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.
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.”
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.
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?
“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.”
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?
Why do some people see the inappropriateness of thrusting children into adult sexuality and others don’t see it at all? It’s unfortunate that the issue is so controversial but therein lies much of the problem.
I began thinking about this over fifteen years ago when I searched for a co-writer to help me write my book. I located an established writer who seemed interested in my story and I traveled to Vermont in the dead of winter to meet her. She looked at a few of the more disturbing pictures from my personal album (they are not in the book) of me at about the age of six, draped across a stone ledge, one leg up in a Marilyn Monroe-like pose and a grown-up pout on my face.
The writer’s response was, “I don’t see a problem with these.” Maybe she expected to see something more like kiddie porn. Needless to say, she wasn’t destined to help me with my book. Ultimately, I had to write it myself with the help of a terrific editor, Jessica Swift.
We often project adult sensibilities onto children and forget that they haven’t reached those sensibilities yet. Or, we have been sensitized to a parade of overly-precocious children in sitcoms and elsewhere who are usually smarter and more sympathetic characters than their parents.
There has always been a healthy debate about exposing children to sexual material in movies and entertainment. Isn’t that why we have a film ratings system which is constantly revamped every decade or so? There are laws protecting minors from all manner of adult activity including drinking, gambling and marriage licenses. Yet, child sexualization is hard for some people to recognize and it is controversial.
Here’s a working definition of child sexualization: 1) Displaying or exposing a child in an age-inappropriate manner or in sexual situations. 2) Using a child for the titilation or glorification of an adult.
What would you add or change?
I finally did it. I watched the segment of the Barbara Walters Special in which she features Honey Boo Boo and her family. Walters named Alana Thompson one of the “Ten Most Fascinating People of 2012.”
Ms. Walters chose not to interview the family directly but presented previously seen clips. Apparently, she took a lot of heat for her choice which also helped to publicize her special before it aired. Intentionally or not, Alana was used to sell Walters’ program just as she has continued to be used by her mother and her family to garner money, recognition and fame.
What is most curious, is that the most “fascinating” questions as to why Honey Boo Boo has been so fascinating in 2012, were never asked, questions like:
- Why do people watch this show and why were its ratings higher in some markets, than the national political conventions?
- Fifteen years after the JonBenet Ramsey case, why is there a show called “Toddlers and Tiaras” and why is it more popular than ever?
- Why do parents keep putting their kids in beauty pageants?
As in the case of many television programs, initially people tune in for a little escape and perhaps some curiosity. Many can’t believe a show like this is even on TV. But if they become a regular watcher, they may be getting seduced in somewhat the same way as the participants and the parents. The voyeuristic quality of this whole endeavor feeds on itself. (yet another not-so-inadvertant food pun.)
Hollywood has never had good boundaries when it comes to child stars. The long list of children who hit adolescence just in time for an adult meltdown, is legendary in Hollywood. From Michael Jackson, to Lindsay Lohan, show biz has rarely had positive long-term effects on kids.
One has to wonder who is leading whom. Does the media lead the culture or is it creating it? In this case, individual citizens must begin to educate and lead the media by refusing to watch a spectacle in which children are being robbed of their childhoods before our very eyes.
Apparently, Barbara Walters was seduced too. It’s unfortunate that she didn’t use the opportunity to shed real light on Princess by Proxy Syndrome and the damaging consequences that await a whole new generation of little girls.
Interestingly, it may be Alana Thompson (‘Honey Boo Boo’) herself who takes the responsibility of putting the kibosh on her role as the family’s gravy train. This may not even be conscious, but either way, good for her.
A short video of Alana as she acts out on Dr. Drew is being used as a “tease” for a longer interview to be aired tonight.
Both Dr. Drew and her mother are clearly embarrassed by Alana’s behavior as she almost hits Dr. Drew, pretends to sleep and then snorts in his face. Clearly, this is not how she has been coached to behave.
Alana may have discovered how much power she really has and is responding in a more sane way than most of the people around her. How sad when children are charged with the responsibility of setting boundaries that adults won’t.
Take a look at the video for yourself. I’d like to hear what you think. Click Here