Toddlers & Tiaras makes me want to throw up.

[Third column from class. The topic was culture.]

Tanning, booty-shaking, fake nails, false eyelashes, bling, and bad attitudes. The frightening truth is that these things can have one of two common denominators: dirty, sleazy city clubs or child beauty pageants.

Child beauty pageants will never be uncontroversial. TLC has recently instigated argument with its show Toddlers & Tiaras. I won’t claim to know the purpose of the program, but what I learned after watching a few episodes was that, with few exceptions, child beauty pageants are completely and utterly pointless.

Some say that pageants make girls more confident. This confidence manifests itself in the way the girls talk to their parents (who, if judged themselves, would win the award for Worst Parenting Ever in a 30-way tie) and talk badly about their competitors. They pout and scream to get what they want, then ham-and-cheese it up onstage. The girl is not judged by her personality, but by her personality in front of a panel of judges.

However, the focus of the controversy isn’t how the girls act but how they look. There’s not a lot of justification for the idea that child pageants make girls feel beautiful and valued. The ultimate mistake of beauty pageants is interpreting beauty as perfection. Because of this mistake, each little girl gives up her individuality to wedge her way into the mold of a pageant girl.

A pageant mother on Toddlers & Tiaras sought to justify spray-tanning her daughter by saying that if she wasn’t tan like all the other girls, she would be at a disadvantage. Obviously, if every mother thinks this their daughters will be continuously subject to this humiliation.

Also, instead of wearing child-sized versions of the ball gowns worn in adult pageants, the toddlers are dressed as entertainers. Their flirtatious tutus are covered in glitz and their wigs look like they weigh more than the average six-year-old. Their outfits are costumes, and a costume by definition is meant to hide the personality and individuality of the wearer.

The amount of artificial body parts on one of these toddlers is astounding. Her real eyelashes, hair, teeth, fingernails and skin are covered, pasted, plucked, painted and added to. The end result is a line of girls who look like an alien mixture of baby dolls and Barbie dolls, all perfectly alike yet slightly different.

“It makes her look like a midget prostitute,” a father of one of the pageant girls on Toddlers & Tiaras said.

I worry about the ideals the winners of these competitions are learning more than about the confidence of the crushed losers. Through increasingly frequent and powerful conversations about our false “beauty ideal,” our culture is beginning to move away from repetitive, boring ideas about beauty, but pageant girls are getting left behind. We can only hope that they’ll grow out of this dramatic conformity and come to realize that “beautiful,” “perfect,” and “fake” are not synonymous. Beauty is not perfection. Beauty is real and diverse.

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