France has introduced legislation to make pageants for children under the age of 16 illegal. Britain is considering similar measures. This has sent a new wave of requests my way for interviews and comments. Most are certain that, in light of my book and outspoken condemnation of child beauty pageants (which hasn’t changed a bit), I would applaud this news. Some are quite surprised when I do not.
While I am glad to see this issue being discussed publicly and at such length by people from a variety of disciplines, the issue of child sexualization cannot be adequately addressed by simply making a law. In fact, the results are likely to be counter-intuitive. What is required, is for parents and the public to understand why it’s necessary to be the adults in their childrens’ lives rather than attempting to recapture their own childhoods through the lives of their children. Parents need to find their own self-sufficiency and learn that healthy child development requires that children be allowed their childhood. Otherwise, the problem grows exponentially, which is exactly where we are today.
To simply make the government the new parent in the lives of these parents with governmental edicts telling them what is and is not appropriate, is to remove exactly the adult responsibility that is so sorely needed. Such an approach simply shifts the burden of responsibility from the parent to government. Another boundary crossed, and more “unintended consequences” for the future.
We have a unique opportunity to turn back the tide of this hyper-sexualized, child-centric pop culture through education and understanding. Kids do not want their parents to be their friends. They need parents who know the right thing to do and who do it by choice –not because doing otherwise could get them arrested.Google+
Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg has attempted to ban salt, trans fats, big gulps, baby formula, escalators, colorful cigarette packages and styrofoam cups. That’s not a complete list. Now, he plans to ban electronic cigarettes, according to newly drafted tobacco bills leaked by the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA). Rather than asking what’s wrong with legal substances and those who use them, it’s well past time that we ask what’s wrong with Mayor Bloomberg.
We laugh and sometimes mock such comedic arrogance, but this orgy of bans has serious and damaging consequences. To be robbed of the right to make one’s own choices and therefore, one’s own mistakes, keeps people in a perpetual child-like state. The greatest risk to our health right now is the loss of the whole notion of freedom and responsibility.
What is and is not healthy for us has never been without controversy and those opinions continue to change and evolve. Artibrarily banning products and services and claiming that doing so will make everyone healthier, thinner or safer often has the opposite effect. The notion that anyone can change another person’s personal habits through force or coercion is preposterous. That anyone would seriously try, is what is particularly disturbing. In the area of food and weight concerns, it adds to the shame and the sense of powerlessness, which can create or exacerbate weight problems and eating disorders in the first place. For example, a ban on “junk food” in school lunches in California last year produced a black market in chocolate syrup. Chocolate milk has never been so popular.
In the current and bizarre climate of ”Dance Moms,” pageant mothers gone wild, “Princess by Proxy,” and horrifyingly sexualized children, it’s hard to imagine how things could get much worse. But just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s a story about a mother who puts her four-year-old in butt padding and fake boobs.
In such confusing times, should parents simply avoid giving their kids dancing lessons or putting them on the stage until they turn twenty-one? Should they forbid their grade schooler to take gymnastics or acting lessons for fear they’ll be cast as Marilyn Monroe at the age of seven? Of course not. But with the worst examples currently serving as the most publicized norm, how can parents recognize and set the proper boundaries and responsibly protect their children?
I found a welcome, real-life example recently, at a dance recital I happened to attend by the Studio “M” Dancers. This was an extensive recital at an outdoor festival in Northern Colorado which featured dancers of all ages, some as young as three and four. It was particularly refreshing to see children enjoying themselves, dancing to modern but not suggestive music, not dressed up to look like Las Vegas show girls or worse, prostitutes, and wearing little if any makeup. Their costumes were charming and even flashy but not age-inappropriate. It’s possible for children to dance and entertain without being thrust into premature sexuality, but to do that, there must be an adult in charge who understands boundaries and is committed to setting them.
I spoke to the director of Studio “M” Dance, who said she fights this cultural pressure all the time. I wasn’t surprised. She has even lost a student or two, who may have been more influenced by Jennifer Lopez or Lady Gaga than by…who? Is there a healthy example in the current culture for a young girl today? To find it, you may just have to go to a small town and attend a homegrown dance recital. Cheer for them and support them. Thank you Studio “M” for doing it “right.”Google+
What do these stories have in common?
Story #1: USA Today reported that 9-year-old Hannah Robertson scolded McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson for “marketing fast food to children.” She was there they say, with the backing of her “nutritionally savvy” parents as well as the activist group, Corporate Accountability International. It picked up the family’s travel expenses to Chicago, where McDonald’s is based and held its annual meeting.
The adults who engineered the stunt achieved the desired outcome. Their fast food beef was covered by USA Today. Does any reasonable person believe that these are the age-appropriate concerns of a child? Is Hannah Robertson ”nutritionally savvy” enough to know that there’s a difference between marketing food which allows you to choose whether to eat it or not, and imposing food restrictions with force as a certain Mayor of New York City has attempted but so far, failed to do? In that case, she has no choice. One has to wonder how much choice Hannah had in being used as her parents’ proxy for their political passions.
Story #2: An ABC News article featured a child named Isabella Barrett who was praised as a “six-year-old-millionaire.” The article appears on AOL News in the Career section. Hmmm, her career? Has little Isabella really chosen this vocation after rejecting flying school or an MBA? Or is she being pushed to play out her dressup fantasies in the real world by a mother who has no clue of what is age-appropriate for a six-year-old? Apparently, the media doesn’t either, nor do many others who celebrate this misguided notion of “success.” Isabella is yet another beauty pageant participant from ”Toddlers and Tiaras.”
The article continues: “Isabella is now in first grade, and she’s already a fashionista. She owns more than 60 pairs of shoes and has her own pageant room worth more than $100,000…Isabella is young, but her spending is very grownup. She once spent more than $1,000 on room service and, during a recent trip to Los Angeles, purchased 14 velour track suits at a Juicy Couture ” I bought so much stuff it wouldn’t fit in the car,” Isabella said.
Today, it is apparently considered ”grown up” to spend irresponsibly. What’s childish? The ability to delay gratification? The line has blurred so much between some parents and children that a child can emulate the childish behavior of her parent and she is rewarded for acting like an “adult.” Did you get that?
Story # 3: The troubled life of Michael Jackson is in the news again. New information about his personal life has come to light in the wrongful death suit against Conrad Murray. Like his longtime friend, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackson was robbed of his childhood. Apart from accusations of impropriety, many have speculated that Jackson’s childlike behavior and obsession with children was part of his attempt in vain, to get it back. Yet, the culture seems to be on a collective and “trendy dissent” toward more of the same.
The lack of understanding about the consequences of using children to feed the unrealized dreams and the personal and political agendas of adults should be disturbing. What’s more, the stories are mounting at an alarming rate.
It’s deceptively simple, but here is Kataline’s Remedy #1: Children need adults to be grown ups in order for them to successfully–grow up.Google+
What does it teach a child to be put on display, ogled and evaluated by adults for the purpose of selling designer clothes? Is this to the child’s benefit? If not, then what are the unintended messages it sends?
Here’s a few just for starters:
1. Expensive clothes are more important than you are.
2. You exist to please adults.
3. Learning to show yourself off is also really important.
4. Being real, genuine and private isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
So where’s the boundary? When do you know you’ve crossed it?
The best question to ask is this:
Cui bono: Who benefits? You or your child?Google+
“It’s very bizarre,” he says outright. “And, it certainly– Patsy and JonBenet didn’t approach it that way. We– they just did it for fun.”
That’s a full quote of John Ramsey in a recent interview in which he says (finally?) that he regrets that his daughter JonBenet was put in child beauty pageants and comments on the program, Toddlers and Tiaras.
Under fire once again after breaking news that the grand jury in his daughter’s murder case had voted to indict him and his wife for their daughter’s murder, but Alex Hunter said no.
Asked about the current “Tiger Moms” who parade their daughters in programs like Todders and Tiaras, he says, ”Patsy and JonBenet didn’t “approach it that way. We-they just did it for fun.”
In John Ramsey’s revealing comments, he appears to still think Patsy and JonBenet chose it. The fact that he still thinks this was JonBenet’s choice is indicative of an absent and oblivious father. A six-year-old child doesn’t choose to be paraded and sexualized in beauty pageants. Their parents, most often their mothers, choose it. Ramsey initially eludes to his part in the matter and then says it was Patsy and JonBenet who did it “for fun.”
These aren’t “Tiger Moms,” they are “Princess by Proxy” moms.
Not that there isn’t an overlap, but the former primarily pushes the child toward excellence in a “type A” sort of fashion. The latter lives through the child and is oblivious to the child’s separate identity -thus, sexualizing them in highly inappropriate ways. The Huffingont Post just reported on a pageant mother who has been tanning her toddler since she was a baby.
Dads are all too often oblivious to this sort mother-daughter dynamic and parental pathology. Ramsey’s response is illustrative of this. I had a 60′s Dad much like him who thought his only job was to put food on the table. He would have said something quite similar.
Former beauty queens don’t live through their children, put them in pageants, dye their hair, put them on diets, etc. etc. “for fun.” There is just a bit more to it than that. That John Ramsey either believes this or would like us to believe he does is as he puts it, “disturbing.”Google+
Was it a joke? Or are we living in an alternative universe? The by-words of the politically correct used to be, “tolerance,” “diversity,” “no-more-bullying,” and “mean people suck.”
Now, in the name of “but we have to DO something, anything!” comes a proposal for institutionalized bigotry and elevating the shaming of fat people to a moral obligation.
A bioethicist named Daniel Callahan thinks it’s a good idea to shame obese people because they simply don’t know that being fat heaps social disapproval and discrimination upon them. He says they just aren’t aware of how fat they are and we ought to embark on a new era of “zero tolerance for body fat.” He adds that he “can’t see how anyone could possibly have a problem with that.”
A billion dollar weight loss industry hasn’t been able to come up with a one-size-fits-all magic pill that eradicates obesity from the planet and that’s the best he can do? Institutionalized bigotry? Don’t get me wrong. I would like him to stop doing altogether and recognize that he only gets to be in charge of his own body and not everyone else’s.
Among other things Mr. Callahan doesn’t understand is that some people regardless of their age or class, unconsciously use extra weight to set a boundary against exactly the kind of intrusion and cruelty he thinks is in their best interest to tolerate. There are many other complex causes for obesity, none of which respond to shame or one-size-fits-all solutions.
While I don’t recommend it as a coping mechanism, obesity for some represents an unconscious response to sexual abuse. It can be an act of defiance and strength, unlike Mr. Callahan suggests (who is certain that it always means ’lazy, self-indulgent, lacking in discipline, awkward, unattractive, weak-willed and sloppy.’) There is actually something worse than not looking good, though Mr. Callahan would be hard-pressed to know what that is.
Should Mr. Callahan be the one to force (as if he could) others to remove that protection just so he won’t be offended by their pulchritude?
It’s clear that Callahan and people like him are the ones with the problem. But just as some believe about our waistlines, the problem is growing into an epidemic.
Many people with weight issues have unfortunately been so beaten down by the stigma of which they are very well aware, that they do a great job of hating themselves before others get the chance–almost out of a sense of obligation. The treatment for these patients is to attempt to undo that ugly cycle.
Civil rights, tolerance, ”Fat is a Feminist Issue” all appear to have been thrown under the bus in favor of “but don’t we have to DO something?” Where are Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem when you need them? Or would they have been co-opted onto this new fat-phobia bandwagon too?
There’s one more thing to say to Mr. Callahan: You ought to be ashamed.Google+
I’ve never met Dara-Lynn Weiss but a few things about her are certainly familiar to me. Weiss is the “diet mom” who wrote a piece for Vogue about putting her seven-year-old daughter on a diet. The piece was reviled and roundly criticized. What happened after that? She got a book deal.
Ms. Weiss’ unapologetic book, ” The Heavy,” came out last week. In some corners, some of the old criticism has turned to praise. Some have even called her “brave” to dare put her daughter on a diet.
What has happened that a growing number of people accept the idea of food police in their everyday lives and the lives of others? I could write a book. Oh, wait a minute…
There’s so much to say here but just to begin: Mothers don’t have to put their daughters in beauty pageants to suffer from “Princess by Proxy” syndrome. Weiss’ book, the tour and the praise is clearly all about Weiss herself. But who speaks for the children? Just as with extreme pageant moms, we may have to wait a few more decades to find out. In the meantime, Weiss is being rewarded with exactly the kind of national recognition that “Honey Boo Boo”‘s mother Mama June is enjoying. Who would have thunk such different moms had so much in common?
No matter how much a child may say that it doesn’t bother her to be scrutinized and displayed, she cannot answer the question for the same reason that it is inappropriate to thrust her into adulthood in the first place.
By the time these kids can speak out, it’ll be much too late. Finding one’s way to a healthy adulthood is challenging enough. Such unnecessary stumbling blocks of body and boundary violation must not become an accepted part of the popular culture. If they do, who will speak out for children then?Google+