Disgusted, Worried, Inspired

Last night I was watching “Toddlers and Tiaras”, a reality show on TLC where Moms put their young girls in beauty pageants. The girls ranged in age from 3 (THREE!) to 10 in this episode, and each girl was outfitted with some or all of the following: makeup, fake hair, fake teeth, contact lenses, costumes, fake eyelashes. They had to parade around the stage, waving and blowing kisses. Several of the kids complained to their Moms that they didn’t want this or that but their Moms made them, emphasizing that they’d never win without the teeth, contacts, etc.

I watched it with the fascination and disgust that one watches a car accident on the side of the highway. With each moment that passed, each little girl whose beautiful, natural features were made over, covered, altered, my heart felt heavier and heavier. I was near tears and it wasn’t from the growing feeling of nausea in my stomach.

What were they doing? What is the world doing? Three years old with a wig and fake eyelashes? A beautiful 10 year old girl told to wear green contacts because her brown eyes weren’t good enough? Not pretty enough? For once I am struggling to articulate exactly how I feel about this because I am so shocked that I can hardly form coherent thoughts.

It would be easy to pretend that this is all on TV, all separate from us, or even, something only “Americans” would do. But really we know the difference, don’t we? Look around at the girls you see walking down the street. Look how they carry themselves, what they’re wearing, how they talk. Three year olds want to be 15. Fifteen year olds want to be 22. And it isn’t with the innocence that we all tried on our Mommies high heels and lipstick when we were little girls. It is a genuine belief that they aren’t good enough the way they are.

A few years ago I was substitute teaching at a school and a girl in Grade 5 told me her Mom had to use two whole boxes of hair dye on her because one wasn’t enough. In case you aren’t sure, in Grade 5 a child is no more than 11 years old. I told her I had never dyed my hair and her reply was, “Wow, That must be hard”. I told her that I thought each of us was born with the colour hair that looks most beautiful on us. She had no reply, but the look on her face clearly told me that such a statement had never been said to her before. Her own mother thought her 11 year old daughter would look prettier as a brunette. What message is that sending?

I am not a skinny woman. I have hips, boobs, a full hour-glass figure. I’m a curvy Mama. Do I sometimes wish to be thinner? Yes, to be honest, I do. But I have absolutely no desire to be so drastically different from what I am now that I look different altogether.  That’s just not me. Never has been, never will be, and I’ve made peace with that. I am a teacher and last year I taught 9 and 10 year olds. We had a deep mutual affection for each other and a beautiful, healthy teacher/student relationship, particularly the girls and I. As a teacher, I feel that it is my job to be who I am and look the way I do to show those girls that you can be smart, beautiful, funny, loving, successful, and happy however you look, whatever you weigh, and whatever your dress size. I made a point to explicitly tell them as much any chance I had. Most of their mothers didn’t tell them, so if I didn’t I wondered who would. Maybe no one. Ever.

I feel so passionately about this.

As teachers, Aunts, sisters, neighbours, friends, cousins, Moms and as WOMEN, we have a job to do.

So stop facebooking about your weight, your weight-loss, your diet. Stop losing sleep over the boston cream donut you indulged in with your Timmies this morning. Don’t eat differently in front of your new date to seem feminine and dainty. Be healthy, be happy, be yourself. Make peace with your huge hips, or lack of boobs, your big nose or your small feet. Love yourself the way you are today. Wear what fits and what is comfortable – tear out the tags if you have to. Look in the mirror and smile. (When was the last time you did that?) Love yourself. Love yourself harder than you ever have before. Then spread that love, that healthy self-esteem, that appreciation and respect for yourself to every girl and women you know.

And if they don’t get this message? Then what?
They need it.
And so do you.

Mel

6 Comments

  • I completely agree with you Mel! I have sometimes wished that certain features of myself were different and have only ever put a few highlights in my hair but in the end I am who I am and if you don't like it than that is your loss. I couldn't imagine ever putting my daughter through something like this and anyone who knows her already knows that she is her own persopn and won't do anything she doesn't want too! This however may not be the greatest when she reaches her teenage years but we will just have to wait and see. If she grows up to be happy with who she is and what she is doing in life than I have done my job 🙂

  • This reminds me of my trip to Japan. Over there they have photo booths… Much like we do here where you can get in with your friends and make silly faces as the camera captures these very memorable moments. BUT over there you can also change the shape of your eyes.. They think more round eyes are more beautiful, not their natural almond shape. You can also add waves to you'd hair because naturally straight is not good enough.

    I think it's completely crazy how this world has deemed what is beautiful is to look like a giraffe that has never eaten food and if you touch it it's gonna break.

    I agree Mel if God wanted me to look like a giraffe he would have made me one. But he didn't so I think I'm good looking like me 🙂

    ~Lisa

  • The sad fact is that it is not just mom's putting there little girls in these shows, it is dad's as well. In fact for some families these shows are a family affair, everyone goes mom, dad, brothers, sisters. They act as if it is a show of support for the girl in the show, and in some ways it is, but what are the brothers of these girls learning about beauty and accepting girls/women as they are. And how sad is it that the whole family supports the opinion that is you make a few (major) changes you'll be pretty enough to win.

    Sometimes during an inverview the parent will say something along the lines of " they are perfect as they are" or " i love them no matter what" or some other supportive comment, but I wonder is that said to the child? how often? or is this just for the camera.

    Thankfuly we are starting to see more conversations about airbrushed pic in magasines and models speaking out about how "perfect" they really are. But this message will take a while to filter down to the younger generation. So hopefully we can speed it up a bit with some positive reinforcement of our own.

  • I have seen this show before and I agree – its like a train wreck, you can't look away. I cannot imagine how screwed up these little girls will be when they grow up. It interesting to hear the mothers talk about how they used to do pagents when they were little. Clearly they are passing their insecurities on to their little ones. One of the worst things I have seen on this show was when they were feeding this 3 year old sugar cubes as rewards when she performed like a trained puppy. Talk about messing up a kids association between food and their parent's approval.
    And you wonder how childhood obesity occurs…. I wish this show's producers would include some kind of better message but maybe this makes for better TV?

    One thing I think about when I imagine having a little girl is that I hope she gets to stay a child as long as possible. The media and society tries to over sexualize our little girls and this show is a prime example. There will be no makeup, tight/grownup clothes in my little girl's life for as long as possible…

    Liz

  • Liz, I have a little girl and completely agree with you! I hope that we can keep her a sweet innocent little girl for as long as possible

  • OK..I’m a little bit behind on the blog… I have to comment on this one because I also feel strongly about this. I’ve seen that show several times and it’s fascinating what people will do to their children. I’m not sure how these mothers can think that spray tanning their 3 year old child is ever appropriate. I totally agree that this whole thing is insane. If the children were getting some value out of it I might consider it, but it appears that all they learn is how to pose in weird cutsey poses (that are all the same) imitating their obsessive mothers. The “talents” appear to be prancing around the stage. Maybe if they were learning how to sing or dance or another sport it would be slightly better – but then there would still be the beauty and bathing contest which are clearly inappropriate. The mothers seem to think that this will build self confidence but as you mentioned they are all going to have self esteem issues if they are wearing everything fake and being judged on the way they look from such a young age…I cannot believe it’s even allowed. There seem to be lots of articles on this issue…there was one a girl whose mom thought it would be funny to dress her kid up in the Julia Robert’s pretty woman hooker outfit…while it’s true her kid may not have understood, it’s the idea…dressing up your 3 year old daughter as a hooker is NOT okay. The fact that this has to be said is sad. Also, a lot of the families pay so much money ($1000 or more for a dress plus the fake teeth, fake nails, fake tan, coach, etc.); I don’t think this is a financially wise decision when you spend $2,000 with a 1/100 chance of winning $500. Why don’t they put this money away towards their children’s education? I think the parents have dreams of their children being miss America and while the pagents for older women are slightly more tolerable I don’t think it’s best to make this choice for your child. Oh and what bothers me the most is that all of the mothers and judges say that the winning girl will have “the total package” – their total package definition is having the right face, being beautiful, having the right clothes/costumes, and having personalty (which usually means diva or having a big fake smile with crazy eyes like they’re not real). Let’s consider what should be the definition for a 5 year old “total package”….plays well with others, good manners, learning how to play soccer….I’m glad that this show sheds light on this issue but the fact that it is not illegal to spray tan your small child in their underwear astonishes me.

    Mel – your stories about the grade 5 girl and other students are amazing…I'm so glad we have teachers like you to send the right message.

    Em

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