On any given weekend, in towns big and small, little girls and boys perform and strike a pose in pursuit of cash prizes, oversized sparkly crowns and big pageant titles. These pint-sized beauty queens (and kings) spend hours prepping so they can sport fake tans, fake hair, fake teeth, false eyelashes and flashy costumes to be judged on their outfits, beauty and the personality they convey on stage.
TLC’s hit show, ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ follows the stage moms and dads, and their little divas as they get ready for these pageants. As the show highlights, competition is intense and the price to compete is steep. Fame-focused parents tend to push the limits to grab attention, titles and headlines, as is the case of mom Susanna Barrett, who has been capitalizing on her five-year-old daughter pageant success with appearances on the hit TLC show, a jewelry line, a Russian television show and now a $30 million libel suit against the parent companies of TMZ, the Huffington Post, London’s Daily Mail, for their allegedly “brazen attempts to sexualize” her little girl.
The lawsuit focuses on a recent appearance her daughter, Isabella, made at a restaurant where she was sitting on a stool with a DJ singing LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” (you can see a previous blog about the song here) in front of a crowd. The original article claimed that her daughter was singing the song while gyrating in a nightclub.
In an interview defending the lawsuit, Isabella’s mom claimed that her daughter didn’t even understand the meaning of “sexy” and that singing the “Top-40” song was harmless. Previously, Barrett’s little girl grabbed headlines when she accused another pageant star of stealing her spray tan and dressing like a hooker (Isabella later told cameras that her mom had told her to say that). In this instance, mom Wendy Dickey let her three-year-old daughter dress up like a hooker, portraying Julia Robert’s character in “Pretty Woman”, and it’s not uncommon to watch the show and see little girls shaking like showgirls on stage.
Regardless of your take on the legitimacy of the lawsuit, is it really harmless to have your five-year-old fist pumping to a crowd while being fed the lyrics to “Sexy and I Know It?”. Is it a good idea to dress up our daughters like prostitutes or stuff their costumes with fake boobs to get a laugh (as was portrayed on another T&T show)? The story highlights the tension that many of the ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ shows (and similar shows like ‘Dance Moms’) elicit: how far are we willing to let our kids go for fame? And how much will we permit or dismiss as “over their heads”?