RANT: Toddlers and Tiaras

The rainy season came and with it indoor exercise. So I went down to the gym to walk the treadmill.

Right in front of the treadmill are huge TV screens that show a variety of channels. Today, during my exercise, I watched a reality show around underage beauty pageants called ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ on TLC, which is a show about beauty pageants for infants.

I don’t mind (too much) if an adult wishes to enter into a pageant. Although I dislike the vapid nature of pageants where superficial aesthetics are awarded, I can understand why some people need the validation. I can understand pet pageants, where dogs and cats are groomed until sometimes they no longer resemble pets.

I cannot stand these beauty pageants for infants and children. Of course I’d heard of the show and I’d seen flashes of announcements, but I never watched a whole T&T episode.

Apart from dressing up toddlers as adults and teaching them how to ‘seduce’ the panel, the children seemed to be programmed to become self-centered superficial brats. An 8-year old girl was behaving horridly egotistical, smugly announcing that she’d feel bad for the other contestants who would be crying when she’d walk off with the crown. She ended up getting a price for best personality (!) and three other awards, but the ulitmate award went to a 1-year old. She was visibly upset, crying and pouting, and went into a total meltdown in the corridor behind the stage.

And the parents looking at each other with tight plastic smiles hiding the raging hatred. Talking to each other how ‘rude’ some parents were for not having their child on the stage on time, and gnashing their teeth about the injustice of a one-year old winning a 1,000 dollar award.

I look at my three-year old, smearing her face with chocolate and laughing at herself in the mirror and I realise how child abuse can take different forms. Dressing a child up as an adult and proclaiming that they ‘like’ going to these meat market pageants is just as horrific as claiming they ‘like’ to be sexually intimate with adults. These beauty pageants teach children how to behave like adults in order to please adults.

Children have an innate need to please their parents, both because they love them and because children do realise that they are dependent on their caregivers. To abuse that need for affection by parading them on superficial beauty/popularity meat markets is just as despicable as sexual abuse.

Of course the parents who project their vapid ambitions on their children will claim that the children enjoy the pageants, relish the dressing up, and welcome the competition. I won’t deny that. I’m sure they do. But you have to ask yourself ‘why’?

A child needs affection and encouragement. And children have excellent antennae to gauge their parents feelings.

These pageant children relish dressing up. So does my 3-year old daughter. She dresses up like a lion or a horse or a crocodile. Sometimes she dresses up like a princess. It’s a way for children to try out different personae and interact with the world.

The competition is a different aspect. Children are geared towards pleasing their parents and they know they’ll be praised for performance. However, competition has a dark side where sportsmanship is denied and children are encouraged to ‘crush’ the competition. Children crying because a panel didn’t consider them the most beautiful child is a clear signal of rampant egotistical superficiality. Instead of teaching children that happiness is more important than beauty, these children will become self-centered brats for whom adoration equates success. And where the lack of adoration plunges them into deep and dark despair. They’ll be beautiful on the outside, but ugly and twisted inside because their beauty becomes their only currency for affection. And they won’t have the mental development of adults to deal with this ignominy.

And no child welcomes a highly strung competitive ‘beauty pageant’, where they are taught that dressing up provocatively and wiggling their undeveloped bodies for adult strangers will get them parental adoration from ‘caregivers’ who have no idea how grotesque their ambitions truly are.

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Honored and validated by a special REVIEW…

Reprobate – A Katla Novel was reviewed by Hannah Thompson, on her blog ‘Blind Spot’.

Hannah’s blog is about blindness and its representation. It asks how the blind and the partially blind relate to the sighted and the partially sighted. It mostly focuses on representations of blindness from the nineteenth century to the present day, in English and French culture and society. It also maps the place of a partially-blind academic in a resolutely sighted world.

Hannah Thompson is a senior lecturer in French at Royal Holloway’s School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures – her next book Taboo: Corporeal Secrets in Nineteenth-Century France will be published by Legenda in June 2013. Follow her on Twitter @BlindSpotHannah.

Hannah has been blogging since February 2012, but her blog is already listed in the Top 100 Special Education Resources on the Web and listed in the Top 10 UK Disability Blogs.

Hannah’s review of Reprobate is reproduced below:

Blindness in Fiction 4: Reprobate: A Katla Novel

It is notoriously difficult for non-blind writers to depict blind characters in fiction. Although anyone can close their eyes and imagine blindness for a few minutes, living in a world where sight has lost its meaning is incredibly hard to imagine. For this reason, blind characters in fiction are relatively rare. Where they do exist, they are either secondary and therefore always described from someone else’s point of view (as in Adrian Mole) or evil and not described sympathetically at all (as in Ratburger). Like Star Gazing which I blogged about last April, Reprobate is a novel of shared viewpoints, in which a blind character, Bram, plays a crucial role.

When the reader first encounters Bram, it is easy to mistakenly think that he is nothing but a fascinating plot device. We initially encounter him just after assassin Katla has finished a job. When he interrupts her as she is cleaning up the crime scene, her first instinct is to kill him, as she normally would an ‘additional’ who might later be able to place her at the scene. But when Katla realises Bram is blind she decides to spare him. Her reasoning is that he poses no threat to her because he will never be able to make a positive identification of her.

Katla, like most sighted people, imagines at first that a world without sight is a world of darkness and confusion. But Bram is not the kind of passive, low-functioning blind person who is frequently found in fictional representations. Unlike the blind man in Amelie, for example, he is always well aware of his environment. He picks up clues from the sounds, smells and atmospheric conditions he senses and is never described as having a lesser experience of life because of his blindness. This is wonderfully demonstrated in the scenes, such as the episode in the diner at the beginning of the ‘Luncheonette’ chapter, which are told through his perspective. In these scenes, the author focuses only on what Bram can hear, touch and sense. But the reader nonetheless gains a complete understanding of the scene. In fact until you look closely at the language of the scene, you probably won’t even notice the absence of visual clues. Bram’s presence in the novel, and the part he takes in its narration, brilliantly shows that sight is not essential to a full and happy existence. Bram is clever, funny, sexy and sporty. In fact very soon the story becomes so gripping that the fact of his blindness would easily be forgotten if it weren’t for the detail with which the narrator describes the practicalities of his life.

If you want to know what it is like to be a blind person living in a sighted world, then you should read this book, especially if you enjoy complex and multi-layered thrillers with unexpected twists and a truly triumphant ending.

Reprobate has been favourably reviewed before, on Amazon and several websites/blogs, but never by a blind reviewer and critic of media representations of blind characters in fiction, so I’m grateful to Hannah for taking the time to read Reprobate and write such a thoughtful review.

Please visit her blog, if you are interested in blindness and its representations.