After a three year hiatus, my (least) favorite show is back: TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras. Season 7 is slightly revamped and for better or for worse, it more accurately portrays some key aspects of the child beauty pageant community.
Now, I’ve gone on record before that I think Toddlers & Tiaras is pretty damaging to the kids, the families involved, and the pageant world. I still think that’s true, but I can appreciate that this iteration is a bit more honest about some of the behind-the-scenes real-life aspects of child pageantry, and not just completely edited for a TV audience. Although I can’t help but point out that this is a show ABOUT kids, but not FOR kids as many episodes have a TV14 rating due to raunchy language (a combination of real life and trumped up behavior for cameras). In one of the more disturbing things I’ve ever heard, a grown woman on this show yells, “Go have another baby with another man to get a cute kid!”
More than the first six seasons, this one shows the drama not only between moms but also between moms and coaches and coaching groups. These group dynamics are actually quite important to understanding the pageant world. The main focus is Cambrie’s Court, but other coaching groups (The Sassy Supremes and Top Models) also rotate through the show. It’s nice to show some continuity across episodes and see how rivalries intensify or dissipate.
The show also sheds some light on the Internet dynamics at play. In an early episode this season the Sassy Supreme moms discuss what moms have been writing on Facebook, for example. While some anonymous pageant message boards still exist, much of what is said now is “public” and identifiable on social media– though that sadly doesn’t seem to have lessened extreme things parents say about other parents…
Finally, unlike in other seasons, the COI (“conflict of interest,” which used to be abbreviated as COI on those old anonymous boards) is front and center. For example, when the Sassy Supremes compete at a pageant run by the coach’s mom! It’s also alluded to among vendors, like when a H&M artist (“hair and make-up”) refuses to do some children’s hair and make-up because they are with a different coaching group.
The exorbitant amounts of money spent (sometimes– scratch that, almost always– by those who don’t have it), the artificial enhancements to young girls (one of the enduring images of this season will be seeing a 7-year-old pop out her “flipper” [fake teeth] and peel off her eyelashes while in an interview), and the screaming are the same. One screaming fight really bothered me because it centered around a young girl with special needs who received extra coaching while on stage. If the other mother hadn’t attacked it could have been a positive experience even if she didn’t “win.” But with cameras rolling, it turned into something almost certainly damaging. Sweet girl, get yourself to a Miss You Can Do It Pageant instead! But TLC likely wouldn’t show that as it’s not extreme enough…
But thanks to Season 7 you get to guffaw while reading DanThat’sCool!’s recaps!