Michele Berg: All right, I admit it... I Tivo both "Toddlers and Tiaras" and "Little Miss Perfect." And at first blush it would be easy to view the entire spectacle with a train-wreck mentality, heaping scorn upon all of these pageant parents. But is that really fair? What about the larger cultural forces at play here? Haven't these parents simply bought into the same bill of goods that we are all being sold day after day: That the way for a girl to find success in our culture is through her beauty and her body?
Clearly these parents love their children. And they speak of pageants instilling in their children positive qualities such as "confidence", "self esteem" and "poise." But what are the invisible costs of striving for these traits?
"Confidence?" Little girls in pageants are buried under fake tans, hair extensions,
false eyelashes, make-up, and fake teeth. The invisible message: You are not good enough as you are. The body is experienced as wrong. Possible effects: body shame and perfectionism.
"Self esteem?" These children often appear to be trying to please their parents above all else. The invisible message: put other people's needs and desires before your own. Possible effects: Depression, loss of identity and anxiety.
"Poise?" Smile! These little girls quickly learn that anything other than perfectly happy is unacceptable. Invisible message: Mad/sad feelings are bad, happy/content feelings are good. Possible effects: Girls learn to ignore their internal states, and may try to numb, avoid or distract the uncomfortable feelings. Possible effects: disordered eating, drugs, alcohol, even cutting.
So are these pageant parents villains or victims? Aren't they just caught by the same beauty promise that we all are? Instead of throwing stones, let's take this opportunity to look inward and see how we ourselves are caught by these ideas in less overt ways, and take a stand against them by talking about them with our children.
|Michele Maika Berg is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has a private practice in Los Angeles. She specializes in women's issues and eating disorders. Michele is married to writer/producer Alec Berg and has a six-year-old daughter who very proud of the fact that she can pogo stick 503 times in a row.|