There are certain television programs I watch from the US that disturb me on a regular basis - and I'm not talking about the fictional ones although the preoccupation with violence in many of them is often problematic. What I'm talking about are those about children's beauty pageants. They are documentaries of a sort and I admit I watch them with my head shaking as I wonder just how deluded some people are and how low they can go - and that, of course, is the fascination. For every sensible parent whose child obviously loves performing and is doing so in an age appropriate way there are dozens of others with little girls made up like adults, dressed in skimpy outfits and performing gyrating dance moves that seem more appropriate to a strip show.
During the interview segments the parents - mostly mothers but with a smattering of fathers - nearly all say that they're there because their child loves it and if the child ever loses interest they will walk away. Unfortunately their behaviour often belies that. Many of the girls are bullied into practising, they are pushed on to the stage even if they are ill, laced into outfits that are painfully uncomfortable and the pressure put on them to perform perfectly is horrendous. Children as young as four are expected to perform flawlessly and, when they don't, not only are they marked down by the judges, they are berated by their parents.
Then there are the girls who are spoiled and bratty and often talented. They perform well on stage but their love of being centre stage carries on off-stage too. "Oh," their parents say fondly, and as if it's a good thing, "she's such a diva," as little Gracie-Suellen, Sirinitee, Ebiny or Ever Lily throws yet another tantrum. Well, no. She is being indulged and not learning how to succeed in the real world. It's notable in the parent provided bio that many of these girls, even the four and five year olds, apparently - and unbelievably - aspire to be Miss USA or Miss Universe.
The delusions of some of the parents is hard to believe. One woman left a recent pageant convinced her child had not won because the judges had only picked blue-eyed blondes and there were no dark-haired girls in the competition. In her opinion the whole thing was obviously rigged - except one of the major winners had dark hair and maybe her daughter was marked down because they were so extremely late at one point she arrived after the section finished and that meant she lost points. Then there was the mother who was so offended that her daughter didn't win - as she thought wrongly having not bothered to pay attention to the instructions - that she threw a massive tantrum, broke her daughter's prize and walked out.
I'm quite sure that many of these children are there for no other reason than their parents's desire for them to be there. There have been interviews with mothers who bluntly state that they wanted their child to be in pageants before they were even born. Obviously these children never had an option. They do interview segments with the children as well as following them around with the camera and it comes over very clearly that, apart from the few highly competitive girls, that much of pageant day is anything but fun for them.
So why do I watch when in my opinion there is an unhealthy preoccupation with physical beauty (and it shows in the comments some of the girls make in their interviews) and the children are often being treated in ways I find disturbing?
Well I think it's as I said above. I'm fascinated by how low these parents can go. I equate it to watching a train wreck. You know it's going to end in tears but somehow you can't look away.