Whether or not we want to admit it out loud, I think we’ve all seen at least one episode of Toddlers & Tiaras at some point. Even I’ll begrudgingly admit to being pulled into this bizarre reality show on more than one occasion — it’s just too hard to look away sometimes.
In a series that has thrived off of episodes that feature little girls dressed as Marilyn Monroe and Julia Roberts’ prostitute in Pretty Woman, the TLC show — now in its fifth season — has regularly courted controversy.
Earlier this week, news broke that a pageant mother featured in a 2011 episode of the hit show may lose custody of her daughter. The reason? The stage costume she chose for her then-four-year-old daughter included a padded bra and rear end for a routine in which the little girl performed as buxom country singer Dolly Parton. As one of the judge’s claimed in the episode, “we all thought it was cute.”
Cute? Hmm. I think it’s a safe bet to assume that the majority of viewers would call it anything but “cute.” Granted, the episode barely made a blip in the news when it initially aired; however, this court case has thrust the series — and the ongoing debates surrounding it — back into the spotlight.
Bill Verst, the father of little Mady Verst, has petitioned Kentucky courts in an attempt to gain full custody of his daughter after accusing the child’s mom, Lindsay Jackson, of exploitation. A court-appointed psychologist recently weighed-in with her opinion, stating that Mady’s participation in child beauty pageants is harmful. The psychologist specifically referenced the Dolly Parton costume — as well as an equally controversial “sexy police officer” outfit. Between this and the fact that Mady was featured on the cover of People magazine last year with the headline “Gone Too Far?”, the potential outcome doesn’t look good for Lindsay Jackson.
It should also be noted that Mady’s father, Bill Verst, is a convicted felon currently on probation for a DUI and child endangerment. How this case will play out in courts in anyone’s guess.
With proceedings not set to continue until August 31st, there is a lot of speculation swirling around the Internet as to how the outcome of the court case will affect Toddlers & Tiaras in the future. If Lindsay Jackson loses custody of her daughter, will other similar cases follow suit? Does entering your child into beauty pageants make you an unfit parent? Or, if the case is tossed out, would it mark the end of any similar cases being brought to the courts?
I think most of us can agree that giving your daughter an outfit that “requires” her to wear fake breasts and an enhanced rear end on stage is quite different from watching your little girl try on your high heels and apply some blush for fun in the comfort of your own home. Just by browsing the Internet, the general consensus appears to be that Toddlers & Tiaras should be taken off the air; but considering its high viewer ratings it seems unlikely to happen in the near future. Clearly, we just can’t look away.
Personally, I’m shocked that the series has even lasted for five seasons. I still remember when it was first being advertised — I was positive it wouldn’t last for more than a season simply based on the fact that children were being exploited and sexualized at ages as young as 12 months old! And for what purpose, really? With its emphasis on “facial beauty” and outlandish outfits, it’s disheartening to think that these children will grow up putting an even stronger emphasis on physical looks than most other kids their age. I’m sure there are plenty of well-rounded adults who were once pageant children and managed to escape the after-effects of a young life on the stage. However, Toddlers & Tiaras takes child beauty pageants to a whole new level, turning their tiny performers into national (if not international) stars with their own spinoff series (see: Here Comes Honey Boo Boo — or actually, don’t, for that matter).
Unlike non-televised child beauty pageants prior to Toddlers & Tiaras, everything is now out for the whole world to see — the highs and the lows. It will follow these children into their adult years. Regardless of the outcome of the Mady Verst trial, I can only hope that it somehow marks the beginning of the end for Toddlers & Tiaras.
What are your thoughts on Toddlers & Tiaras? Do you think Lindsay Jackson’s actions make her an unfit parent?