One of the many personal "treasures" I've discovered through blogging, and particularly through the eclectic, unusual, tribal, and supportive community of bloggers who are usually called, whether they like it or not (and MANY do NOT--trust me), the "mommybloggers," is Lindsay Ferrier. Lindsay's "home" blog is "Suburban Turmoil
," where she previously blogged under the pseudonym "Lucinda," and it is an absolute scream. From her site there, you can link to any one of her several other blogging efforts, which include a fabulous food/menu/recipe blog
, a celebrity-watching blog
, and many more. And the setting in which I have seen her just SHINE in recent weeks has been her column
at The Nashville Scene Online
, and their blog, "Pith in the Wind
." (Now, if that's not a great name for a blog with a journalistic bent, I don't know what is.)
Lindsay is tough to pigeonhole, the way we like to label people, because she "is" lots of things. She's an ex-television anchor, an Emmy-winning journalist, absolutely hilarious, quite a looker, a great cook, and (grumble, grumble) younger than me. What's that? Why, no, I do not have a complex. Not at all. *cough* But most importantly, as she'd be the first to tell you, she's a wife and a mom and stepmom, and even has "one more on the way," as we like to euphemize down South. (To put it in Lindsay's own terms, she's "knocked up.") Even so, we have a lot in common, as so many of us "mommybloggers" do, even down to sharing the same fabulous Canadian blog designer
SO: Why am I trumpeting the virtues of a writer for a Tennessee newspaper's blog here, on the blog of an Arkansas newspaper? Well, because I'm just generous like that, and she's too good to keep to myself, and also because, you know how when you get a really bad, annoying song, or a very distasteful image, joke, or story, stuck in your head, just STUCK, and the only way to get rid of it is to infect someone else? Well, consider this post my way of sneezing my metaphorical blog-germs all over you, in an effort to exorcise myself of this extremely bad juju that's infected my brain. Lindsay's recent feature for the Scene was a powerful one, which turned out to have some strong Arkansas connections. Told in her unique voice, it comes across as simultaneously funny, shocking, and for me, as the mother of a not-quite-four-year-old girl, more than a little sad. It's a story of baby/preschooler/child "glitz" pageants, and the alternate dimension in which the denizens of that world reside.
To get properly immersed in the subject-matter at hand, you'll need to start with Lindsay's piece over at the Nashville Scene, in which she relates the experiences of herself and her two-year-old daughter while attending (as much as she could stomach of) one of these children's "glitz" pageants. (Interesting to note is that the pageant was not publicized on-site at all, not even on the host hotel's lobby marquis, and the large conference-room where the festivities were held just bore a low-key sign out front reading "private party." You'd almost think something might be going on that would prove distasteful to the general public, if you were the cynical type.) So go ahead, click on over and check out the story; I'll wait here.
Back already? OK. You as squicked-out as I was when I read it? Yeah, something about a tiny girl in a sequined top and a diaper, for the love of Pete's sake, having her satin "hot pants" tugged on when it was her turn to go on stage and drop it like it's hot for the judges...not exactly warming the cockles of this mother's heart. By the time I got to Lindsay's recounting of the lyrics of one of the most popular contestant-chosen dance-routine songs of the day, "Barbie Girl," I was mentally fleeing that hotel conference room with as many litte false-toothed, spray-tanned, bewigged and diapered toddlers as I could carry: "You can brush my hair; undress me everywhere...Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky-panky...Make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please; I can act like a star, get down on my knees..." UGH. I don't know what Mental-Me was planning on doing with these tiny, sequinned kidnap victims--Mental-Me wasn't thinking that far ahead. She just wanted to gather up those kids and bring them home to play in the sandbox, ride a pony or a bicycle, read a book, build with blocks, maybe even--*GASP*-- skin a knee, all while somehow getting across the message, "You are worth more than your (fake) appearance and your ability to shake your tiny, innocent little 'money-makers'!"
Now, let me just clarify: I'm not out to crush the inner "princess" from little girls. That has been, and so far remains, my own daughter's fondest fantasy/pretend persona, and she loves nothing more than glamming it up in the unbelievable homemade "princess gowns" that my talented mother-in-law sewed for her, complete with tiara, and usually magic wand, because in her version, the princess is ALSO the fairy godmother. Don't ask me; she has the symantics all worked out to her own satisfaction, and that's good enough for me. Last Halloween, we went all out for her, with one of her Grandmommy gowns and LOTS of accessories:
Which was dandy while it lasted, but by the time we were ready for the actual trick-or-treating, we'd somehow had a very un-princesslike display of impatience, and the former princess set out adorned in a too-large, borrowed-from-older-boy-cousin Pooh-suit:
Darth was not exactly pleased at the appearance of his companion, either, as apparently, having to stand next to Pooh-bear brings your Sith Lord toughness quotient right down a notch or two.
Anyway, the point I guess I'm making is that, for our daughter, it's pretend for the SAKE of pretending. It's done because it's fun, it is, above all, her idea, and when it stops being fun, as evidenced in photographic form here, well...to quote from the finest horror/suspense film of my teendom, "Game over, man! Game over!"
I wonder how many of those little "glitz" pageant girls get to call it quits when they're hungry, tired, cranky, or just plain bored? If you've ever seen the 2001 HBO documentary, "Living Dolls" (and if you haven't, DO watch for replays), then you know that it doesn't seem like very many have that option, or many options at all, and you have to wonder just what they're being groomed for, beyond childhood. What are the unintended consequences of this lifestyle? How will these little "dolls" expect to be treated by men? By other women? By the academic and/or professional worlds? And that nagging question that is at the back of everyone's mind: In the still-too-fresh presence of the specter of Jon-Benet Ramsey, how is it that this industry of small-child "glitz" pageantry still thrives?
The discussion continued back over at Suburban Turmoil, in the next day's post, "The Problem With Pageants," and that's where things got really lively, as that post garnered over 100 very emotional comments within its first 24 hours, many of which provided additional fodder for discussion, such as this 2000 Harvard University Gazette article, which reported on a sociological study being conducted on the child-pageant culture. I would have to agree with commenter Amanda, (whose blog I checked out, and who also uses the same blog designer as both Lindsey and I--what are the odds?) who linked the Harvard article, on her choice of "best" quote from an interviewee: "I know people who have spent so much on pageants, they lost their trailers."
But the real "OH MY GOSH WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT THIS SOME MORE" moment, especially for the parents reading, came with Lindsay's closing link, which takes you to a page of "winners" on a website called "Total Knockout." The fact that a majority of the "total knockouts" (who, as far as I can tell, have won photo competitions sponsored by this site, though I'm not sure about the details) featured on this page were age 5 and under caught my attention first, as then did the realization of how very many of the children were from Arkansas. With full disclosure that the experience could leave you feeling...anywhere from vaguely creepy to downright skeeved out, have a look. I'm not going to post any of the photos here, for obvious reasons, but it was these images, images of what are obviously, if only it could be shown, naturally beautiful little girls, which made me want to weep at the oh-so-early sexualization of our innocent babies. And SO MANY of them are from Arkansas, yet I don't know one single parent who participates in these "glitz" pageants. Dance/gymnastic/etc. recitals? Oh, yeah, sure. "Cute kid" photo contests? You betcha. But tarted up like Vegas showgirls, performing to sexually suggestive song lyrics? Are little girls' childhoods not short enough? Really? I certainly remember being yanked rudely out of my own by cruel biology once and for all at the age of 11, and being none too happy about it.
If we're piercing the ears and plucking the eyebrows of, applying makeup, wigs, false teeth and fake tans to, teaching pouty, "come hither" expressions to, dressing in suggestive costumes for suggestive talent/modeling routines, and performing extreme digital enhancements upon photographs of, girls that aren't yet old enough to use the potty, walk, talk, etc., what I have to wonder is, what is going to be left for these girls once they do reach an age of actual, physical sexual maturity? I can't even speculate about where their emotional maturity level will be, because my brain is dangerously close to exploding and oozing right out my ears. And please understand, it's not the very concept of "beauty pageants" that is causing me such angst: It is the adult, sexualized nature of these "glitz" competitions, in direct juxtaposition with the ages of the contestants. And I'm not an uptight prude desperate to shield my child from so much as the idea of (SHHHHH) "s-e-x," It's more about a sort of feminine pride, for me.
And then, when we examine these photographs, it appears there's this whole Brave New World of digital photo enhancement for the purposes of promoting the little beauty queens--some of the photography being an end unto itself, when entered in online photo "beauty contests," where, ironically, the rules usually state that retouching is to be kept "at a minimum." Another blogging friend of mine, Dave Simmer, on his site, "Blogography," first brought this phenomenon to my attention in a post of his last summer, titled "Barbie." As stated, he found mention of this then growing "trend" via a post on BoingBoing, which featured this work by one particular photographer. At least, on this site, there are what appear to be some adult women. (I have to wonder about those, too, though, with the staring, glassy, doll-eyes and airbrushed features; is that photo on some Hubby's desk at work, or in his billfold, somewhere? "Um, yeah, that's my wife. Her skin is made entirely of a space-age polymer, and she's slightly psychotic!")
And HERE (because, you know, you were DYING to hear more of my opinions on this Topic That Never Ends) is what is nagging away at my cerebral cortex (and don't any of you sciencey types tell me that my cerebral cortex is not where I do my pondering--I don't care) about this new "style" of photography, and the standard of beauty it endorses: WHY does this "standard of beauty," besides being so narrow and limited and race-specific, seem to come DIRECTLY from the pornography industry? What is wrong with us, as women (well, assuming that we haven't been BORN into this life, as some of these "glitz" girls apparently are), that we are willing, ANY of us, to accept this standard of beauty and sexuality, that has obviously sprung, wholly formed, from the minds of men? And worse than that, that we would allow it to be foisted upon our daughters?
Am I way out of line, here? Am I ranting? Well, OK, yeah, I'm ranting. But don't I have reason, as the mother of a daughter who will be reaching her teen years within the next decade, to be concerned? Can we, as her parents, do enough to counteract the constant bombardment of values--and I'm not even talking morals or ethics here, I'm talking VALUES-- gone crazy, in a world in which the most popular line of toys for girls is the "BRATZ" line of Lil' Hooker (or whatever they're called) dolls?
I really would like to meet the developers of this line of toys, and discuss whether or not they have children, what sort of attitudes and values they believe that these dolls are encouraging in children, and whether or not they feel any personal responsibility whatsoever for these abominations. And then, I might, just a little, like to punch them in the necks. You know, whatever the mood seems to indicate.
I realize that this has been a lot of ranting, and a LOT of linking, and if you're still with me, thank you. I appreciate it. All I really want is for my sweet little girl to be able to BE a little girl, to maintain that innocence that is the right of every young child, for as long as possible, and at least as long as she WANTS to be one, without having any of this foolishness thrust upon her. And at the same time, I want her to be able to enjoy, revel in, and be PROUD of--to celebrate--being a girl! Feeling "girly?" Great! Let's wear boas and Mommy's high heels and have a tea party! Wanna play pirate, knocking the heads off hydrangeas with your "sword,"or just go catch bugs? Build wooden block castles to the sky? Fantastic. Don't ever be afraid to get your hands dirty, Kiddo. Get in there and take hold of the life you want, and LIVE it. Just make sure it's YOURS.
Oh, and whenever you get to be a flower-girl at a wedding, and you go bug-nuts at the mere sight of the divine "princess" dress you get to wear, and the slippers, and the flowers in your basket, and the whole experience? We are SO (including your sucker Grandmommy) going right along with you on that. With no makeup, no fake tan, no eyebrow plucking, and no false teeth. And when you finally get tired and cranky right in the middle of the ceremony (because you decide it is "time for dancing and twirling") and have to be removed to the vestibule? You can totally sit and pout in your princess dress. Wrinkle away, Darling. And then, during the reception? BE YOURSELF--and may that never stop being a totally superfluous instruction to you.
Belinda also blogs from her "home base" on the internet, NINJA POODLES! Expect chaos.