“Here comes Pretty Woman…Paisley…” announced the host on Toddlers and Tiaras. Out struts three-year-old Paisley dressed as Julia Roberts who plays a prostitute in Pretty Woman. She is wearing a look-alike outfit: thigh-high black boots, a white top that shows her bare toddler tummy, a skin tight blue mini-skirt, and a yellow wig. The crowd explodes into applause and catcalls of approval as she struts the sexy walk her mother taught her. She smiles a self-satisfied grin thinking the applause is for her. She is too young to know that it is for what she represents and that it amuses adults to see a child sexualised so young. “Good job,” the host concludes as Paisley disappears off stage.
The mother, Wendy Dickey, said that “the whole idea was to see the comedy behind it.” She was also reported as saying that it was “the cutest thing ever. It was very innocent.”
Since when was it “innocent” to sexualise a child as young as three? I couldn’t help but think that this had gone beyond a bit of fun and looked more like abuse. For a start, where is the respect for the child? There is no respect when her mother treats her like a plaything and sets her up to amuse adult sensibilities. Paisley is in her most formative years and such programming will last a lifetime. A child’s work is to be a child who can discover for herself who she is within a caring and loving environment guided by mature adults who respect her and are sensitive to her needs.
Instead, Paisley has been manipulated to entertain adults. In her mother’s hands she is a doll, albeit a live one, with which she plays dress-ups to win competitions on a television show. I was so appalled by this I decided to investigate further.
I discovered that mothers can spend anything up to $4000.00 dollars on an outfit to compete on the TV show Toddlers and Tiaras. The more desperate they are to win, the more expensive will be the outfits and the lengths to which they will go to transform their little girls into miniature beauty queens. Their daughters routinely suffer having their teeth whitened, eyebrows waxed, plucked, or shaved. I saw a one-year-old baby’s face airbrushed with make-up before her mother tried to pin a weighty hairpiece to her head of wispy hair. Not surprisingly, the baby was distressed.
In another video clip a mother rewarded her daughter after a rehearsal by rolling chocolate balls across the floor for her to scoop or suck into her mouth like a dog. Well, the whole thing reminds me of dog owners training and pampering their dogs for a dog show.
The thing these mothers seem to forget is that these ‘dolls’ are human. Clearly, many are unhappy about being treated in this way. Despite the fact that many little girls like to play dress-ups, one day they may come to know that they were merely a plaything and not a ‘real’ person underneath the make-up and the wigs and the false eyelashes (for goodness sake!). They are trained to become puppets who, one day just as Pinocchio did, will long to be a real person—an authentic human being who can think and has feelings and wishes of their own.
There is nothing ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ about these little girls who are conned into wearing glittering dresses that cost thousands, along with the false boobs and butts and pointy bras like Lady Gaga wears, and who are then painstakingly coached by their mothers to wiggle their butts in provocative ways to exude a sexuality that is neither befitting nor attractive for their age. Their mothers have objectified them. As objects, they are dehumanised.
Where is the respect? How will these little girls learn self-respect or self-worth when their worth is measured by how many tiaras or trophies or other prizes they can win by prancing about in an unnatural way, their natural beauty hidden under make-up masks and glittery clothes that make them look years older than they really are? What happens to their childhood? Does it become lost being a plaything for mothers who use them for their own amusement? I would suggest it becomes lost within a mother’s narcissistic desire to make her child what she should never be. In this way her child becomes an extension of her mother’s ego.
Living within a mask or false self, a child is lost to her authentic self. Because her self worth is always measured by her external appearance, it is unlikely she will ever discover her inner beauty and learn to develop it, for along with the spray tans, false nails, and fake hair, the message these mothers are giving their little girls is this: “You are not ‘good enough’ as you naturally are and I have to go to great lengths and expense to make you beautiful.”
Unable to access their inner beauty, these little girls will become like china dolls: mask-like and brittle, and easily broken. What mother, who truly loves her daughter, would wish such a fate on a child?
February 12, 2011
No matter how caring we are with our own children, during unguarded moments of stress we can unwittingly re-enact the way we were punished or abused as children, terrifying and confusing not only our children, but also ourselves. What forms can this abuse take and how can we change the way we treat children?
September 09, 2010
I learned from my students that low self-esteem was not only about parents fighting, other children being mean or calling them names, or even sibling hatred; it was also about not performing well in school. But when I dig a little deeper…