Git it, gurl!

If you have ever attended a child beauty pageant, or watched TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras (aka T&T), you will know this expression. Or, “Yes, MA’AM!” And you definitely will have heard my favorite grammatically incorrect phrase, “You did so goooood!”

Last night’s installment of T&T, featuring Texas’ Groovy Girls pageants, did not disappoint linguistically, or stylistically (although, I must say getting a glimpse of the infamous Makenzie, but not seeing that “hard working lady NiNi,” was a definite disappointment).  We had the usual spray tanning, flippers, etc., and we saw a six-year-old getting acrylic nails.

As someone who has studied child beauty pageants, and who is currently studying the health effects of age cutoffs in organized activities (along with Rebecca Casciano), the most interesting part of this episode was the discussion of “fallbacks” in pageants.  I have long been fascinated by this practice, but never seen it discussed in the popular media.  Basically one of the contestants, Taralynn, was six-years-old the day of the competition. However, she was allowed to compete as a five-year-old, because on January 1, she was still five. So five was her “fallback” age and this gave her a big advantage over the younger girls she competed against.  Fallbacks really matter when you are four and competing in the 0-3 “Grand Supreme” category. Taralynn ended up winning “Ultimate Grand Supreme” of the pageant.

I’ve studied a lot of children’s competitive activities and while many deal with biological age in different ways (i.e. dance competitions average the age of the participants in a routine, or soccer teams use a birth year as a determining factor), I have only ever seen “fallbacks” in child beauty pageants.  Have any of you experienced fallbacks in other activities? Please tell me about your experiences!

[PS. If you’ve never watched T&T, tune in next Wednesday at 10 to see the return of “pageant supserstar” Eden Wood. Oh yes, the CUTIE PATOOTIE, Eden Wood.]

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  1. I played by my fallback age in little league basketball. Our school system used a Nov 1 cut off for entering school, and with an October birthday I was one of the youngest in the class. But for basketball I believe the date was Sept 1. Once the league noticed, so instead of playing with girls in my grade at school, I played with the girls a grade below. As a young kid, it was fabulous- I made the "all-star" team every year after switching to my fallback age.

  2. I actually watched the "fallback" episode of T&T since it followed My Strange Addiction, which my husband watches. I confess to not really understanding the concept of a fallback date. What's the difference between a fallback date and a cutoff date?

    This was my first time watching T&T and I thought Taralynn looked too old for that age group. And her mom gave me the creeps.

    On a different note, the woman who cut my hair the other day recommended I start using mousse in my 2-year old's hair in order to "accentuate" her curls. I guess I made a strange face because she followed up with, "Don't worry, this won't make you a pageant mom."

  3. Hilary Levey Friedman says:

    @Val- This is the whole theory behind the relative-age effect. You get better not just because you might be taller and more coordinated, but because you get more coaching attention and more playing time. Have you read Gladwell on this? It's a pretty good overview.

    @RRC- There basically is no real difference between a cutoff and a fallback– but pageants like to use fancy terms. That said, there is an important difference between cutoffs and fallbacks. Cutoffs are far stricter than fallbacks. A fallback date is optional– you can choose to use it or not. For example, Taralynn's mom CHOSE to let her fallback, the pageant didn't demand it. Thus, she looked a bit old in that age group, but being judged as a five-year-old likely gave her an edge and helped her win the Grand.

  4. Margie Barter Jordan says:

    Hil – At least some equestrian sports use a fallback age. It's been a while since it was relevant to me, but I think that, as a junior, your age on Dec. 1 is your age for the ensuing competition year (12/1/XX – 11/30/XY). This may not apply to all disciplines, but it certainly does to the hunters and equitation. For that reason, the most competitive juniors will often defer starting college so that they can "use" the remainder of their time as a junior to compete because the face of competition changes dramatically once you age out of the juniors — with the exception of the Young Riders competitions which go through the age of 21 and use the same fallback principle.

    Your research is very interesting, by the way. 🙂

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  1. […] similar “scandals” that occur across a range of activities especially interesting, as I’ve written about before. One of them, age manipulation, has been the focus of several episodes in the most recent seasons […]

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