Movies + TV

Literally the Best Thing Ever: Toddlers & Tiaras

The jewel in the bedazzled crown of TLC reality shows.

Say all the bad things you want to about reality TV: it’s stupid, it’s vapid, it’s mindless, it’s contrived, it’s pandering to the lowest common denominator of viewers, it’s not reality at all, it’s showcasing people who don’t deserve our attention…I don’t care. I love reality TV—all of it. It’s true! I love being a voyeur, and I have absolutely no taste. If a reality TV show is on, I will watch it. But I especially love the lineup of exquisite shows on TLC—which stands for “The Learning Channel,” not “Tender Loving Care,” btw. How apropos. I learn so much from TLC!

Of all the quality shows in the TLC lineup—which includes such educational gems as My Strange Addiction, Breaking Amish, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, and Sister Wives—there is really no question about which is my favorite. It’s Toddlers & Tiaras, and it is literally, without any uncertainty, the best thing ever. If you’re not watching it, you’re missing out.

Toddlers & Tiaras is a deeply controversial show about the deeply weird world of child beauty pageants, the children who perform in them, and the sometimes frightening parents who enter their children (usually little girls, but there are some boys) into them. Each show follows the same plot: we meet three different little girls and their mothers, and check out all the awards and stunningly glittery tiaras and trophies the child has already amassed. These trophies and crowns usually have titles like “Miss Sunshine Dazzling Diamond Ultimate Supreme” and “Universal Royalty National Pageant Third Runner-Up,” and they are usually bigger than the winner herself.

Then we follow each girl as she practices (or tries to get out of practicing) her routines for the pageant. Finally, we watch the family travel to whatever Hilton or Marriott hotel the “Show Me Smiles Fantasy Pageant” is being held at, watch the respective children get ready and perform, and then watch the crowning ceremony.

Sounds relatively benign and harmless, eh? WHAT IF I TOLD YOU THAT ONE OF THE PAGEANT PARTICIPANTS WAS THREE DAYS OLD? What if you were shaken out of your reality TV stupor and suddenly became aware that you were watching a four-year-old shriek in agony as her mother tries to attach fake eyelashes to her daughter’s eyelids?

This is absolutely the worst part of the show. I hate it when a child looks at her parent, the person she trusts most, and says plainly, “I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS” (which happens in almost every episode), and the mother brushes it off with an eyeroll and a swat of the hand. “You’re just being a brat,” the moms say. “She really loves pageants,” they tell the camera.

On Toddlers & Tiaras, bored-looking six-year-olds get spray tans. You know why they’re bored? Because they’ve had more than 30 spray tans already in their young lives. In these pageants, a tan is de rigueur—you can’t expect to seriously compete without one.

It is absolutely startling to meet a cheerful, confident, usually spoiled little girl in the beginning of the show and then suddenly be confronted later, when she’s ready for the pageant, with someone who has the face of a 20-year-old and the body of a five-year-old.

Big hair is the rule—almost everyone uses hair pieces, and then it’s teased to the gods. Everything is big. Dresses for “Glitz” pageants—beauty pageants with a focus on extremely glittery costumes and facial beauty instead of talent—can start at $650. $650, y’all. For a seven-year-old’s fluffy tulle dress. Fake acrylic nails (always French-tipped) are applied to the girls’ tiny fingers and toes. Some girls’ parents even order a “flipper” for them—a full set of fake teeth that can be fitted around a child’s regular baby teeth, giving them a freaky, perfect, adult set of choppers. As the box with her child’s flipper arrived, one mother explained that she had ordered it to cover up her daughter’s “bad teeth.” Her six-year-old daughter was missing her two front teeth.

The girls participating in these pageants, for the most part, seem to be into it. Or at least they’re pretty good at pretending to be into it. Lots of them say they love pageants, that doing pageants makes them feel special. They strut like mini prizefighters, declaring that they’re going to win money and crowns ’cause they’re the most beautiful girl in the world. They practice smiling and blowing kisses to the judges. They shout with glee when their costumes arrive in the mail, diving into the boxes and pulling out bedazzled tube tops and rhinestone-studded dresses. They seem happy enough, these girls.

Until something goes wrong, or starts to hurt. Have you ever had acrylic nails put on? It kills. Acrylic nails hurt when they’re applied because you have to file off the top layer of each nail to get the acrylic to bond properly with the nail. Spray tans are icy cold, and then you have to stand in front of a fan for 10 minutes to dry. Hairpins scraping against the head hurt, fake eyelashes make eyes tear up, flippers cut into gums, costumes itch, and participants have to wake up at 4 AM to start getting their makeup done on the day of the pageant. At these moments, the little girls turn from eerily poised beauty queens back into themselves, snarling and wailing and flinging themselves on the bed in the hotel room, yelling at their mothers.

Toddlers & Tiaras is not at all shy about portraying those mothers in the worst possible light, and America loves to hate these mothers, these women who put their little girls in bikinis and glue weaves into their hair and feed them caffeinated drinks and Pixy Stix to make them perky. There is an episode where we watch young Alana suck down great gulps of her “Go Go Juice,” a totally unjuicelike concoction her mom makes by combining Red Bull and Mountain Dew. The mothers always seem to justify what they’re doing, saying things like “She wants to do it” and “I put her in pageants to help with her self-esteem,” but the justification usually seems half-assed, and it nearly always comes across as a sad woman trying to live vicariously through her child. You haven’t seen drama until you’ve watched a mother try to wrestle her prize-winning five-year-old daughter into a shiny, tight fake-leather shirt while the girl screams and sobs that she can’t move. Which brings up the question: why do we love to accuse women of being bad mothers, when the dads of these kids get a pass?

Please do not get me wrong, here. I don’t enjoy watching kids being miserable, or watching them being forced to feed their parents’ egos. Who would do this to their child? Who would spray-tan a four-year-old, or glue extensions to their eight-year-old daughter’s head? As it turns out, lots of people would. But think of the messages these kids are getting from their parents: The only thing that matters is winning. Being beautiful is the most important thing. It’s awful. It’s also awful that as a feminist woman, I should find this show so diverting. But I doooooo. It’s a window into a world I cannot even imagine, and I am fascinated by it.

There are hysterically funny moments. The aforementioned Alana is nicknamed Honey Boo Boo Chile, and she is so full of personality that she got herself her very own TLC spinoff show. The first time we meet Alana, she lifts her shirt, grabs her cute baby-chubby belly, smooshes it towards the camera, and announces, “Those judges don’t know a good thing when they see it.” And that is my new mantra! Thanks, Alana! Five-year-old McKenzie looks critically at the mirror in her new costume, squints, and then declares, “If it’s McKenzie, everything goes together!” The best moments, though, are when the pageant moms get a horrified look on their faces as their daughters say something particularly bratty to them—a look that says, “What have I done?”

If Toddlers & Tiaras isn’t high-class drama, I don’t know what is. Big hair. Family feuds (Dad thinks the new dance outfit looks “a little too bondage-y” and Mom huffs, “It just shows her belly!” when the outfit in question is made of little strips of fake leather that make a bikini top with fringe). Thousand-dollar dresses. Enormous rhinestone tiaras. Girls who’ve been told over and over again that they are the most special, the most beautiful girls on earth sobbing when they don’t win the Universal Diamond Gemz Ultimate National pageant. Backstage catfights; beauty queens who still suck on pacifiers. Bad, extremely bad, parenting.

It’s a real-life microcosm, a tiny little world with celebrities who can’t sign their names yet. It’s awful. It’s wonderful. It’s reality television programming at its finest. ♦


  • Adrienne September 20th, 2012 11:46 PM

    I used to watch Toddlers and Tiaras all the time but I don’t know why I stopped watching! I really really want to see Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. There are some great GIFs on Alana on Tumblr… :)

    It’s not on TLC, but I also like watching Dance Moms!!

  • unefillecommetoi September 20th, 2012 11:50 PM

    I honestly consider this pageants child abuse, and I don’t think it’s okay at all. I don’t understand how it can be legal to put a toddler through literally pain and suffering, or even if it didn’t physically hurt them, just making them look like that. Argh

  • Katherine September 20th, 2012 11:56 PM

    I’m so relieved that I’m not the only one fascinated by this show and the little girls and their parents. The one thing that bothers me is that TLC makes it all so black and white. For example, whenever they feature Taralyn Eschberger, they always neglect to mention that she has an older, extremely disabled brother and pageants are her special time alone with her parents. (Not that I’m endorsing child beauty pageants as bonding time.) But I suppose part of the point of this show is to make us hate the parents and they would lose ratings if they made us sympathetic to them.

  • estefa September 21st, 2012 12:16 AM

    Like a highly the controversial writer Peter Santos (I do not encourage you to read him) said once in an interview, pedophiles are not looking for the nude pics of children, they are watching shows like this because this kind of show fulfill their desires. Media is very hypocrite, on one hand they condemn the children abuse and on the other they display children like meat, not only in shows like this but in ads, movies and so on.
    Please do not continue with this terrible type of entertainment!

    • LuxOrBust September 21st, 2012 1:19 AM

      I second this!

    • Hunter September 21st, 2012 1:59 AM

      Peter Sotos*

    • dandelions September 23rd, 2012 10:26 PM

      You are right. We can’t say this show is amazing, because it is not. I know it can show us the true, so we can think and learn about it, and concern about what is happening with this girls… but I don’t think it’s ok to just sit at the couch and eat popcorn watching tv and laughing about this. In My so called life, there is a episode where Angela’s mom asks her to participate in a beauty contest. There, girls look the way they are, it shows that beauty does not mean to be hurt or look like barbie. You can be pretty, use makeup, wear your favorite clothes, but not trying to destroy what you are, to be accepted.

  • the8thglass September 21st, 2012 12:43 AM

    Am I the only one who thinks this is child abuse? Not to mention the fact that these pageants are probably giant cornucopias of child predators!

  • little lavandula September 21st, 2012 2:07 AM

    What is wrong with you? Are you genuinely condoning morally bankrupt people’s behavior and deeming it as entertaining because it is so violently far removed from how human beings are supposed to act that it devalues them?

  • SammyBrrr September 21st, 2012 2:13 AM


  • Sugar September 21st, 2012 2:35 AM

    I think people who freak out about this being “child abuse” have never met a typical sport parent. Any parent who wants their child to seriously compete is going to do things other people see as abusive.

    This is not abuse.

    • Mags September 21st, 2012 11:04 PM

      It’s not abusive because it’s sports? That seems like a very simple way to look at it. I think what happens on Toddlers & Tiaras is definitely emotional abuse, at the very least. It will have major ramifications as the girls get older.

    • dandelions September 23rd, 2012 10:35 PM

      it is abuse, it’s like in The Breakfast Club, (Andrew’s dad).
      There is a difference between encourage and to force.

  • Shayna September 21st, 2012 2:44 AM

    Breaking Amish is great!

  • ohmytuesday September 21st, 2012 3:35 AM

    Um. Almost every mom is like this where I come from. Especially with academics. Dropping below a Band One (usually 75%) is the END OF THE WORLD. Kids as young as 3 get preparatory tuition classes for kindergarten and elementary school. I’m certainly not condemning such behaviour, but I do agree that it’s really sad. Kids need their childhood :’D

  • brittany09 September 21st, 2012 3:49 AM

    When a child is exposed to values and lessons that are associated with beauty pageants at such a young age, it will almost inevitably affect them in the future. The whole purpose of beauty pageants is to determine the most beautiful competitor and it’s not really right. It judges people on just their physical appearance, not their personality or ability to be a good person which is what really should matter, but sadly doesn’t in today’s society.

    • christinachristina September 21st, 2012 2:45 PM

      Thanks you. This is all I can think about when it comes to shows like this—this crap is seriously going to effect these girls’ future lives.

      I legitimately don’t understand why this is literally the best thing ever. It grosses me out. I understand the fascination, but what this show condones is something I never thought I’d see on Rookie.

  • Lillypod September 21st, 2012 5:22 AM

    Yeah this show is horrible and twisted but so addictive!
    I fell into a black hole for a couple of hours watching these one time…
    …but they seriously creep me out. There’s just so many things wrong with it:
    * telling young girls from such sensitive age that all that matters is their physical appearance.
    * Giving them a false sense of entitlement, that they’re the centre of the universe.
    *Sexualizing their appearances to obscene degrees.
    * Fostering an rabidly competitive spirit when kids should just be making friends and having fun!
    * Parents (but mainly mothers) putting enormous pressure on their tiny shoulders to succeed. Six year olds shouldn’t get this stressed!
    * Unhealthy and distorted mother-daughter relationships, the root of a LOT of teenage and adult issues.

    Yeah, these things should be banned.

  • NotReallyChristian September 21st, 2012 5:56 AM

    I used to watch T&T all the time, but now they seem to always focus more on younger kids (I guess because a 3-year-old is more likely to mess up) when I preferred the older ones. There was one, I think she was called Olivia? She was featured a couple of times, she had glasses and was clearly wonderfully strange. She reminded me of me :)

  • Alienor September 21st, 2012 6:25 AM

    i think saying it’s child abuse goes a liittle far .

  • YangHaizi September 21st, 2012 7:02 AM

    I totally agree this is mostly pedophile entertainment …and it’s child abuse and should be illegal

  • imola September 21st, 2012 7:09 AM

    I love, love, love reality shows (especially those that get labelled as “trash” but I don’t agree with that) exactly for the same reason as you – because I get a glimpse to a world I can’t even imagine. and I never watch these from an “oh-look-at-these-gross-creatures” point of view, because honestly who am I to look down on or judge others for their choices? I just think they’re genuinely funny.
    my favorite is Mob Wives and it’s spin-off with Big Ang – now that show I think tops even T&T in terms of big-ness and hilarity

  • imcomfortablesodealwithit September 21st, 2012 10:59 AM

    I have read every one of Krista posts, and this is the best one!

  • abbs September 21st, 2012 11:05 AM

    It’s a shame that the media sees Alana Thompson as “adorable” and “feisty” for her use of Ebonics, but if an actual PoC child acted this way, her parents would be pegged as horrible parents and the whole family would be “ghetto.”

    Also, I know this isn’t the place to ask this but, why is there such a lack of People of Color in rookies spread? I love this publication and everything in it, but its disappointing to see only white girls on almost all pictures. I love rookie for its bold acceptance of adolescence, compared to any other teenage magazine, but even here as a Latina I don’t feel well represented.

    • Anaheed September 21st, 2012 2:19 PM

      Which spread are you talking about, abbs? Something recent?

      Also I really think “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” — which I love — tries to mock and shame that lovely family for being fat, poor, uneducated, etc. I actually think their being white makes the network feel that it’s OK to try to make them look horrible and gross, which they might not feel comfortable doing if the family were African American. It’s because of the Thompsons’ general decency and love for one another that this attempt to make them look bad doesn’t really work. (But just google “Go Go Juice” if you want to see a bunch of people heaping scorn on Alana’s parents and on the family.)

    • Elizabete September 21st, 2012 4:30 PM

      Um, the two girls in last pictures seem Latina to me.
      Also, wtf, Rookie talks/show pictures of different girls all the time besides half of the staff are “of color”. It’s so sick that every time there’s a photo shoot with one model who is blonde there are tons of comments about OMGZ, racists!!11! even if the previous shoot featured only Asians for example.
      I sometimes feel guilty of being white even though i get mistaken for Asian often.

      • pygmypuffs September 21st, 2012 4:36 PM

        I actually just went through every single photospread featured on Rookie ever, excluding the slideshows of backgrounds. Here’s the numbers, presented without commentary: 448 people were shown. 51 were people of color.

        • Anaheed September 22nd, 2012 12:49 AM

          Because I am a crazy person, I just counted too and got more than double the number of POC you did. You can’t always tell by looking where someone is from, nor what race(s) they are, nor what their experience is. Which is why this kind of head-counting is ultimately a pointless exercise.

        • miss_kayce September 22nd, 2012 7:04 PM

          i can’t reply to anaheed’s comment, so i’m posting my reply to her as a reply to you (sorry).

          even double the amount is still less than one quarter of the total number of pictures. keeping in mind that there’s basically only one kind of white (“ethnic white” isn’t even a thing — looking white = white privilege, so in the case of privilege, it doesn’t matter if someone’s technically irish or whatever) but many many ways to be a person of color, it still seems more than unbalanced.

          the fact that head-counting is even necessary — that equality in represented points-of-view and the overall look of the site — aren’t immediately apparent, then there’s a problem. it reminds me of that conversational equality study wherein the het dudes thought groups were “equal” when in fact they were made up of less than 30% women. it’s not for any white person to decide what intersectionality and equal representation looks like. the bottom line is that if people of color say there’s a problem, then guess what: there IS a problem.

          maybe just look at addressing it, rather than spending a lot of time deflecting? like just say “hey, intersectionality is an important part of feminism and we’re all learning here. let’s all keep an open mind and be constantly working on getting better.” it’d be soooo much easier than counting every picture ever posted, just sayin’.

          • Anaheed September 22nd, 2012 10:50 PM

            We have been addressing, and continue to address, this issue. We know we can do better, and we will. Thanks for your comments & insights.

        • VeronicaLake September 24th, 2012 8:28 PM

          Rookie should have more Women Of Color as staff writers, honestly. So this can be for ALL.

        • Chimdi October 25th, 2012 7:18 PM

          trying to directly reply to Anaheed but can’t: How are you addressing this issue? One or two black girls in a photoshoot (as vampires! how Hollywood of you!) every once in a while does not solve your inclusivity issues. I don’t mean that you guys should post maybe three articles about racism and then have white cis girls talking about feminism the rest of the time, I mean inclusive feminism that includes girls who are not Tavi Gevinson.
          I can’t relate to the article Hot Stuff, and probably tons of girls of color cannot relate to the article Hot Stuff, because the way sexuality is when related to the supposedly hypersexual black girl, or the “spicy” Latina is completelyyyyyyyy different. I am really starting to feel that, even with that conversation I had with you on “Fun with Stereotypes,” I am not welcome here, or perhaps my welcome has expired.

          You guys are not doing enough. In that post about cultural appropriation next month, you guys NEED to talk about Lana Del Rey’s video for Ride, because that was messed up, and it seems like you guys are very(!) reluctant to criticize any women ever.

          Also: in all your “riot grrrl” talks, you have never mentioned inclusivity. I’m not saying you guys are terrible sucky people and doomed forever, but you need to consider intersectionality, period. And then, hopefully, talk about intersectionalty as it relates to Kathleen Hanna, Gloria Steinem, and all of those well-meaning but non-inclusive people you praise on this site. :)

          Don’t hate you guys, just want you to know that you have a lot to improve. I am waiting for improvements c:

          • Tavi October 25th, 2012 8:03 PM

            We know that we can’t write articles about experiences that are not our own. That’s why we ask for submissions (that inbox recently reached its storage limit, so I assure you, we’re keeping busy). If you would like to write any of these articles, send them to us. The same way it’s not my place to write them, it’s not my place to ask somebody to write publicly about a delicate experience I do not share unless I know first that they’re willing to. We’re also looking to places online outside of our submissions inbox for writers who already make it known that they are willing to write about these experiences. This, again, takes time, but as Anaheed said, if we’re not moving quickly enough for you, I understand.

        • Chimdi October 25th, 2012 7:23 PM

          also: I am not looking for an article about why riot grrl is not inclusive written by Tavi Gevinson, etc. I mean an article, by a woman of color, talking about inclusivity, because if anyone else talks about it they would just be spewing ignorance. I could never write an article about ableism or ageism or heightism because I’ve never experienced it. The only people who truly understand any type of privilege are those who don’t have it, that’s why I felt it was necessary to make this comment :)

        • Anaheed October 25th, 2012 7:47 PM

          We’ve had a lot more than “1 or 2″ nonwhite girls in a photo shoot “every once in a while,” and we’ve had WAY more than 3 articles that talk about race & inclusivity (they are not all THIS IS AN ARTICLE ABOUT RACE IN AMERICA, because that would get redundant; but our articles naturally tend to include such discussions because our writers happen to want to talk about race sometimes). We also have writers with disabilities. Sometimes they talk about those, sometimes they don’t. We have writers who are queer. Sometimes that’s apparent from their writing, sometimes it isn’t.

          If you honestly believe that “1 or 2″ nonwhite girls in photo shoots, and 3 articles that address the subject of race, are the sum total of what we’ve had on Rookie that isn’t some white cisgender fairyland, I think you haven’t really been paying attention.

          You complained about today’s photos of Arvida, because she is white and conventionally pretty and able-bodied. (She also happens to be queer, but that’s not visible, obvs.) I noticed that you didn’t comment about any of our other shoots this month, all of which had a nice mix of races & bodies. (Actually, we could have more fat girls in shoots. And there was 1 shoot with all white girls, but that was a submission from a reader; we didn’t cast it, and we loved the pictures anyway.)

          HOWEVER. You’re 100% right that we still have a long way to go! We need more trans* stuff. We need more nonwhite contributors. All true! I’ve spent a lot of time lately looking for more of that kind of stuff for Rookie. If we’re not improving fast enough for you, fair enough.

        • Chimdi October 25th, 2012 10:24 PM

          ok you guys, thanks for the input. honestly, I was not talking about having more articles about racism, but I what I mean is READERS.

          I’m not going to point them out of course because I don’t want to hate on anyone, but it disturbs me that I’ll look at the blogs of young girls who read this site consistently (I assume because I see their blog in the comments on average basis)and see something like this on their blog(very shortened etc.): “I was in line at a packed thrift store and there was a black girl who I beat to the cash register. I was so scared lol I thought she was going to beat me up.”
          I was going through the Rookie tag today (I like the readers’ photos ok) and I saw a post of a girl who “got bored” and put on some “sugar skull” makeup, which totally “freaked out” her housemates. The fact that a reader of Rookie not only did this but also felt it belonged in the Rookie tag disturbed me. I know that you guys are doing a post about cultural appropriation soon, so hopefully that will be over soon.

          What I’m trying to say is 1. You need to lay out the basics. I don’t want to do this, but I’m talking about a really, really basic article. Really basic. Like say, what white privilege is, or maybe someone talking about (specifically West)U.S. immigration laws or something.
          2. I’m not saying you have only had three articles about racism. You’re right, that was underestimation on my part. But I was trying to say two things: that there’s needs to be articles that integrate race and feminism. For example, you could about dating for feminists, and then about it while a POC.

          • Anaheed October 25th, 2012 10:30 PM

            Any article that any of our nonwhite staffers writes about dating is about “dating while a POC.” And we’re not a political blog, nor are we a Feminism 101 class. And we are certainly not responsible for some dumb thing that someone who happens to read Rookie does.

            We’ve already said that we’re working on a post about cultural appropriation. If it’s taking too long for you, then I’m sorry. We’re trying to make it good.

        • Chimdi October 25th, 2012 10:41 PM

          And what I reallyyyy wanted to say is this: it is fine to like Grimes and I’m sure you guys know about the racial implications of her work (if you don’t: +, but readers don’t. There are just so many people who read the very positive things you post about LDR and Grimes and severalll other white artists and don’t think anything else about it.

          I really hope you realize the reason I keep coming back here again and again is not to be like “LISTEN TO ME I AM RIGHT YOU SUCK” but because I have hope for you. I mean I have no statistics incorporate into this statement or anything, but I feel like you guys are the most well read site aimed at teenage girls that does not (intentionally) cater to the patriarchy. It is because you have such wide influence that I really just want you to be inclusive. I mean also, duh. I am of color. Everyone feels the neeeed to belong :)

          It is because you have such wide influence that this is often the first feminist anything that a lot of people will read. I know you guys are aware that your influence is spreading, and I want that to be a positive influence-not just another influence that tells marginalized people (specifically people of color and trans-) that they can’t be part of something.

          It is well acknowledged that the riot grrl movement was well-intended but was very non-inclusive, and that even though there were plenty of women of color who were part of it, white girls were always the…frontrunners I guess?

          Basically, you guys have the power. Use it in a way that empowers everyone :)))

          • Anaheed October 26th, 2012 12:18 AM

            We feel honored that you trust us to listen to you, Chimdi. I promise you that we are listening! We’re very aware of the areas in which we need to improve, and we are working on it all the time.

    • ladylaurenia September 21st, 2012 10:15 PM

      As a person of color, I have to agree with this, sadly. But you have to wonder if there are a lot of people of color that are feminists?

      • VeronicaLake September 24th, 2012 8:27 PM

        Uhh yes. There are many WOC feminists.

  • Manning September 21st, 2012 12:40 PM

    I am deeply disappointed to see this article on Rookie.

    This show sexualizes very young girls, and celebrates the abuse of children.

    Granted, I am an old, old woman, but I don’t understand how anyone can reconcile their feminism with consuming this terrible terrible show, ironically or otherwise.

    Those are GIRLS who should be playing, learning, exploring, growing, but instead are being fetishized and groomed to satisfy the corrupt desires and failings of their mothers, pedophiles, and a culture obsessed with fame and freakshows.

    Please think about the message it sends that it’s okay to make fun of preschoolers who are being exploited by their parents.

    In celebrating this show, you are creating more demand for shows like this. Expect more from yourselves, and for all girls.

    • christinachristina September 21st, 2012 2:47 PM

      Thank you, thank you.

    • pygmypuffs September 21st, 2012 3:00 PM

      You can enjoy problematic media and still disapprove of the message it sends. For example, 80′s metal was EXTREMELY misogynistic, but that doesn’t stop me from rocking out to Motley Crue.

      Child beauty pageants are evidence of a culture that both fetishizes and discourages youth – the younger the girl the better, but they still have to look several times their age to be acceptable. It’s the same culture that finds men with salt and pepper hair sexy, but women who look anything older than 27 to be disgusting. But these things aren’t the cause of the problem, just a symptom. And if we are to completely boycott all media that isn’t 100% perfectly feminist, then we’re going to all have to find some caves to live in.

      TL;DR, watching Toddler’s and Tiaras is fine as long as you understand that it has problems, just like every other piece of media.

      • Manning September 21st, 2012 3:32 PM

        I can’t enjoy the sexual exploitation of children. I just can’t. Just as I can’t personally rock out to Mötley Crüe, but that’s because they are terrible.

        And I vehemently disagree with your last sentence. There was no Lolita. These are actual human beings, with rights, who are way too young to consent to exploitation by their horrible parents and you, the horrible viewer.

        If you are “enjoying” this show, you are absolutely part of the problem.

        Again, expect more of yourself.

      • Mags September 21st, 2012 11:00 PM

        But if you disapprove of the message, how can you possibly enjoy it? Wouldn’t it repulse you? I don’t really understand this line of thinking.

    • Chimdi October 25th, 2012 7:36 PM

      I feel that a lot of Rookie articles like this are about how it is okay to appreciate things that are DEEPLY problematic, like Girls etc.

      The problem is that Rookie will write about it being okay to like things that are problematic with acknowledging(for more than a sentence) how problematic they are on the site. Of course a lot of people know that these things are problematic, but I’m deeply, deeply concerned for teenage girls who have this site as their introduction to feminism and think that if Rookie likes something, that thing is okay to like(by which I mean in a critical way. Like I love Virgin Suicides even though it is basically a white supremacy handbook, but I like it and know that it is problematic).

      I really hope that those girls will either not look at Rookie as their feminist handbook, or that Rookie will start in-depth analyzing how a lot of the things they like are racist, sexist, non-inclusionary, etc. I am sure that Rookie knows these things are non-inclusionary, but they need to let teenage girls who read this site know that to raise consciousness, in order to not end up worshiping the very same terrible world that they supposedly do not adhere to, and just to generally care about people who are not white, middle-class, and very privileged.

      Seriously Rookie. Virgin Suicides needs to be discussed.


  • Hedwig September 21st, 2012 1:18 PM

    Kids rights!

  • pygmypuffs September 21st, 2012 2:47 PM

    The book Cinderella Ate My Daughter has a chapter or two about the child beauty pageant cult(ure). It shows the bratty kids and the terrible parents, but it also shows the more Olive Hoover-like contestants who don’t have the expensive dresses and flippers and who genuinely want to be in pageants because they think it’s fun.
    Also it’s a great book about girly-girl culture and how it relates to feminism and blah blah blah go read it please.

    Now I want to watch Little Miss Sunshine.

  • Tiger September 21st, 2012 3:40 PM

    I think beauty pageants are completely against the idea of feminism (especially for 3 year olds). I mean, right? While toddlers and tiaras is kiiinnndd of fun to watch its disgusting! Why would you want to teach little girls that their main objective in life is to live up to society’s idea of being “pretty”? At rookie don’t we frown upon this kind of stereo-typing of women? DON’T WORRY KRISTA AND THE REST OF ROOKIE I STILL THINK YOU’RE AWESOME.

    ps I thought tlc stands for The Living Channel… anyways.

  • aud85220 September 21st, 2012 4:56 PM

    I still think Rookie is awesome, but I agree with Tiger and Manning. Toddlers and Tiaras goes against (in my opinion) everything Rookie, as a very feminist website, stands for. Thus, I’m disappointed in this article.

  • MissKnowItAll September 21st, 2012 6:56 PM

    To be honest, this show scares me

  • norabarnacle September 21st, 2012 7:58 PM

    This article is extremely disappointing to see on Rookie for so many reasons. Toddlers and Tiaras is a show that exploits young girls and their mothers, plain and simple. This is about as anti-feminist as you can get, and so to call this “Literally the Best Thing Ever” is terrible. It’s pretty obvious that the pageants emphasize the value of a very distorted beauty over all else, it sexualizes very young girls, and it creates a spectacle out of something very sad. So why watch it and shows like it? My guess is that viewers can watch these shows and feel a certain superiority over these people, thinking “oh well at least I’m not that crazy.” Even if this isn’t the psychology behind every viewer, the moral apathy required to enjoy this baffles me. It truly reminds me of a modern-day gladiator ring: the privileged people enjoying watching people with very little political or economic power fighting to the death.

    If you look back at the author’s previous “Best Thing Ever” article, you’ll see a similar praise of kitsch in all of its glorious tackiness, which ends with a declaration that, “my ironic taste has warped into my actual taste.” Unfortunately the subjects of Toddlers and Tiaras are humans, not velvet paintings of horses, and by endorsing the show you’re endorsing their exploitation. Being in front of a TV screen doesn’t mean you had nothing to do with what you’re watching.

    I expect a lot more compassion from Rookie and its writers.

  • Moxx September 21st, 2012 10:24 PM

    I don’t know. I guess I see the point, and I do like dumb shows too, but this one kind of creeps me out for some reasons I can’t really pinpoint :/
    Just my opinion, though…

  • Mags September 21st, 2012 10:58 PM

    This show is awful and exploitative, and I personally think child beauty pageants should be banned. I’m surprised that you are mostly praising it, with just a few asides about how bad it is. I think that by watching these shows people are saying that it’s okay to do this, because, like it or not, you are giving them really, really high ratings. If people didn’t watch these shows, I don’t think the pageants would go away completely but maybe less people would get their children involved if they didn’t think that they could become reality-TV famous. I just honestly can’t see anything good about this show and others like it.

  • raYchel September 21st, 2012 11:07 PM

    this is so sad to me… by watching it you are supporting it, and if you agree that it’s wrong then why would you do that?

  • Caits September 22nd, 2012 12:16 AM

    I agree that pageants send a terrible message to the competitors however, I feel that condemning the viewers is a little excessive. When there is a car accident traffic slows down to try and catch a glimpse, we are fascinated by things that at the same time disturb us. Watching Toddlers and Tiaras seems to be a part of this.

    Furthermore, this show casts a spotlight on the issue of child beauty pageants and has generated a lot of debate about it. the show also seems to take a stance that encourages disapproval of these pageants, showing the mothers in a bad light etc. So although this show may be playing into the idea that beauty is a females most important attribute it is simultaneously making viewers question this.

    I also would not agree that this is a “gladiator” situation where they have no political or economic power as many of the contestants portrayed are members of the white middle class, and due to the cost of pageants contestants definitely need money.

    • norabarnacle September 22nd, 2012 11:07 AM

      I think watching Toddlers and Tiaras is more than just slowing down to watch a car wreck. As I see it, watching it is participating in the wreck, not just observing it from a distance. The language used in this article is both celebratory and condescending, as if the author was getting a kick out of seeing and mocking how “other,” “lesser” people live.

      I started googling around for other commentaries on T&T, since you mentioned that the show has generated productive debate about child beauty pageants. One commentary that I found very thoughtful is here:

      Here’s an excerpt that captures a lot of what I was trying to say with the “gladiator” reference:

      “In Toddlers & Tiaras’ thinly veiled statement on American cultural geography, pageant frivolity is the domain of tacky flyover states, fostering viewing positions steeped in derision and scorn. By locating pageants, “flippers”, and aggressive moms in sleepy Heartland towns, Toddlers & Tiaras works like a lot of media representations of rural life—the Heartland “becomes the ‘other’ against which the ideal nation is defined by relief.””

    • ohhellohi September 24th, 2012 3:46 PM

      The thing is a lot of people, probably the vast majority of people, who watch shows like this are using them merely as entertainment and nothing more. Which is why these shows continue to be successful, even spin offs of Toddlers and tiaras are being created and thriving. They are not trying to spark some great internal debate about moral ethics. It seems that it is people already prone to having such feelings are the ones reacting. TLC creates shows like this because they get huge ratings. They show the mothers in a bad light because people want to see things like that. Simple as that. It puts a lot of responsibility on each individual viewer to look past the entertainment value and escapism the show provides to people and find their own moral stance. That is the thing though, most people are watching television for amusement and it is becoming very easy to merge reality tv with fictional shows and so one can easily watch things like T&T while feeling very removed from the problematic issues with it. The small percentage of people who are sensitive to why this show is wrong and vastly outnumbered by the people who are going to keep watching it for the laughs.

  • georgie fruit September 22nd, 2012 9:34 AM

    all of these comments about the egregiousness of sexualizing young girls reminds me of I took this class on sexuality last year. at one point we read this interview about pedophilia and child sexuality, between Michel Foucault and some other French guy whose name I can’t remember. they weren’t defending pedophilia per se, but attempting to situate it in a more complex framework.

    it was challenging, intellectually and morally, to process, but in class we came away with this understanding: that children are sexual (which, of course: Freud didn’t get everything wrong). BUT what is so disconcerting about “sexualizing” young children (i.e. the make up, the fake tans, the weird outfits that accomodate breasts that aren’t there, etc) is that they take the language of adult sexuality and apply it to kids. these kids don’t understand that they’re tarted up because what a 5-year-old knows of sex/”sexiness” is NOT what a 17-year-old knows, or a 29-year old, … you know?

    I’m not even really sure I can articulate how this connects to Toddlers and Tiaras in a comment, but my point is, while I’ve never seen this show, it’s probably gross. BUT it’s not enough to just lambast the parents–whether or not we watch it, we participate in (and so help create, in a strange and complicated way) the society that encourages them. what sort of systemic weirdness about kids and sex exists that makes so many people celebrate child pageants and so many others excoriate them? can we have child pageants that are fun and don’t make lots of feminists want to puke while dialing the number for DCFS?

  • Yayo September 22nd, 2012 1:36 PM

    McKenzie is probably one of my favourite people ever on TV…

    *Poses in mirror with huge hair and fluffy white stripper outfit* ‘I can wear this to church!’.

    Although seriously, almost every aspect of this show bothers me. It’s actually less to do with the fact they’re dressed up stupidly and look like prostitutes. Of course I’m in no way in support of sexualisation of childhood, but they just seem like costumes to me. And really, is a two year old genuinely taking in negative messages about sexuality by wearing fake boobs? Probably not.

    What does bother me more is the basic concept of JUDGING CHILDREN ON LOOKS. Little girls who’s parents are constantly telling them that their self-worth should be based on how good they look in comparison to other little girls. It’s sick.

    But what really does break my heart is the interviews with the dads. Almost all the time, they will give one of the following opinions…

    ‘Pageants don’t bother me. I support my daughter in pageants like I support my son in soccer’.

    As if their male child is praised for physical talent and their female child praised for being ‘facially gifted’ eg: pretty.

    Or they’ll say…

    ‘I hate pageants. I don’t want creeps looking at my 6 year old’s body. I go along with it to keep my wife happy.

    For fuck’s sake it’s your kid too. You have the right to protect her from paedophiles. In fact, it’s your daughter’s right to be protected FROM them BY you. AAAAAHHHH.

    Rant over.

  • mayaautumn September 22nd, 2012 6:11 PM

    oh gawd….i really REALLY dislike this show. but at the same time i do kinda love it! i think this is the case with most reality tv.. you hate it so much that you love it.

    i hate that most of the kids are really bratty. but apart from that to now it’s quite funny..!

  • Celia September 23rd, 2012 3:11 AM

    I really don’t understand how T&T gets a feature in Rookie. I’m not even much of an activist regarding feminism, or one to get easily offended, and this show offends me. The worst part is this common theme of “you can enjoy something while not supporting it”. What..? By watching the show you are supporting it, telling producers that people enjoy shows like this, and generally helping along the retardation of society. You can say you watch it “ironically” all you want, but don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re not supporting it.

  • aud85220 September 23rd, 2012 10:44 AM

    Celia – ““Everyone has a gift and the world would be better off if we recognized it.” – Timothy Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics.

    The R-word is the word ‘retard(ed)’. Why does it hurt? The R-word hurts because it is exclusive. It’s offensive. It’s derogatory. The R-word is hate speech. See why supporters think the R-Word is hurtful when used in jokes or as part of everyday speech.

    How “retardation” went from a clinical description to a word of derision

    When they were originally introduced, the terms “mental retardation” or “mentally retarded” were medical terms with a specifically clinical connotation; however, the pejorative forms, “retard” and “retarded” have been used widely in today’s society to degrade and insult people with intellectual disabilities. Additionally, when “retard” and “retarded” are used as synonyms for “dumb” or “stupid” by people without disabilities, it only reinforces painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity.” –

    You may not have meant to offend me, but by using that word, you did, to a great extent. The R-word is just as derogatory and offensive as “Ni**er”, “*F*ggot”, etc. It means the same thing: you are a less valued member of humanity, therefore, I have the right to make fun of you, for being how you were born.

    Listen, I’m with you – I totally agree that this post is bad. But just because someone else does a bad thing (the people on T&T), doesn’t give you the right to be outright offensive.


    • amazeedayzee September 23rd, 2012 3:05 PM

      Retardation can be a non-derogatory word…it means deceleration or hindrance (e.g. a musical ritardando) Doesn’t have to be in a medical connotation. I don’t think Celia meant for it to be an insult to the mentally disabled at all.

  • aud85220 September 23rd, 2012 5:07 PM

    My little sister is disabled, and the fact of the matter is, whether or not you intended for it to be offensive, it’s offensive.

    • Celia September 23rd, 2012 9:30 PM

      I strongly advocate looking up words before debating them.

      Definition of RETARD
      transitive verb
      : to slow up especially by preventing or hindering advance or accomplishment : impede
      : to delay academic progress by failure to promote

      Examples of RETARD

      “The chemical will retard the spread of fire.”
      “The problems have retarded the progress of the program.”

      2. The extent to which something is held back or delayed.
      3. Something that retards; a delay or hindrance.

      It’s also a musical term. Some words have multiple meanings. Do you get offended when you see a label that reads “fire retardant”?

      Thank you for nitpicking and completely derailing the conversation. Maybe you helped someone learn something.

      • ohhellohi September 24th, 2012 7:32 PM

        yes there are dictionary meanings for everything which don’t take it to consideration the way they have evolved socially or as slang. It is a tender word for a lot of people and i suggest using another one that doesn’t have such a history as an ableist word used to be insulting.

        • Celia September 26th, 2012 4:57 PM

          I mean.. You don’t get to erase words from a language just because some people misuse them. Wow. If everyone started calling mentally challenged people ~frogs~ would we rename frogs to something else? No, you would call out the people misusing the word, for uh, misusing it. Censorship is disgusting in all its forms.

          Until “retardation” is only defined as “an insult against the mentally challenged,” I will continue to use it as it is intended. :)

  • raggedyanarchy September 23rd, 2012 8:28 PM

    Let me just say that the kids in Toddlers and Tiaras say the best things. They are the sole reason I watch this show.

  • EveyMarrie September 23rd, 2012 11:55 PM

    Christ, everyone’s so hopped on this.

    Okay, my opinion:

    1.) I love this show because I do find it entertaining. Temper tantrums, the attitudes some of the girls have, the attitudes the ADULTS have, & of course, the drama of onstage problems & offstage. That’s the point of a tv show, to draw you in with drama & in your face personality you can’t ignore.

    2.) Pageants aren’t as bad as everyone is making them seem. Has anyone actually considered the idea that some of these girls WANTED to do the pageant in the first place? Why is ALL the blame on the parents?

    Yes, the mothers/fathers can be the perpetuaters (sp?), but it’s all in their attitudes. It’s also a give & take in the relationship. If the kid WANTS a trophy, they have to put up with the tan & the hair. On the other hand, if the kid said five million times they didn’t want to do the pageant & they’re being forced, that’s the parents agenda. Of course, most participants on the show look fairly enthusiastic to do it, so sorry if I’m not into protecting them from the parents.

    Also there are such things as NATURAL BEAUTY PAGEANTS where there’s no fake teeth, hair, makeup (other than touch ups prob). The stuff ‘Toddlers&Tiaras’ cover are all ‘glitz.’

    & I don’t think they’re sexualizing at all. IT IS judgmental IMO about their outer beauty, but the only person ‘sexualizing’ the kids is the viewer. Is it a big deal for a kid to have big hair, makeup, and a pretty dress for ONE DAY?

    I see them playing dress up, you see child porn pin up. Who’s the one sexualizing them now?

    • mulberry September 24th, 2012 1:30 PM

      When I was a little girl, my grandpa used to molest me on a pretty regular basis over a period of a couple of years. The way he portrayed it was that is was a kind of “special,” “fun” game, and at the time, as a very young child, I giggled and smiled and completely played along. This has been extremely hard for me to come to terms with, but what I’ve realized is that it is ABSOLUTELY the adult’s responsibility in any situation dealing with young children to maintain the boundaries of what is inappropriate and damaging to the child.
      I realize that this is a more extreme example than adults allowing and encouraging their children’s participation in these pageants, but my point is that I don’t think it’s a fair argument to say that somehow it’s the child’s responsibility to determine whether or not it’s appropriate to participate. A kid might love eating six bowls of ice cream for breakfast, and really enjoy it, but it’s a parent’s role, as an adult who knows a bit more about nutrition and whatnot, not to let them. A child might enjoy doing these pageants, but it’s my opinion that the adults in their lives should have the discretion to keep them out of sexually exploitative costumes and dance routines. I’m not saying that all pageant costumes and routines ARE sexually exploitative, either (Little Miss Sunshine I <3 UUU), but if there is no doubt in my mind that some are absolutely, blatantly inappropriate for young children.

  • ohhellohi September 24th, 2012 3:07 PM

    Its easy to feel amused by something if you are allowing yourself to feel removed from the actual truths of what you are watching. Sure the show is entertaining and is edited and manipulated (all reality television is) in a way that makes it extremely digestible and instantly gratifying. Its almost easy to forget that we are watching real children participate in something that could very well be damaging to their idea of self worth, sexuality and how to earn their parents/other people’s attention and affection.
    I don’t understand how people can argue that this is merely a harmless game that the children are autonomous enough to choose participate in. Children are extremely sensitive and influential beings at that age and very trusting of what adults tell them is right and wrong. I nanny as a job and i know how reward systems work with a child’s mind. Children become very willing to do things they don’t truly want to do if there is some kind of treasure at the end. Often these pagents end with not only a pretty crown, and trophy – but also a cash prize. A child perhaps cannot yet grasp the value of a dollar but can see the happiness their parent feel when such a thing is achieved and that in itself becomes the prize.Not only is a young girl learning that she can be rewarded for being beautiful but also she is learning to compete with other girls and i truly believe this could instill a certain kind of “girl-hate”. Children should not be taught that appearance is what they should value most in themselves. I find these shows to be explotive and by being a spectator you are giving them an audience.

  • ohhellohi September 24th, 2012 4:10 PM

    i guess i just feel that these things actually desensitize people to problematic things instead of evoking thought as to why certain things like using children in a questionable way for entertainment value is wrong. Networks are super smart and know how to market things to make them seem like harmless amusement. Ratings are all that matter. It is packaged in a way that you really have to search for a deeper message beyond the super sparkly exterior.

  • addietude September 25th, 2012 11:58 PM

    that show makes me sick… yet it is so addicting!

  • sarahem013 September 26th, 2012 11:28 PM

    I can’t help it. I always look for the source behind each issue, never at face value, black & white. You seem to as well. It’s just difficult for me to say they are horrible parents, because even though everything you said I agree with, completely, and it is really really bad, these women are only a product of their environment.(and men) From some of the grandparents they introduce it’s obvious that it’s a vicious cycle. Also, although this is a much more cruel and absurd way of parenting, & I am a feminist myself, so i come from a similar perspective, you could compare it by switching out beauty pageants with how parents push sports, schoolwork, etc. making their child feel inadequate when they don’t succeed and all of the other issues that come with this type of parenting. So, they could be worse. They are still mostly loving, providing parents. They just don’t love themselves. And it makes me feel more sincere sympathy and sadness than anger to them. Most of the time. Some parents have inexcusable moments. And the three day old broke my heart like, you are literally delusional mom. but, im obsessesd and fascinated by this show. but tlc exploits these despairing people without offering a solution, in fact, we’re only going to make these people feel shittier about themselves if anything. tlc mocks their obesity, illiteracy, small southern town stereotypes. it’s pretty messed up. I read an article about how this was classism. basically us laughing at them from up above. just some things I wish people would consider before we bash the hell out of these people.

  • Mary the freak October 21st, 2012 1:32 PM

    That’s so weird. They actually look like grown-up barbies.
    I think it’s totally cruel what their parents do to them. It is awful and irresponsible to hurt children like this. They are stealing their complete childhood. Children are beautiful without all this makeup, and they should play outside instead of practicing how to smile. But I am also sure I would be fascinated by this show, if it was in TV in Germany.

  • Loops November 11th, 2012 2:26 AM

    Rookie should do a once-off “Literally the Worst Thing Ever” just for Alana’s mother. She sickens me.

  • Renkomia December 4th, 2012 7:40 PM

    I find it sad the amount of people who enjoy this show. I agree with Celia’s comment about it. Reality TV is a big part of why I decided to turn off my cable, the other one is having a 3 year old daughter (I disliked the exposure to advertising). I’ve never watched Toddler & Tiaras and I refuse to. I feel sad for those kids.