Toddlers and Tiaras

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Since it’s debut on TLC in 2009, Toddlers & Tiaras has captured the attention of audiences of all ages across the country. This reality series gives viewers an inside look at the extremely competitive world of child beauty pageants by following contestants and their families as they prepare for various shows. With the youngest competitors starting at two years old, it is evident that most contestants did not choose this life for themselves. As a result, the show becomes just as much about the parents as it is about the children. As the saying goes, a little competition never hurt anyone, but after watching the extensive, exhausting process each girl goes through before each pageant, a big question arises as to why any parent would ever chose this life for their child? With competition this big and contestants this young, someone is definitely getting hurt.

Early childhood is a critical period in one’s life as it marks the beginning of the life long process of socialization. Socialization is defined as “a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.” Primary socialization usually extends until a child enters kindergarden and is a vital period in a young person’s life as it sets the foundation for all future socialization. During this stage, young mind’s are extremely impressionable as they are relying solely on their observations and experiences to decipher their role in society. Since most contestants begin their involvement in beauty pageants before their school years, it is imperative to recognize the role of child beauty pageants as social institutions for they become responsible for the socialization of young contestants.

The main responsibility of the socialization process is the formation of a personal identity. Your identity is strongly shaped by the values you uphold as they help guide you in making decisions and forming opinions. The first thing that beauty pageants do is strip children of what they should value most; their innocence. It begins with their hair as it is yanked, teased, curled, and straightened over and over again, only to be covered by gigantic hair pieces that are double the size of their head. Following the hair, comes layers and layers of heavy makeup accompanied by fake eyelashes and a mouth piece, called a flipper, which is used to cover baby teeth. In addition to their teeth, the contestants’ nails are made longer with acrylics and their skin is made darker with artificial tanner. The transformation that takes place has contestants looking like life size barbie dolls from the neck up. The only way to correct the discrepancy that occurs from the neck down is by dressing the girls in provocative outfits that reveal their midriff and accentuate their legs. The final product is completely unnatural looking and sends the message that this is what a girl is expected to look like which is totally unrealistic. When these contestants see that every other girl looks the same way they do, they will begin to think their attire is normal and acceptable. With so much emphasis on how they look, contestants begin to form a superficial perspective of themselves and of others because they now think that their self worth is only skin deep. The judging process only heightens this superficial outlook as it encourages materialism and vanity. One pageant director states “my judges are looking for facial beauty” which is further backed up by a judge who says, “I look for the full package in a girl: your hair, your makeup, making sure the makeup coordinates with the girls features.” The judges have a very shallow view on what it means to be a full package that sends the message to contestants that what is on the inside doesn’t count.

The contestant’s performances on stage during the talent round robs them of any innocence they may have left as they dance to flirtatious choreography...
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