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“A dolla makes me holla Honey Boo Boo”. Most millennials have probably heard of this phrase more recently in their lives, with the rapid increase in popularity of reality television shows in recent years. This phrase is a direct quote from a ,rather infamous, child beauty pageant star, Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson. Alana Thompson starred on the hit reality show, Toddlers and Tiaras. The show, which first aired in January of 2009, follows the personal lives of child beauty pageant contestants and their families. Since it was first aired, Toddlers and Tiaras has managed to stir up a great deal of controversy over the morality of child beauty pageants and their effects on the children and families involved, with this particular YouTube video, “Worst Mom of the Year Toddlers and Tiaras” (uploaded by the channel MDMBHAM), of Alana Thompson and the Thompson family from the show cultivating the most attention nationwide. In the video, Alana “Honey Boo Boo” is portrayed as being troubled in her attitude and action towards pageants,while her mother ,June’s, parenting style is portrayed as unethical and controversial. The video highlights various portions of the from the show where legitimate flaws from the world of child beauty pageants are made evident to the audience through the words and actions of both young Alana Thompson and her mother. The video provokes an important message and conversation that is often overlooked by the average person watching a child beauty pageant show like “Toddlers and Tiaras”. Most people view it just as they would any other reality TV show, as entertainment. But these shows, specifically the clips starring “Honey Boo Boo”, depict a more harsh reality that goes beyond mere entertainment, and truly portray the very negative and detrimental aspects of child beauty pageants. Although child beauty pageants bring monetary and sometimes confidence-inducing material rewards, they are unethical because they sexualize girls at a very young age and measure their self-worth by outward beauty and physical appearance, while concurrently devaluing their inner beauty and intelligence as living persons.
Child beauty pageants are not a modern or recent invention. The first child beauty pageants emerged in England in the late 1800s. Their popularity, however, has increased rapidly throughout history, skyrocketing with the introduction of reality tv series such as “Toddlers and Tiaras” and Alana Thompson’s spin off show, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”. Much of their original appeal can be credited to what is easily the single positive aspect of child beauty pageants, the boost of confidence they provide to young girls. Those in favor of child beauty pageants claim that they teach young children stage presence and boost their self esteem. This can be true in some cases for young girls who win trophies or titles, seeing as a reward is enough to make any person feel proud or good about themselves. This positive aspect of pageants can be seen in the case of the ”Pageants of Hope”, organized by Miss Teen Georgia 2007, Jena Sims. These pageants were centered around children diagnosed with cancer, to help boost their self-esteem and confidence. “Sims and other Teen USA representatives [visited] hospitals to host the pageants, where they [gave] runway lessons, makeovers and awards to every participant, honoring each for a unique characteristic” (PRNewswire, 2007). The Pageants for Hope provide rewards for all participants based on unique and varied characteristics of the young girls. However, these pageants stand alone. Regular beauty pageants do not provide the same circumstances and attitudes of acceptance and equality. It is true that winning trophies or titles can boost a young girl’s self-esteem, but the harsh reality holds that not all girls who participate in regular beauty pageants win trophies or titles. Typically, only a small or very limited amount of select girls get to go home with a trophy or a prize in hand. This leaves all the other young girls in the pageant empty handed, and can result in feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem and confidence. These girls are being judged on their appearance and outward qualities, so when the people judging do not deem them good enough for a prize, it delivers a detrimental message to them at such a young age that they are not pretty, or peppy or perfect enough in the eyes of others. Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson provides a clear example of the effects that child beauty pageants have on young girls and both their confidence and happiness. Towards the beginning of the YouTube video, before her pageant, Alana tells the camera , “I’m Alana, I’m six, and I’m a beauty queen”. She then continues to confidently boast that the other girls competing against her in the pageant “must be crazy if they think they’re gonna beat [her]”. When the pageant is over Alana is sitting in the same interview chair as before, however this time with a completely different attitude than before the pageant. “I feel….sad”, she tells the camera,”’Cause I didn’t get a big trophy, and because I didn’t get a crown. I showed my belly to the judges”. These clips from the YouTube video efficiently illustrate the other side of children in beauty pageants, the side wherein the young girl doesn’t go home feeling glamorous and confident, but instead unworthy and defeated.
The saying “beauty is pain”, holds very true for many young children who compete in beauty pageants. Their feelings of defeat, along with the strong need to be perfect, are often perpetrated by the parents of the children in who participate in child beauty pageants. These parents put their kids through immoral physical and emotional stress and suffering in order to compete in pageants from very young ages. On the show, Toddlers and Tiaras, viewers are exposed to many of these instances. Parents can be seen forcing children to wear fake breasts, waxing/threading children’s facial and body hair so that they appear “glowing”, making them get spray tans before every competition (even when the tanning booth scares them into tears), and force feeding them “pageant crack” ,or “Gogo juice” (in the case of Alana Thompson), a mixture of sugar and high-calorie sweeteners so that they have the energy to perform well even when they are exhausted. The children are also subjected to hours of sitting in chairs for makeup or painful hairdos, waiting in lines, and practicing their walks or routines. These children are being robbed of their free time and childhood. A child should only have one worry as a child, and that is to have no worries. Young children who compete in beauty pageants are worried about impressing the judges and, in many cases, satisfying their parents and winning. Overbearing parents in the child beauty pageant world hold their kids to illogical standards and put pressure on them to win from young ages. One specific father on the show Toddlers and Tiaras highlights the intensity and extremity of these occurrences, “while sewing his daughter’s gowns, diligently teaching her dance routines, and storming out when he is dissatisfied with the results of the competition” (PR Newswire, 2008). In clips from the YouTube video, Alana Thompson’s father, Mike, can be heard threatening Alana to “stay still or [he’ll] stick [her]” as he prepares her to walk on stage. RIght before she walks on, Alana’s mother, June, also puts pressure on Alana, yelling out “ you know what to do!”. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that many children competing in child beauty pageants do not want to be there. They can be seen on Toddlers and Tiaras screaming and crying about having to compete. “Beauty is so boring”, Alana Thompson tells the camera in a clip from the YouTube video, “I don’t want to do it”. These children are being thrown into the pageant scene by their parents, and treated like objects that their parents use to either win monetary prizes or fulfill some other desire.
The “sexualization of young girls has reached disturbing levels” in modern society (Lumby, 2010). One of the most controversial and more recently discussed negative aspects of child beauty pageants is the way that they sexualize young girls. Child beauty pageants are centered around, just that, outward beauty. Child beauty pageants are gender socialization in it’s most extreme form. These pageants have long held very young girls to a specific “beauty” standard. Pre-pubescent children parade around in full makeup to emphasize full lips, long eyelashes, and flushed cheeks, high heels and revealing outfits to emulate grown women, and spray tans, reinforcing a very traditional kind of femininity. These young girls are also taught to perform seductive and provocative dance steps and strike flirtatious poses and facial expressions to further please the judges. In certain beauty pageants, these things are not only preferred but expected if a child is to take home the ultimate prize. In a clip from the YouTube video, June Thompson yells at her six year old daughter on stage to “shake her butt”, as she dances in a crop top and mini skirt for the judges. Another mother on Toddlers and Tiaras dressed her three year old daughter as the prostitute from the movie “Pretty Woman” in the “outfit of choice” category of a pageant. A report released by the American Psychological Association on the sexualization of girls found that “girls’ exposure to hypersexualized media content can negatively impact their cognitive and emotional development; is strongly associated with eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression; leads to fewer girls pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and causes diminished sexual health” (Henson, 2011). This sexualization of girls at such a young age is detrimental to them and the kids who watch them on TV, and reinforces sexist attitudes and behaviors and gender roles in society.
The negatives of child beauty pageants certainly outweigh the positives. The “Worst Mom of the Year Toddlers in Tiaras” YouTube video along with the realities of the beauty pageant world depicted on “Toddlers and Tiaras” work together to portray the sad truth surrounding the beauty pageant world. Young girls across the country today are being thrown into the warped world of glitz, glamour and sexuality at such tender ages. Their self-worth is measured by judges based on their physical and outward beauty. They are groomed for a society today that still fails to accept women as equals, and they learn that they are nothing more than objects to be paraded in front of the masses. As a society we should distance ourselves from the entertainment component of child beauty pageants and shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras” and focus on the more important issues at hand. We should be teaching young girls and children everywhere that their self worth is not determined by monetary prizes or physical appearances, for the future of children everywhere and the bettering of society as a whole.
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