I have never watched an episode of TLC's popular reality show, Toddlers and Tiaras, which tracks teeny tiny beauty pageant contestants and their often pushy, projecting mothers. I still can't get images of JonBenet Ramsey out of my mind.
Well it seems that beauty pageants have come a long way, baby -- accent on the baby. Parents are spray-tanning and hair-extending two year-olds, and sometimes even younger, turning them into mini Vegas showgirls-meets-Boca-Raton-divorcees.
It's just a little -- oh, okay, a lot -- sick.
Now Los Angeles photographer Susan Anderson has just come out with a book about this children, High Glitz: The Extravagant World of Child Beauty Pageants. I haven't seen all the photos but Salon's Amanda Fortini has.
Are the girls being objectified -- by us, or by Anderson, or by the pageant industry, or by their parents, who have involved them in it? Are they simply dressing up in fancy clothes and makeup, as little girls do, albeit in a formalized way? Are they being inappropriately sexualized, and if so, will this have any lasting consequences for them? Likewise, will there be any psychological fallout from the emphasis on looks and weight starting at such a young age? (A study conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2007 found that premature sexualization of preteen girls and “frequent exposure to cultural beauty ideals” was linked to eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.) Will these girls grow up to be women who believe, like so many do, that their looks are the measure of their self-worth? What about the narrow aesthetic these pageants peddle: Are our collective notions of female beauty so impoverished? And then, the shadow of JonBenet Ramsey looms large -- who can forget those videos of the 6-year-old victim-to-be prancing like a showgirl? -- raising the worry that the tiny contestants might be prey for some sicko voyeur.
Oh no doubt they are.
Ramsey's murder was never solved.