It's hard to imagine that anyone in the audience for TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras has a deep passion for child beauty pageants. Okay, maybe there's a small contingent of fans who like frilly dresses and are impervious to real-time psychological trauma, but most can't help but be appalled by pageant parents' (read: moms') obsession with their children's ability to impress strangers who have god-only-knows what issues of their own (read: judges).
TLC is clearly aware of this freak-show element, as evidenced by their online description of the show:
"On any given weekend, on stages across the country, little girls and boys parade around wearing makeup, false eyelashes, spray tans and fake hair to be judged on their beauty, personality and costumes. Toddlers and Tiaras follows families on their quest for sparkly crowns, big titles, and lots of cash.
The preparation is intense as it gets down to the final week before the pageant. From hair and nail appointments, to finishing touches on gowns and suits, to numerous coaching sessions or rehearsals, each child preps for their performance. But once at the pageant, it's all up to the judges and drama ensues when every parent wants to prove that their child is beautiful."
The irony here may escape pageant parents, but most everyone else is in on the joke: We're supposed to be sickened by everything about these pageants, from the almost violently enforced gender ideals to the heart-breaking insecurity that results in the pint-sized contestants. I'm uncomfortable with how much of this criticism is placed on the mothers (the dads usually tell the camera that they don't really like the pageants, and the few who are into it tend to be painted has hyper-effeminate or just plain creepy), but I'm still glad the show exists. These pageants happen all over the country, and seem to have a profound affect on the little girls who are involved. Hopefully the show's critical lens will encourage viewers to question not only the pageants, but our society's obsession with beauty.
Then again, TLC seems to take a completely different approach to King of the Crown, the pageant show that preceeds Toddlers & Tiaras on Wednesday nights.
"King of The Crown features Cyrus Frakes and his staff at "Gowns and Crowns" as they navigate through the hilarious and heartwarming world of pageant coaching.
Every week Cyrus and his staff take a newbie client through a local pageant as well as showcase previous titleholders as they perfect their winning techniques.
With over 24 years experience in the business, Cyrus is a genuine King of Queens. Cyrus has transformed even the ugliest of ducklings into award winning pageant stars. From Miss Teen to Miss World, Cyrus along with his Gowns and Crowns team has helped their clients win over 1,000 titles."
So, when a woman pushes her daughter to be pageant-perfect she's a horrible person, but when a gay man does it it's charming and lovable? (Digression: I'm so tired of gay men on TV treating women as empty objects whose only goal should be physical beauty. Not only does that stereotype promote misogyny, but it's incredibly insulting to the gay community.)
Granted, Cyrus is working with consenting adult contestants, not children. But if these women grew up in the pageant circuit, how genuine can their enthusiasm for pageants really be? And in any case, a man who makes a living molding women to pageant standards hardly deserves such a gushy take. If we hate to see children subjected to these grueling yet superficial expectations, we certainly shouldn't love seeing grown women subjected to them.