Toddlers and Tiaras

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Spray tans, heavy makeup, false eyelashes, hair pieces, choreographed dance routines, fake teeth, temper tantrums and entangled mother/child relationships characterize TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras, an addictive reality show about child beauty pageants.

The show goes deep into the worst of what I affectionately call “My America,” revealing the hopes and dreams of middle-class moms who pour money, time, creative energy, and emotion into the long shot of having their child win the coveted pageant title of “Grand Supreme.”

Each episode follows three children as they prepare to compete with each other at a particular pageant. Though the children and their families differ, trends emerge. There seem to be three strains of pageant children:

1) brainwashed mamma’s girls who take to the pageants as a way to please their mothers;

2) savage little beasts, who, spoiled out of their minds, terrorize and dominate their parents until they step out onto the stage to masquerade as precious darlings; and

3) the shy children, who struggle against their own sweet and private natures in a doomed effort to please their mothers.

And in almost every episode you hear the pageant moms repeat the same tropes.

“We swore we would never get fake teeth, spray tans and hair pieces and here we are doin’ it.”

“As soon as [child’s name] says she doesn’t want to do pageants anymore, we’re done with it.” [This always followed by a shot of said child wailing in protest as the mother forces her into pageant attire].

And the pageant dads always say (as if they have a say):

“I don’t really like seeing [child’s name] wearing so much makeup.”

The pageants are generally held in a hotel conference or ballroom, with no spectators except the families of participating children. The single $1,000 cash prize is always talked up by the pageant director, but what isn’t mentioned is the exorbitant fees each family pays to enter their child in the pageant. The $1,000 prize awarded the Grand Supreme would often not even cover the cost of one pageant dress, much less hotel, travel and pageant fees. It’s easy to wince at the sight of middle class families shelling out thousands of dollars for their 6 year-old’s fake tan, pageant dresses, hair pieces, fake teeth and coaching lessons.

Though the mothers often mention the cost of the pageant, they seem to think it worth the chance to have their own longings fulfilled. For the showy, slender, made-up moms, it’s a chance to perhaps relive their own days in some long lost spotlight. For the obese moms it’s a chance to live vicariously through their 4 year old’s strutting in a bikini. For all the mothers, it’s an opportunity to have their children publicly recognized as exceptional.

What is never mentioned is the potential damage done to little girls who are taught early that their own natural beauty must be supplanted by eight pounds of makeup and fake everything, who are expected to “shake it” on-stage in midriff baring tops and swimsuits, who see their mothers’ happiness and approval staked on their own ability to perform onstage.

The show is funny, disturbing and often painful; and the more dysfunctional the dynamic of the featured pageant families, the more fascinating the episode.

Warning: This show is the television equivalent of junk food. Consuming more than one episode of Toddler and Tiaras will make you feel worse than eating a half pound bag of candy corn.

Toddlers and Tiaras is available to watch instantly on Netflix.

Author: Mary Pauline Lowry


Mary Pauline Lowry, a fourth generation Texan, fought forest fires on an elite type 1 “Hotshot” crew, which traveled the Western U.S battling wildfires.

More recently, Lowry has dedicated her time to the movement to end violence against women, counseling and advocating for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, as well as lobbying the Texas legislature for funding and new laws to benefit survivors.

Mary Pauline Lowry’s unsold novel, The Gods of Fire, based on her experiences as a forest firefighter, has been optioned for film. She is currently writing the screenplay.

13 thoughts on “Toddlers and Tiaras”

  1. Seems like one's perspective changes when you go from parent to grandparent. At this time, whether it's objectifying little girls, or turning ten-year-old little boys into full contact football players, violence training, while listening to their parents embarrass themselves, our culture has become oversold. There is no longer any values to keep all these behaviors in check. Just as pundits and the media are able to unbalance the messages of moderation, extremes rule, and taste be damned. The pathetic hopes squashed by those who never felt the spotlight now vicariously shine on their kids. Elders are pushed aside and told to shut up. What can be next?

  2. One more thing: if the pageant mania continues to the teen stage, most parents don't realize that pimps recruit at beauty pageants. I learned this researching my book with Sue Thistlethwaite, Casting Stones: Prostitution and Liberation in Asia and the United States. As the book was in press, the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting was in Kansas City and we shared the Convention Center area with a teen beauty pageant. The visuals were hysterical: girls in sparkly pastel ball gowns walking by men in tweed with beards and pipes. Sue and I spotted a few tuxedoed men hanging around the halls we thought might be pimps–they were definitely not dads, scholars, or security guards.

    1. Oh my Gawd… That's terrible. I'm looking up the book Casting Stones ASAP. I am afraid for children, very afraid. Mom's who pimp their kids without knowing they are targets for organized child prostitution rings need to get a clue and wake up.

  3. I agree that such things as baby beauty pageants are actually highly exploitative of children, and are abusive to the children. I think they should be outlawed on that basis. The children are totally objectified and treated like chattel, like show dogs or show cats. Get a show dog, mommy, and let your little girl alone. Let her have a normal childhood.
    She's going to need years of therapy to get over this unnatural, abusive experience. I think that broadcasting these abusive, exploitative shows is unconscionable.

  4. when Look at this photo of JonBenett eyes you can see the sadness and the lack of joy
    it brakes your heart,,and on the other hand when you look in the eyes of some of these contestants
    you can see the joy and how much fun their having.

  5. Candidates should be aware about the rules and they should study about the profile of organization before going for interview. They should aware about the basic information about the organization where they are going for interview.

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