JJ Vincent confesses to something few men will…he watches Toddlers and Tiaras. And he loves it.
I love this show. Probably not for the reasons you think. In general, I dislike “reality” shows, save for a couple of cooking and fashion shows which I watch for the food and the clothes…we’ll just ignore the conversation I had last week when four of us dissected the contestants and personalities (and clothes) of four seasons of Project Runway.
But I digress.
Toddlers and Tiaras. If you’ve had eyes or ears or a pulse in the last five years, you’ve heard of this show, or at least some of the antics (see: little girl as Pretty Woman prostitute Julia Roberts, Honey Boo-Boo). Each episode follows a few children as they prepare for and compete in beauty pageants. With the children, you get the stage moms. And dads. And coaches. And nanas. And sequins. And spray tans. And rhinestones. And melt-downs. And production cuts that clearly define who the angels and devils and heroes and villains are. After you hear the lingo several times, you go online to learn more about the Little Miss Blah Blah Pageant or the Bright and Shiny New Faces show. And after you recover from your faint from looking at how much it costs to enter even one, the show becomes even more surreal.
So why do I have mini T&T marathons when I have a day alone at home when I am cutting and sewing, or otherwise making things?
Simply put, two things draw me to the show: the color and dazzle and the family dynamics.
I roll my eyes and cringe when I see six-year-olds getting spray-and-roller tanned and four-year-olds squirming through fake eyelash application. I hate the misshapen faces from false teeth and the jammed-on-the-head half-foot tall hair poufs. The parade of bikinis and the belly shirts on eight-year-olds are right out.
But the sparkle and the rhinestones and the glitter, the bedazzlers on overdrive, the layers of satin and chiffon, how different a child can look in blue or green, how a line up look can completely change if there is a color clash between two dresses standing next to each other. The perfection in the simplicity of ice blue and silver with clean lines and the lovely extravagance of a yellow-orange-pink froth job that looks like it should be topped with a cherry and a pineapple. The absence of dull and drab. The flash and flare of light. You don’t see a lot of lime green and hot violet on the streets or in the office. In the pageant world, they are staples. The color is part of the language of the glitz.
If the pretties are the frosting, the family dynamics are the cake, the solid filling. In the span of a few episodes, I heard one woman say she was disappointed when she had a son, because she “…had kids so she could do pageants…” She got a lot happier when she realized she could enter her son in them. Another one kissed her husband good-bye when he gave her the choice of him or pageants (he came back). One made it very clear that she was doing this for herself, that her daughter was essentially her prop, and one other, who did not listen to the announcements about “crowning”, was so angry with the results that she broke her daughter’s trophy, tore up her goodie bag…and then had to go back in, shame-faced, when her daughter won a major award.
Almost to a one, the small ones, under about age 6, didn’t care what they won. They were just happy to have new toys, maybe a crown. The slightly older ones were more emotional about wins and losses, understanding that they were being judged not just by the judges but by the other competitors and mothers. The parents were mainly the ones who cared, their self-worth tied up in their children’s success, and their child’s self-worth in the only-winners-matter attitude. A few were genuinely happy just to see their child having fun, with no pressure, but these were not the majority. The kids ran the range of…kids, from spoiled, demanding, tantrum-throwing monsters to dreamy little girls who sing made-up songs to very pragmatic, professional, this-is-my-job 10-year-olds. There are very few “just plain kids”.
And then in the hyper-competitive, hyper-feminine world of pageants, there are the Pageant Dads.
These are not dads cheering from the sidelines. These are the dads who are 150% invested in the Pageant Lifestyle. You’ll see some of them taking their daughters out on ATVs or roughhousing with them before going inside to hand-stitch ruffles onto a Beauty dress. Others will cheer them through practice, teaching them their moves and walking them over and over. They’ll make up dance steps and talent routines, mugging the faces and miming the head-nods and “pretty feet” that the pageants demand. They spray-and-roll the tans, wear glittered t-shirts proclaiming their little girl’s names, learn the secrets of make-up and sewing, spend hours laboring with a hot glue gun and bags of sequins and feathers, and construct elaborate state props. They’ll work an extra job or help Mom coupon to afford pageants. The ones that are interviewed say that it’s something over which they can bond with their daughters, something that their daughters love that they support and want to be part of, and the moms, while often somewhat bewildered, are happy to let it go.
Where it gets weird is at the actual pageants. These dads, who put everything they have into this, are largely sidelined. They might walk on stage if their daughter is a wee little one. They might assist with a talent prop. But with rare exceptions, the moms are the one standing in the audience, miming the routine and cuing the child. The dads are the ones just trying to keep little Lucy’s attention. Maybe.
Is Toddlers and Tiaras a good show? It shows us something that most of us will never know about. Is it a “real” show? Probably as much as any other reality show. Is it a fair representation of these people and this hobby/obsession? I would say likely – there are horrid parents that you hope don’t damage their children permanently and loving ones who try to make these pageants wonderful for their kids.
Does it keep my attention and speed up my sewing time? It seems to. Does it make me want to dig through my fabrics and make more pretty things? Oh yes.
But unfortunately for my creative time, it also tempts me to run out, find some satin and rhinestones, and borrow someone’s child. Not to pageant them out. Just to bedazzle them. Just a little.