Parton, complete with padded breasts, and another as Julia Roberts' prostitute character from Pretty Woman.
"Little girls are supposed to play with dolls, not be dolls," New York-based clinical social worker Mark Sichel said in an interview with People Magazine. Sichel said that the extremes parents go to to prepare their children for competition—using padding, fake hair and teeth and spray tans—"causes the children tremendous confusion, wondering why they are not okay without those things."
The pageant mothers have spoken out in their defense. Wendy Dickey, who dressed her 3-year-old daughter Paisley as the Julia Roberts character, told People that she thought the look was "tasteful and funny." Juana Myers, whose daughter Makenzie is often featured on the show, says that the pageant industry is coming under unfair scrutiny. "If this were a sport, no one would question it," she said. "This is her sport."
What do you think? Is there a line between competition and the over-sexualization of underage bodies? Is there any real benefit for these girls or are pageants more about the adults that watch them? And what the heck does that say about those adults?