An Open Letter to TLC: Cancel Toddlers & Tiaras

Recent beauty pageant contestant. She is two years old.

Dear Producers of Toddlers & Tiaras, TLC, and Discovery Communications LLC:  

It is an extremely thin veil that hides the atrocious “Toddlers & Tiaras” as a documentary-style show for your network. For the past four seasons the show has done a good job, not so much with teaching, but of giving viewers a voyeuristic peek into the children’s beauty pageant world. We don’t need to see anymore. As Season 5 reaches its midpoint, the show now continues to do little more than become complicit in the exploitation of the little girls at its center. At best, it is now a mockumentary of the visibly unbalanced mothers (and a few fathers) who force their children to spend long and uncomfortable hours participating in these expensive pageants. Many of these children are too young to say whether or not they want to participate. When these children act out and demonstrate they do not enjoy what is happening, or do not want it to happen any longer, they are still made to participate by their pageant moms. Let us be clear from the outset that after this season it is time to cancel the show.  

I’m sure inside your producer heads you think this is crazy, especially as the show has received some buzz-worthy, controversial attention recently and continues to pull in advertisers and an average of 1.3 million viewers each week….but as your mission statements goes, it is the job of the Discovery channel family to satisfy curiosity. TLC has done its job with this show, as almost everyone who has been exposed to the program finds it distasteful and widely condemns the child beauty pageant circuit. Our curiosity has been satisfied – as demonstrated with the several thousands of negative and disapproving comments left in the last couple of weeks alone. We’ve seen it. We don’t like it. We’re over it.  

The idea of two year old girls strutting around with cones protruding out of her bustier and five year olds who sit trembling and screaming in a chair at a salon as she is enticed into a painful beauty treatment will tend to leave a bad taste in our mouth. It leaves us less interested in the pageants themselves, but more interested in gawking at and judging the deranged mothers who subject their poor daugthers to this twisted world of judged fake beauty. That might make for good ratings, but it doesn’t make for a happy and healthy childhood of the young girls who hold the title of this show. Just like their overbearing mothers, you exploit these children. A shameful act on both parts.  

The duration of this show has coincided with a large effort by a small group of dedicated experts to raise awareness to the general public about the sexualization of girls. The parents we have reached now understand the emotional, psychological, and physical harm a young girl is exposed to when she is sexualized.  As the 2007 American Psychological Association’s task force report showed us, early sexualization can lead to self-esteem issues, depression, eating disorders, and early promiscuity.  

Contestant on the children's beauty pageant circuit.

“Toddlers & Tiaras” is a petri dish of sexualization. Little girls are taught, often times forced by their domineering mothers, to act coquettishly, learn suggestive dance routines, wear sexualized costumes and bathing suits, endure hours of hair and make-up, and are even put on restrictive diets in order to lose weight for competition. This is perverse. While TLC continues to air “Toddlers & Tiaras”, the network becomes an agent of this sexualization.  

The toxic culture of the pageant world, the judging of beauty, is confusing to young children who have not yet reached the emotional-intellectual milestones of understanding reality and competition. These little girls become infantilized women as their parents and coaches do whatever it takes to win that crown and of course, the money. The time alone spent prepping for pageants robs girls of their childhood, time that should be spent learning and playing and socializing with friends. Teaching young girls a very narrow version of beauty, transforming their bodies so that their beauty can be measured and judged, or to use their sexualized bodies to earn money for the family is disgusting. I take great offense to this. When you add to this the chemically dangerous spray tans, butt glue, nail glue, eyelash glue, hairspray, and cosmetics applied to these tiny, developing bodies, it is not a stretch to say these pageant programs are both emotionally and physically abusive.  

The content of the show is reprehensible and the time has come to stop being a complicit entity to the unfair and unhealthy treatment of these little girls. Surely the world holds more intersting storylines than overdone, unhappy toddlers wearing hair pieces and sequined Vegas showgirl costumes while their obnoxious mothers puppet unimaginative talent routines as they pathetically live vicariously through their very young daughters.  

TLC and Discovery’s decision to not renew the show certainly won’t stop these families from exploiting their daugthers, but we don’t have to give audience to it. Please cancel “Toddlers & Tiaras”. 

Sincerely,  

Melissa Wardy  

owner, Pigtail Pals LLC  

 Its time we change the way we think about our girls.  

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Want to contact the show? Have at it:  

Producers: ToddlersTiarasCasting@authentictv.com  

Owners: Discovery Communications, LLC     Viewer Relations   1 Discovery Place, 5th Floor    Silver Spring, MD 20910  

Discovery Ethics Hotline: 1-800-398-6395

Self-Actualized Three Year Old Is An Exploited Prop

(Note: Parts of this post are graphic and may create triggers.)

We don’t pull our punches here.

Did you see it? Just weeks after the dancing little girls’ sexy viral routine to “Put A Ring On It”, we’ve got a new video to talk about: Baby Gaga.

Why am I so very, very white hot mad about this one? The “Put A Ring On It” 8yo video was a homemade movie put on YouTube for friends and family. I truly believe that. I believe the dance routine and costumes were raunch and completely inappropriate for talented young girls and that their parents are naive, but I truly do believe they did not intend for it to go viral. They were just very proud of their girls.

Baby Gaga is different. Baby Gaga was scripted and professionally shot and edited and fully intended to go viral. And although the video is offensive and exploitative, it isn’t illegal in terms of child pornography. Because of my former career in criminal investigations, I have viewed a lot of child pornography. And Baby Gaga REEKS OF IT.

IT BLURS THE LINE OF TABOO. Handcuffs. Gyrating. Costumes. Mocked drug use. Vacant look on child during forced performance. REEKS OF IT.

Jake Wilson wants to be famous. Really badly. Jake Wilson (www.thebatterysdown.com, @jakewil) directed a little three year old girl named Keira in a “spoof” of Lady Gaga’s song “Telephone” and it went viral in three days. All the while Pigtail Pals was tweeting and posting about it to raise a GIANT red flag and asking people to flag the video on YouTube and have it taken down. I started hollering about it on June 4, when it had around 64,000 views (Thanks @kklausser for the good looking out). By June 8th it was viral and Jake Wilson and Little Keira’s mom Heidi Ladrow sat on the couches of CBS’s The Early show looking confused and uncomfortable as psychotherapist Heide Banks explained the long term effects and why maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. Jake Wilson did take the video down from his account around 9:15am EST on June 8th, probably as he was walking out of the CBS studios…but not after using media tags and promotion from his twitter account to make sure thousands and thousands and hundreds of thousands of people saw it.

Here’s what I saw: A sexualized and disturbing forced performance done by a very small child wearing handcuffs, sexually provocative clothing and heavy make-up. Images of the small child simulating drug use with a pipe and bottle in a bathtub, along with a dance troop of scantily clad women, and a bar scene finish out the video. I didn’t see a happy child. I saw a child who seemed annoyed, uncomfortable, and seriously confused be used as an exploited prop so that Jake Wilson could make a name for himself.

Did you see the completely redonkulous interview given by the child’s mother and Jake Wilson on the CBS Early Show? Here’s the clip.

In the interview, Maggie Rodriguez treats Little Keira’s mommy with kid gloves, asking how the video came about. Keira’s mom gave a scripted answer that the video was a result of Keira’s “energetic and playful personality”. She states the child has known the director since she was an infant, and felt very comfortable with him. Heidi Ladrow (Keira’s mom) says, “It was perfect because she is so animated.” That’s not what I saw in the video, did you? Well, I guess Maggie didn’t see it either because then she delicately asks Jake that it didn’t seem like Keira was enjoying it, so she asks what it was like on the shoot. He says, “Every child likes to play dress up, that is kind of the joy of being a kid.” Except that the kind of “dress up” Keira was forced to do is nothing that would come naturally to a child. Sexualization took place during the making of this video.

Heidi Ladrow and Jake Wilson claim to CBS’s Maggie Rodriquez that the video only took three hours to make and that it was made for family and friends (I call shenanigans). It was from the START intended to go viral. There is NO WAY that video was professionally shot in just three hours. The make-up and costume changes with a three year old would have taken that long alone. The amount of editing in final production makes it pretty obvious that was a long day of shooting. Hey Jake, just wondering, what is New York state’s law on child performers and the number of consecutive hours children under 6 years old can work? To contradict the claim it was made “for family and friends and we didn’t expect it to get this big”…..

all one has to do is hop over to Jake’s twitter feed on June 3rd: “my new video – “Baby Gaga!” please RT/rate/comment and let’s get this thing to go VIRAL! http://tinyurl.com/BabyGagaTelephone“.

From June 4-8th where he several times over promotes the video and congratulates himself when Ryan Seacrest retweets it, when it hits the Huffington Post, AOL, ABC News, CNN, E! News, etc…

And of this morning, June 11, he is STILL promoting his #BabyGaga video: “wait, so if Jason Stackhouse is on the cover of Ent. Weekly, he must have seen #BabyGaga, right? which means he MUST want 2 meet me!”

Then we get to the good part where Heidi Ladrow says it was all okay because her three year old is self-actualized and you really can’t make a three year old do anything…..

And here’s where we’re going to stop and I’m going to get angry. First, let’s just get out of the way that considering “self-actualization” sits at the tip top of Maslow’s heirarchy of needs and is achieved only at the highest level of psychological development, I find it highly unlikely anyone’s child has climbed that high in three years of life. I’ve gotta be honest here, I think that not even the Dalai Lama himself was self-actualized at three years old. Second, if Keira’s mom meant to say “self-confident” (which I could go for at three years old) then what she and Jake did is all the worse because early sexualization breaks down and destroys a young girls’ self-confidence.

I am SO VERY ANGRY because what Jake and Heidi did with Little Keira, ignorance not withstanding, is prematurely sexualize her. I heard from many, many people who were completley disgusted by the video. As well they should be. But you know who wasn’t disgusted? The people who partake in the $3 billion annual trade of child pornography and child sexploitation. The people who abuse children over and over and over again, and get huge amounts of pleasure while doing it. The people, who thanks to Jake and Heidi, don’t have to work very hard to have the predilections and fantasies of having sex with children satisfied. Jake saw this as a way to get famous. But there are thousands of men, like this one, and these guys, who saw it as condonement for their viewing children as sexual objects for molestation and rape. Baby Gaga told the people who look at children in this way that this mainstream thinking, that it is okay. And horrifically, it tells these men that the children want it. This is the danger of blurring the line of taboo.

“Viewing the material does motivate you to do other things … the more I saw it, the more I long for it in my heart. I really wanted to have sex with a child and that was all-consuming.” – comments on online child pornography by Michael Briere, serving a life term for the abduction, sex assault and murder of 10-year-old Holly Jones in Toronto. http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Crime/2010/06/05/14278636.html?cid=rssnewslast24hours

There are not child predators lurking around every street corner. Unless you are online. Feeding that industry in any way in unconscionable. Unconscionable. I don’t think that was Heidi’s or Jake’s intent. But they’ve done nothing to stop it. He’s still promoting it. And I cry foul.

Children have the right to be children. They have the right to play dress up and explore through role play. Using a child in a sexualized spoof of Lady Gaga does not protect this right. It degrades it. It desensitizes the public to become apathetic towards ideas of children and sex. And for those who have fetishes and fantasies about touching, molesting, raping, and torturing children….it tells them they that possibly they aren’t the perverse derelicts of society that they are. After all, the child’s own mother placed her in this video and defended the video on national tv as something that had to be outrageous, and that was okay because her daughter has a spunky personality.

There is no defense of the sexualization and exploitation of children.

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If you feel  you have come across child pornography online, please report to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber Tipline.

If you think you have seen a Missing Child, please report to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children 24-hour Call Center.

Any possesion, in any media form, of child pornography is illegal. If you know someone in possession of this, report to you local Police Department of Sheriff’s Office.

If you feel you or someone you know has been a victim in the making of child pornography, report to the FBI’s Innocent Images National Initiative.

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This post was composed in honor of the memory of Dylan Groene.

Rest peacefully, Sweet Boy.

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My Wish for Your Daughter…

Yesterday was my birthday. Well, not my birthday, it was Pigtail Pals’ first birthday and we celebrated our first full year in business. I guess in a way it was my birthday, too. A year ago yesterday marks the day I turned from stay-at-home mom to work-at-home mompreneur activist. It is my intention to bring about social change when it comes to how we look at childhood, and specifically how we think about our girls.

What was my birthday wish? My wish is for your daughter….and that she be able to enjoy her natural right to a girlhood.

The simple fact that she is a child gives her the right to live her childhood years free of messages that limit, belittle, sexualize, or harm her. My wish is that she have no other expectations put upon her other than that she be a little girl.

My wish, for your girl and for mine, is that they grow knowing every color of the rainbow belongs to them, that every dream the sky can hold can be theirs, and that every right we give to our boys is just as deserving a right we afford our girls. We need to change the way we think about our girls.

Pigtail Pals first birthday cake

"Let her dream in every color", Pigtail Pals first birthday cake

My wish is that people who come here to read this blog, who learn about the company Pigtail Pals, or otherwise hear my message understand that this isn’t just a parenting issue or a morality issue or a “thank goodness I  have boys issue”. This is an issue of social justice and I take great offense to the exploitation of our children. I take issue with corporations knowingly selling and marketing products to our children that undermine their healthy development and take away their innocence which should be a central part of their childhood. The evidence and studies showing the psychological harm that is coming to our children from hypersexualized childhoods is being ignored.

Children’s bodies may be smaller, they may be younger in years, but that doesn’t diminish their rights to health, happiness, and freedom from exploitation.

My wish is that parents and caring adults come together, and start to demand better options for our girls. Our children deserve better.

My wish for your daughter is a girlhood free of limitation, and full of

Music – Art – Storybooks – Exploration – Science – Imagination – Sports & Dance – Play – Pretend

Our birthday wish - fill your daughters' girlhood with all the world has to offer.

This week, aside from being Pigtail Pals birthday week, is also Girls Inc ‘Girls Rights Week’. Click the link for their Girls’ Bill of Rights. Print it out, discuss it with your daughter, and tape it up in a place she can read it every day. Ensure positive messages and media are an everyday part of her life.

Or grab your daughter and snuggle up next to the computer and watch this video by the Girl Power Crew and girl advocate Kelsie Morales, putting girls faces and voices behind the six rights from the Girls Inc Girl’s Bill of Rights. Listen very closely to Kelsie’s words at the end of the video. Talk to your daughter about what that means for girls and for parents.

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Whether you are new here or have been with me since the very very beginning, thank you for the support, encouragement, activism, and excitement towards Pigtail Pals and the mission to Redefine Girly!