The TLC series “Toddlers & Tiaras” showcases the lifestyles of toddlers and parents as they prepare for and participate in beauty pageants. The concept of the show is not to endorse toddlers participating in beauty pageants or to criticize the activity. Instead, “Toddlers & Tiaras” provides an objective representation of the young girls in the beauty pageants. However, by displaying the sexualisation and materialism of the girls, the show is providing publicity for activities in which no child should participate. This should result in societal concern.
The competition between young girls that “Toddlers & Tiaras” displays, is potentially compressing the age of children. Age compression is a concept used to describe the marketing to children of items traditionally marketed to adults. The definition provides an appropriate description of the potential effects the show’s display of competitive attitudes and possessions (such as tiaras) can have on young children. Also, the attitudes that are portrayed by the children likely compress the age of children in the real world. In his article “Six, Going on Sixteen,” Water McLaughlin describes a situation in his kindergarten class where two girls were fighting over a boy. He writes: “The problems I encountered, mostly around the over-sexualisation of my students, caught me off guard and utterly unprepared” (McLaughlin, 2011). This behaviour could very well be caused by shows such as “Toddlers & Tiaras.”
Displaying the “diva” qualities that are portrayed in toddlers on the show may influence young children to perceive this unhealthy behaviour as normal. The toddlers and their parents are exceedingly concerned with the merchandise they are wearing, and this can rub off on the children watching at home. Krista Conger noted in the Standard Report newspaper that researchers are noticing a correlation between the amount of TV children watch and the amount of products they ask for from their parents (Conger, 2006).
The show features a considerable amount of makeup, fake extensions, and sexual clothing. These items sexualize the toddlers and can begin to generate a perception among young girls that being sexualized is normal. Despite this obvious display of sexuality among toddlers, society is largely unconcerned and major TV networks such as TLC actually promote these activities through the show. As sociologists Dorothy Singer and Jarome Singer put it, “… we ignore the impact on children of their exposure through television and films…” (Hammer and Kellner, 2010).
Furthermore, due to the fact that these girls are prancing around with the intent to look pretty, other young girls could start emulating them and stereotyping the female role, seeing it as doing whatever they can to be perceived as beautiful. As Lili Johnson points out in “Looking Pretty, Waiting for the Prince,” girls are competing with Barbie, who lacks the cleverness and depth of Ken, for example (Johnson, 2011). The same type of stereotyping is expressed in Lisa Espinosa’s article “Seventh Graders and Sexism,” when she discusses the double-standard between men and women. While men were expected to be independent and strong, women were expected to be pretty (Espinosa, 2011). Gender stereotypes are also portrayed on the show.
“Toddlers & Tiaras,” creates the perception that women are valued based on their appearance. This can cause young girls to feel like they have to lose weight to be valued. If they do not look skinny, girls can often suffer from low self-esteem. The show could be causing an increase to the amount of girls thinking this way. Elementary school teacher Kate Lyman writes about witnessing a several students in her third-grade class arguing about who needs to lose weight more (Lyman, 2011). This is just one example of the self-esteem issues that can arise from shows such as “Toddlers & Tiaras.”
The scholarly texts on the various components of child sexualisation and materialism help to highlight the various societal issues promoted by “Toddlers & Tiaras.” While this type of show can easily be considered pure entertainment, as this analysis has shown the television series is contributing to negative perceptions among children about how to look and behave. This is causing a host of other concerns such as age compression, kids consumerism, gender stereotyping and low self-esteem. In effect, it is damaging the vibrancy of our youths’ childhoods, which is why this show should be taken off the air.
Conger, K. (2006). Watch not, want not? Kids’ TV time tied to consumerism. Stanford Report. Retrieved from http://news.stanford.edu/news/2006/april12/med-tv-041206.html
Espinosa, L. (2011). Seventh Graders and Sexism. E. Marshall & O. Sensoy (Eds.), Rethinking Popular Culture and Media. (163-171).
Graboviy, A. (2011). Consumerism and Its Dangers to Children: A Call for Regulation in Advertising. Gatton Student Research Publication. Retrieved from
http://gatton.uky.edu/gsrp/downloads/issues/spring2011/consumerism%20and%20its% 20dangers%20to%20children%20a%20call%20for%20regulation%20in%20advertising.pd f
Hammer, R. and Douglas, Kellner. (Eds.). (2010). Media/Cultural Studies. New York: Peter Lang.
Johnson, L. (2011). Looking Pretty, Waiting for the Prince. E. Marshall & O. Sensoy (Eds.), Rethinking Popular Culture and Media. (pp. 201-202). Milwaukee, United States: Rethinking Schools.
Lyman, K. (2011). Girls, Worms, and Body Image. E. Marshall & O. Sensoy (Eds.), Rethinking Popular Culture and Media. (138-146).
McLaughlin, W. (2011). Six, Going on Sixteen. E. Marshall & O. Sensoy (Eds.), Rethinking Popular Culture and Media. (pp. 36-45).