Things must have changed a lot in the “heartland” of this great nation since I moved away. Apparently now, dressing a 3 year old as a prostitute for “Toddlers and Tiaras” is part of TLC’s “red state” strategy.
This week, TLC gives us a 3 year old little girl prancing around in an outfit meant to mimic Julie Roberts in “Pretty Woman.” You know, the movie where she was a prostitute? This little girl wears the blonde wig, the thigh-high boots and the mini skirt, all a part of the TLC show “Toddlers and Tiaras,” a consistently horrifying peek at the over-sexualization of toddlers in beauty pageants.
They already had me at the make-up, and then this:
This little gem of a show debuted in 2009 as TLC revved up its catering to “rural” America. They describe the show on their website, “On any given weekend across the country, toddlers take the stage wearing makeup, spray tans and fake hair to be judged on beauty, personality and costumes. Toddlers & Tiaras follows families on their quest for sparkly crowns, big titles and lots of cash.”
Last week, the pageant show brought us little 4 year old girl wearing fake breasts and bum, dressed up as Dolly Parton. The toddler’s mom tells us that everyone loves the Dolly routine, “When she wears the fake boobs and the fake butt it’s just like an added extra bonus and it’s really funny when she comes out on stage and everybody thinks it’s hysterical.” Yeah. I’m not laughing.
KSL noted the damaging effects of sexualizing young girls:
In 2007, the American Psychological Association reported that the sexualization of girls is a broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls. It’s seen in movies, video games, music videos, music lyrics, and magazines. Experts associate the images with long term psychological damage.
“Those types of things set our girls up for horrible situations like eating disorders, low self esteem, depression issues,” said Johnson. “All of that can come from putting our little girls in advance situations that they’re not ready for.”
I think it’s safe to say that the APA would consider dressing 3 year olds up as prostitutes an “advance situation” and what about the impact on the young girls and boys who might watch the show?
Fake hair, fake tans, fake breasts and fake bums for little girls — fake is the new Real America. The notion that you have to “fix” everything about your self in order to win is inherently dangerous for self-esteem. Your hair isn’t enough, your skin isn’t right, your body isn’t right, your face isn’t right. This isn’t the message we should be sending our teenage girls, let alone our toddlers.
The mothers say that the girls have to do these things to compete, comparing the fake hair to football pads for their sons. I’m not sure I buy that. A football pad is a protection against injury, used in a sport that can help young boys funnel their aggression and be a part of a team. Those are important socialization skills, whereas fake tans, fake and overly sexualized body parts should not be part of socialization for 3 and 4 year old little girls.
Who is protecting these little girls? Certainly Discovery, owner of TLC, doesn’t give a hoot. They’re making money off of the controversy (another example of how corporations don’t police themselves for morality due to their fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders). That means it’s up to the parents and the audience to determine whether or not this is acceptable.
TLC also brings us the Quiverfull Dugars in “19 Kids and Counting”, “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant”, and “Sister Wives”. TLC started marketing and targeting the “heartland” several years ago with their “red state strategy”. Somehow these shows are supposed to be about family values, but they are a pungent mixture of religion, Barbie fetishes, pregnancy fetishes, and food. And that’s fine; something for everyone and all of that. But I personally draw the line at toddlers dressed as prostitutes.
In June of 2010, Scott Collins, concluding that TLC was chasing after the same “non-elite” audience as Fox News, wrote for the Los Angeles Times:
Heartland values are indeed what TLC pushes, carving out a profitable niche in a reality TV marketplace otherwise filled with sex-drenched youth soaps ( MTV’s “Jersey Shore”) or aspirational voyeurism (HGTV’s entire programming block). And now the network is making maybe its strongest play yet for the non-elite, middle-class audience, with a new show starring the queen of Red State America, Sarah Palin.
“We tend to be less snarky, edgy,” TLC president Eileen O’Neill said from the company’s offices in Silver Spring, Md. “There’s something for everyone here. We do shoot all around the country. Our topics and people tend to represent a lot of daily American lives — a little less of the edgy, cooler” material than is found on Bravo or elsewhere.
Less edgy and snarky, huh? Here’s the disconnect. I happen to find dressing a 3 year old as a prostitute a lot more troubling than the supposed “trash” they accuse Bravo of airing. And I confess to being confused by the message to the heartland. If you dress your toddler up as a prostitute today, and sell abstinence only tomorrow, what exactly do you stand for again?
I’m all for TLC making money off of targeting an under-served market, but what I find horrifying is what that market wants. In what way is dressing a 3 year old up as a hooker a heartland value?
I suspect that what TLC really means by “heartland” is the Fox News version of the heartland, and in that case, the over-sexualization of very young girls makes a lot more sense. They use the term heartland to put a nice name on the movement of resentful religious extremists who lean far Right. The dominating patriarchy of the extreme Christianity followed by these folks naturally opens the door to female exploitation and objectification, even for young toddlers.
There’s nothing moral or Christian about 3 year old little girls dressed as prostitutes. Stamping this obscenity with “heartland” doesn’t make it go down any easier.
Note: The image is not of the 3 year old in the Julia Roberts hooker outfit, it’s of the 4 year old in the Dolly outfit. The three year old is in the video.