Posted by: oliviajane16 | December 15, 2011

Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken

A couple of weeks ago we talked about Mavor’s chapter on Lewis Carroll and the way children were photographed with the intent to portray sexuality in certain images. We talked a lot about how children can be sexual but they most likely don’t know what sexuality means until it is explained to them, as well as at what point in development can it be assumed the child knows that dressing or acting in a certain way will express a sexuality that isn’t socially acceptable for their young age.  I think part of the reason why some of the pictures such as Cherry Ripe were so disturbing to us (or at least to me) was because it seemed like such an impossibility in our world today.

Today if someone tried to put together an exhibit of sexualized children serious questions about pedophilia would be brought up. However, this idea of children expressing sexuality inappropriate for their age pops up in surprising ways in pop culture. If any of you are TLC addicts like me, you’ve probably stumbled across the gem of a show “Toddlers & Tiaras” once or twice. If you haven’t (consider yourself lucky), it’s about the world of child beauty pageants and the crazy things parents will do to “help” their child win. Here are a few clips of some of the worst offenders.




  1. Great job, Olivia!

    The analogy of Julia Margaret Cameron’s sexualized images of children and today’s “Toddlers & Tiaras” is brilliant and I think the reasoning behind this comparison is very logical. I have never watched a full episode of the show, but I am wary of its effects on our perception of reality television and modern childhood. I remember seeing a story on the news about the “Pretty Woman” tribute and wondering what the daughter will think of all of this in the future when she is an adult – and how that might affect her childhood. From the clips, I get the sense that since these children are expected to “perform” (a theme we touched on in class, which relates to Cameron’s “staging” of children in her photographs), they are therefore treated as mini-adults. Let children be children! I mean, I’d imagine being dressed up as a prostitute as a three year old is a pretty scarring experience. And I am curious what Cameron would have to say about this spectacle.

  2. It’s interesting to watch a full episode from an anthropological perspective but beyond that it’s just terrifying! The performative aspect is even worse for the younger girls because they give them these denture-like fake teeth inserts called “Flippers” and the makeup looks even more over the top and out of place the younger the girls get. Most of the time their talent acts have to have themes or stories (further extending their “performance” of sexuality) and there are always a shocking number of child bride costumes, sometimes immediately followed by Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader costumes or things like the Pretty Woman outfit. I think your use of the word spectacle is spot on. Also, my favorite part of the pretty woman video is when the mom is talking about how she would never put her daughter in something so ridiculous and yet her child is standing right next to her with a pound of makeup on and 10 foot tall hair… is that any better?

  3. Love this post! “Toddlers and Tiaras” as a way one stages children is fascinating, especially in light of our recent discussions in class on these representations of children. The idea of parents acting like the “artists” of their kids can be positive and negative, and here it is definitely negative.

    The media, too, acts like an “artist”, marketing cosmetics, clothes, etc. in a stylized and manipulative way to parents for their children. The way media uses it’s power and pressure to manipulate youth is no different than the way Cameron staged her children, or how parents tease and spray their child’s hair for the desired effect. The intent in each situation, however, is up for discussion.

  4. For me, this brings up the idea of clothing being a sexualizing item. It is interesting that for the most part, we seemed to be in agreement in class that any sexuality that we saw in Carroll’s and Cameron’s nude photographs of little girls was not entirely their fault, but rather our projections. Watching “Toddlers and Tiaras,” it is significantly easier to say that the children are sexualized, and it’s not just the viewer’s projection. Some of the clothing the little girls wear is meant to be sexual, even though it was made for a 4 or 5 year old. I find it fascinating though, that as a culture, we’ve managed to make a clothed body way more sexual than a nude body. People always say that Americans are so prude, because nudity is so widely accepted in other places, even on television, but it seems to me, that most foreign television shows that show people without any clothing on, do so in a non-sexual manner. On the other hand, while there is not so much nudity on American television, the clothing people wear on American television shows is often meant to be highly sexualized. It seems that clothing has more of an ability to be sexualized than the body, whether it’s on a little girl or a grown woman.

    As a side note, Toddlers and Tiaras is a major guilty pleasure of mine. While I certainly have issues with the way most people in the show view and participate in the pageants, I do think that there are ways to participate in pageants (even glitz pageants) without it being super problematic (google “saryniti”). Although, I will never understand the flippers and the tanning.

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