Thursday, February 23, 2012

How to Watch "Toddlers and Tiaras" Without Blowing a Gasket: An Insider's Perspective

I discussed Todders and Tiaras and the world of child beauty pageants with a pageant insider. While I won't provide details about this person, I will say that the person is articulate and intelligent, and I highly recommend you read this person's perspective on the TLC show Toddlers and Tiaras and the pageant world. The source's words are below.

* First and foremost, remember this is reality TV.  It is not a National Geographic documentary, aimed at providing a factual account of the pageant subculture.  T&T has about as much basis in fact as "Jersey Shore", and nearly as much drama.  That's how they like it.

* Remember, they cast the show the way they do on purpose.  The weirder the family, the trashier the director, the crazier the kids, the better the ratings.  Think back to the episodes you remember -  the moms who screamed at their kids, the kid who got spray tanned at an auto garage, the boys who say "I can turn into girls", the parents who favored one child over another, the director who said "fat kids need not apply"...Every bit of it was intentional and done for the ratings.

* "But it happened!  I saw it!".  Did you?  Yes, it happened, and no, it didn't.  At least, not likely in the manner or context in which it was intended.  Post-production editing is a powerful thing, and many many good intentions end up on TLC's cutting room floor.

To address some common concerns:

* Yes, there are crazy pageant moms, harsh coaches, and kids who'd be better off pursuing another hobby.  Isn't that the case in any kids' sport?  We all know "that Little League dad" who got ejected for yelling at the ref, that dancer or gymnast forced to compete on an injured ankle, that young wrestler who runs the hallways of his school in heavy clothing, sweating to the point of dehydration, to "make weight" for his next meet.  Where's the outrage for these kids?  The reality show on them?

* "All the emphasis is on their looks!!!". No, not really.  Unless it's a "face pageant", there's far more to it than that.  99% of the time, confidence and personality will win over a pretty face.

* "But what about the makeup?  The fake hair? They're just BABIES".  Let me be clear that actual babies usually compete with neither of these.  My granddaughter is a year old.  She competes with, at best, a hint of blush to keep her from washing out under stage lights.  We do use a hairpiece, because she has enough hair to justify it, and I am a huge fan!  Doing her hair takes all of 10 minutes.  All the hot rollers, setting spray, hair spray, and other processing happen to the hairpiece, which isn't attached to the head of an active toddler!  It's a huge time saver, and makes it far easier on the kiddo.  In any case, none of this is unique to pageant kids.  Dancers and cheerleaders wear makeup, eyelashes, and often fake hair as well.

* "But it's so expensive!!!". Yes, it can be.  But so are many other sports in which kids participate.  Have you priced hockey equipment, ice time, and tournament fees recently?  Or dance costumes and private lessons?  And just like any other sport, there are ways to do it, even on a budget.  Many successful pageant kids rent a dress, or buy second hand.  Many get sponsors to help cover their fees and travel expenses.  More than a few "big name" kids have paid for their college entirely through their pageant winnings.

* "They're forced to practice!!!".  And?  Most kids aren't a fan of practicing anything.  They want the glory of competition day, not the drudgery of practice.  If you signed your kid up for soccer, would you make them go to practice, or just let them show up, unprepared, for the game?

In short, pageants are no different from any other kids' sport or activity.
 There are good parents, and bad ones.  Pushy, overbearing coaches, and inspiring ones.   Money-hungry directors, and ones who genuinely care about the kids.  And T&T is like any other "reality" show -  largely staged, and heavily edited to show what they want you to see.  Do you honestly believe everyone in New Jersey acts like Snooki?  No, probably not.  You're smarter than that.

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