I decided to take a little break from the Housewives for a day or two. Instead, I just wanted to share a little bit about one of my other reality TV obsessions.
I found “Toddlers & Tiaras” a while ago, on a night when I could neither sleep nor concentrate on a book. This program did nothing for my insomnia. Those of you who have watched it know exactly what I mean. This diminutive group of beauty queens, and their crazy mothers, are a sight to behold. It is mesmerizing and horrific, all at the same time. Again, for the same inane reasons as to why I watch the HWs, I just can’t turn away.
I am a stepmom to two sons, so beauty pageants weren’t even a remote possibility at our house. I can get grass stains out of a football uniform but wouldn’t know the first thing about how to bedazzle a dress for a potential princess. The time, money and energy expended on this activity just boggles the mind. In one episode, a mother happily forked over $1,200 for her two year old’s dress. That dress will only be worn for a very, very short time, given the growth spurts of toddlers, never mind the notion of contestants not wanting to be seen in every pageant wearing the same thing – Heaven forbid!
Now, there is more to this in terms of behind the scenes preparation. Pageant coaches are hired, and most of them are former title holders and crown wearers. They take their jobs very seriously. The coach must teach things like how to walk, smile, wave and do something called the “cupcake” pose – which is a way for these little girls to hold their hands and arms so that their fingertips just brush the edges of their crinoline packed skirts. Most of the girls are fitted with “flippers”, which I guess are best described as baby dentures. They are meant to disguise the very natural process of losing one’s baby teeth. They are tanned, teased, sprayed and made up to within an inch of their lives. Most of these little girls do not appear to be enjoying their transformations.
Pageant moms are a breed unto themselves. Some are former beauty queens, while others are, at least to me, living some vicarious fantasy life through their little girls. They are completely obsessed, to the point of irrationality. They rehearse their children for hours, and scream – at their spouses, the pageant judges, their daughters and everyone else who gets in their way. They scare me.
The pageants, themselves, are both sad and funny. Judges take this stuff very, very seriously. They rate these little folks on poise, grace, beauty, personality and, sometimes, talent. Now, I don’t know about you, but how graceful or poised is a one year old? The introductions of each contestant are meant to give a brief background – another thing that is pretty simple when a child has yet to reach pre-school. My absolute favorite went something like this, “Let’s welcome Laci. She is 10 months old and her favorite food is formula.” Some of the outfits that these girls parade onto stage wearing are off the charts. I have seen a child dressed up as Julia Roberts’ character in “Pretty Woman”, while another mom tried frantically to sew what appeared to be flank steak onto her daughter’s bikini in an effort to recreate Lady Gaga’s (in)famous meat dress. The idea was abandoned when the juices from the steaks began to streak the girl’s newly applied spray tan. You just can’t make this stuff up.
If you’re still not ready to call the local offices of Child Protective Services, let’s move on to how to keep these children motivated and energetic. Not to put too fine a point on this, but let’s just say that the moms are “juicing” these kids. They dole out what they call “special juice” or “happy juice”, which seems to take the form of Red Bull-like drinks mixed with heaven knows what, served in baby bottles and sippy cups. Another mother made reference to something she called “Pixie Stix” and “pageant crack” – a super sugary substance delivered in a tube. Her daughter was busily demonstrating the effects while zipping around the room, hollering “My go-go juice is starting to work”. These kids are bouncing off of the walls. When they crash, they crash hard, and meltdowns and tantrums abound. They are tired, cranky and hungry. They’re just being kids, coming off of a sugar high, courtesy of mom.
When the pageants finally come to the crowning portion, much of the time all hell breaks loose. Dozens of crowns are passed out, I think in an effort to make all of the girls feel a little bit better. The real goal is always to be crowned some version of the Ultimate Supreme Queen. Anything less and these mothers are not happy. It isn’t even about any prize money, as the sums are rather paltry. No, these mothers want validation for their efforts. It is supposed to say that my kid is the best, therefore I am the best mom. It’s a lot like the “My Son/Daughter is on The Honor Roll” bumper stickers, but on a manic and more than a little disturbing level. It isn’t even about being proud of their children. These are women on a mission. Should their child leave that auditorium without that loftiest of titles, well, it is as if the hounds have been unleashed. They stomp off into the sunset, dragging their screaming and crying tots, while expressing their disgust, loudly and profanely. They are tired, cranky and hungry, but they have no good excuse, other than their own disappointment and some perceived sense of failure.
All in all, I am grateful that I was allowed, as a very little girl, to pursue my dream of becoming Dale Evans. I was quite happy riding my little horse on a stick until I became old enough and big enough to experience the real thing, wearing my cowboy boots and western shirt, protecting my imaginary ranch from cattle rustlers. When I wasn’t riding the range, I was flitting about my grandparents’ garden, wearing my homemade Sleeping Beauty costume, in my tiara and plastic princess shoes. At no time was I ever threatened with the application of false eyelashes.
I can’t imagine what the future holds for these tiny beauty queens. I imagine it will be more of the same, until they are old enough to have their own dreams and stage their own revolts. I’m holding out hope for the latter. Frankly, failing to execute a coup, they just might be doomed to become members of some future franchise of the Real Housewives.
Empress (oh, and by the way, I still have that tiara)