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Fayette-Mom: Toddlers and Tiaras?

Posted August 8, 2011 8:31 p.m. EDT

Jennifer Joyner

I realize I’m late to the party on this, but "Toddlers and Tiaras?" WOW.

My daughter wanted to watch the show on TLC this weekend, and having heard a little bit about the show, I tried to discourage her. I explained what a beauty pageant is, and how I thought it was silly to have such an event for kids. Aren’t all children beautiful? How exactly does one decide that this little girl is prettier than the next, and, more importantly, what do you as a parent say to the child who doesn’t win? Sorry, sweetie, but you’re just average looking?

Emma agreed with me, but she still wanted to watch, and I finally decided I would just watch it with her. Two minutes into the show, my jaw dropped … and stayed there.

Spray tans for two-year-olds? False eyelashes, fake fingernails … by the time these children were “pageant ready," they looked nothing like themselves, hence the before and after shots that are a staple of the show. Because that’s what we want to teach little girls from the very beginning — you didn’t come into this world pretty enough, so we’re going to use every trick in the book and hopefully we’ll fool everyone into thinking you deserve their admiration.

And the parents! Forking over thousands of dollars because they want to “help make my child’s dreams come true," only to spend most of their time barking orders and losing patience with three-year-olds who shockingly do not enjoy having their eyebrows plucked. Tell me, with a straight face, that your nine-month-old asked to be entered into a Beautiful Baby contest and you’re simply facilitating your kid’s pursuit of her interests.

Just to be clear: I am not anti-beauty pageant. Up until recent years, I never missed watching the Miss America pageant on TV. While it makes me feel a little icky when the contestants walk across the stage in their bathing suits while judges tabulate their scores, you can at least admit that the program promotes physical fitness and (hopefully) self-confidence. Certainly some much-needed scholarship money is awarded. And, let’s not forget, these women are adults — if they choose to participate in what some might call an objectifying exercise, well then, that’s their right.

Icky isn’t the correct word to describe what it’s like to watch a five-year-old little girl sob after she doesn’t win a crown. Horrifying is more like it. Yes, we all have to learn at some point that some people win and some people lose and that’s the way the world works. But trying to console your daughter from this cruel kind of heartbreak, especially when you’re the one that set them up for the fall in the first place? I don’t know how these parents sleep.

The show ended and Emma looked at me, her face scrunched up. “That wasn’t very fun, Mommy.” And off she ran to play with the dog.

I bet some of the girls on that show wish they could say the same to their mothers.

Jennifer is a mom of two and WRAL-TV assignment editor in Fayetteville. Her food obsession memoir, “Designated Fat Girl,” came out in September. Read more about Jennifer and her book on her website. Find her here on Go Ask Mom on Tuesdays.