The Sociology of the Teen Mom Series (in the Media)

MTV's Teen Mom juggernaut (which includes Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, along with the 16 & Pregnant series that inspired the follow-ups) is a treasure trove for sociologists. It often shows the inter-generational transmission of poverty (particularly powerful you see it unfold before you); linked to this is much about education, health, technology, and drugs in the lives of today's teens and young adults. Teen Mom logo

I've been speaking about a few Teen Mom-related stories in the press lately, which highlight some of these issues. More importantly, this shows how pop culture (like TV shows) and the media can be used to help students learn sociology. It's more powerful when it's something students already watch, but can then observe and analyze in a new way.

For example the troubled Teen Mom 2 star Jenelle Evans makes headlines both for what she does on the show and for her real-time life. While reality TV shows have sped up the air dates of some shows, for some reason both Teen Mom series have aired on such a delay that the audience often knows that much has changed since the episode was filmed (unlike other shows that do reunions, like Bravo's Real Housewives franchise, even the Teen Mom reunions are taped well in advance). Thanks to Twitter, fans follow the daily dramas of the MTV reality stars in real time.  Evans, who has been engaged/married/divorced in a blink of an eye on Twitter exemplifies this trourth end. Click here to read the story, and my comment, on why we follow Evans' soap opera life.

While Evans' series is still airing (with a fourth season to come), the first installment of Teen Mom has officially concluded. But some of the "stars" of that series manage to stay in the news. Farrah Abraham raised several eyebrows last month (pun intended) when she revealed she tried to wax, and ultimately tweezed, her three-year-old daughter's unibrow. This led to an NECN appearance where I spoke about what types of beauty treatments are (un)acceptable for toddlers and young girls.

Yes, I'm back talking about virgin waxes (remember Britney Campbell-- whose mom was lying for media attention-- but whose story brought real virgin waxing to light?).

On a more serious note though, it's possible that reality-TV starlet Farrah would have done this to her daughter anyway-- but you can't help but think that her experience on TV, and having her daughter on with her, impacted her decision. Sophia is now used to being seen and she knows that image matters. This is not really the primary lesson you want to be teaching young girls (or anyone for that matter).

Let's hope that Farrah saved some of her television money and invested some of it for Sophia's education (I don't think the kids on the show were compensated separately, like other reality TV kids, but I'd love to hear I'm wrong on this). If not, at least Sophia might have the option to use a website like Seeking Arrangement. Haven't heard of it? It's a relatively new "dating" website that connects wealthy adults with younger, attractive dates. It's usually sugar daddies, but some sugar mommas are on there as well. I was interviewed for a great NECN news segment on this growing trend in the Boston area among college students.

At least Sophia and the other Teen Mom kids are used to showing their own faces on camera already...

Too Much Botox, Too Much to be Believed: UPDATED

Poor Britney Campbell is back in the news. I wrote about Britney in March after her story appeared in The Sun, detailing her Botox injections and virgin waxes.  Yesterday morning Britney and her mom, Kerry, appeared on Good Morning America to “defend” themselves and talk about wrinkles and waxings.

The somewhat-horrifying interview/video speaks for itself. Click below to watch it.

I have a variety of questions about this story, which part of me still wants to believe isn’t true.
  •        The Sun reported Britney’s mother, Kerry is from Birmingham (UK). Why no accent in the television interview?
  •        Did Kerry Campbell know that by appearing on GMA she went on a parenting kamikaze mission—opening herself up to investigation by child welfare agencies (she must have known something untoward could happen, given the fact she wouldn’t name her Botox source)? Why do this? [Note: it's being reported that a formal investigation has been opened by the state.]
  •         The Sun story focuses much more on pop superstardom and less on child beauty pageants. Why the shift?
  •         GMA shows a clip of Britney in a “pageant dress,” but it doesn’t look at all like a high glitz pageant dress. Does anyone in the California pageant scene actually know this family? I stand by my earlier comments that I know some pageant moms wax their daughters (OUCH!), but Botox is a bit hard to believe in girls this young.
  •        This observation is going to sound horrible, but if this mom is so concerned about Britney’s appearance, why not invest in orthodontia instead of Botox? I know many eight-year-old girls with braces (sad, but true, and I think it must be a bit young—though definitely not my area of expertise!). Seems like a better, and more permanent, “beauty fix.”
  •        Finally, are dimples no longer desirable? It seems like the “wrinkles” they don’t like are Britney’s adorable dimples. My mother tells a wonderful story about taping frozen peas into her cheeks each night before bed as a child because she wanted dimples so badly. I’d still love to have dimples! Is this déclassé now?
Of course, there are many other unanswered questions, but I’ll stop there. Personally, I’d rather have Amy Chua and intense music lessons than Kerry Campbell and Botox injections.  What do you think?

UPDATE I: There already seems to be a "copycat" mom, covered by The Sun. This mother, Sharon Evans (also apparently British), tattooed her daughter, Bree, giving her permanent eyebrows. She also did fillers in her lips (in addition to Botox). Be horrified some more.

UPDATE II/I: Apparently this is not too much to be believed it is real. Poor Britney was taken from her mother and apparently is under custody of CPS. This article on the latest developments reveals another head-scratching fact: Britney's father died four years ago at the age of 83. So her mom was 30, with a four-year-old daughter, when her 83-year-old husband died... I wonder what kind of "research scientist" the father was? And whether or not *he* used Botox?

I have continuously said there is something seriously off with this story. Proof the Botox mom is not who she says she is. 

Good Girls Gone Botoxed

Have you heard about Britney? Not Britney Spears, but Britney Campbell. Well, you might want to sit down. Two days ago The Sun reported that mum Kerry injects her eight-year-old daughter, Britney, with Botox. Her first injection was a gift for her eighth birthday, in fact! Mom buys the Botox over the Internet and injects Britney herself-- but she tests it first to make sure it's "safe." Why do this? To be a pop superstar, of course.

Not only does Britney get Botox, she also gets a monthly "virgin wax." I confess I had  to Google virgin wax.  Apparently, I am way out of the loop because in 2008 MSNBC ran a story on this new trend.  Supposedly if you wax the colorless hair on a girl's legs and bikini line, it won't grow in once the girl hits puberty and the hair darkens and coarsens. I'm not sure why Britney gets a virgin wax every month though, as aesthetician experts suggest you only need to do it 2-6 times. By the way, my favorite line about virgin waxing is listed on the website of a New York City spa, Wanda's European Skin Care on West 57th: "Save your child a lifetime of waxing... and put the money in the bank for her college education instead!" Just think of how much more pocket change we all would have had in college...

There's a connection to child beauty pageants here, especially because Kerry Campbell says Botox, virgin waxes, and even plumpers/fillers are common practice on the San Francisco child beauty pageant circuit (I'm personally not aware of a big high glitz pageant circuit in the Bay area-- anyone else?).  According to, on Toddlers & Tiaras this past season several moms were shown waxing their daughters eyebrows, as I've written about here; we've also seen moms shave their daughters' legs so the little leg hairs don't show up on stage. I can see some pageant moms doing the virgin wax, but nowhere close to all of them, especially those who don't do high glitz. As for Botox I just don't buy it. Some day when they are older I am sure a lot of pageant girls will pursue plastic surgery-- but trying Botox so young and risking disfigurement is simply foolhardy and too risky.

Not surprisingly, this story has some legs and got picked up pretty quickly. Jezebel's coverage concedes that neither the US nor the UK have laws preventing a parent from injecting their children with Botox. I mean, why would there be? We'll see if that changes; in the meantime it's quite possible Child Protective Services may be visiting the Campbell household in San Francisco.  Otherwise, as Perez Hilton said, let's hope this is a joke. Perhaps it is because, really, how did The Sun reporter find native Birmingham, UK resident Kerry in San Francisco?

This story made me think of Charice, the Filipino pop star who has appeared on Glee. Last July there was a big brouhaha about her getting Botox to make her look younger and to smooth her eighteen-year-old face for the show. The media even ran pictures of her getting the injections. Clearly Botox is in among teenagers pursuing pop stardom-- but Charice is a decade older than little Britney Campbell.

Keeping female, teen popstars looking young and "pure" is quite a task on many levels, as the always informative and entertaining Peggy Orenstein explains in "The Good Girl, Miranda Cogrove" which will be in the Times Magazine this Sunday.  Her discussion of teen idols produced by the Disney and Nick machines is related to a chapter in Cinderella Ate My Daughter; Orenstein expands on that work with a thoughtful profile on "iCarly" star Miranda Cosgrove.  One of the most refreshing parts of the piece is hearing about, and from, Miranda's parents (her dad still runs the dry cleaning business he had before Miranda starting raking in seven-figures and her mom is with her pretty much all the time).

Somehow I don't think Britney Campbell will be the next Miranda Cosgrove, do you?