GENDER POLITICS, SEX AND SEXUALITY

Cattle markets and glitter guns

Alana Baranov
Alana Baranov

By Alana Baranov

What is this world coming to? Really now, what is going on? I’m not even talking about the deplorable wholesale slaughter of an entire civilian population in Syria, or the violent trade in blood diamonds in Zimbabwe’s eastern Marange region. Yes these current affairs, and sadly countless others, fly in the face of our concept of human rights, freedom and dignity and are a dark stain on the record of human history. But we don’t even need to look outside our own homes to really worry about the moral health and direction of our generation. Let’s just turn on the TV.

A recent addition to DSTV’s bouquet of channels, TLC, is currently screening a show the low moral fibre of which would even make Jersey Shore’s orange-tanned, drunk-at-breakfast ‘meatball’ Snooki cringe uncomfortably. You may have already guessed the offending program in question – the ever controversial ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’,which tracks the budding careers of a handful of American tots and their pushy moms as they compete in the cutthroat world of beauty pageants.

Like a car crash you just can’t take your eyes off, we all gasp with righteous indignation at the mom who bursts into tears when her little darling isn’t crowned ‘grand supreme’ (a title which sounds more fitting for the leader of some sort of cult) or even chuckle at the absurdity of a parent literally bribing their kid with cash to do as they say and ‘make mommy proud’. However, this show does give us some very disturbing insights into the way in which society views, and raises, our young girls.

Under the bright lights of primetime television, these little girls are taught, or perhaps a more fitting description is the word‘forced’, to act seductively and learn suggestive dance moves whilst parading themselves around a stage in sexualized costumes, painfully applied and age inappropriate hair and make-up, all the while being subjected to restrictive diets in order to lose weight for a competition. Is it just me or is this kind of twisted?

Surely enough research and analysis has been carried out to date to make the dire physical, emotional and psychological consequences of the sexualisation of young girls and boys a universally known and condemned problem? The toxic culture of the beauty pageant world, where the superficial and external physical is adjudicated and lauded over any acknowledgement of emotional, spiritual or intellectual talent, is unhealthy in every sense of the word.

Self-objectification and sexualisation is in turn linked to a host of diseases and ills which affect young people, particularly young women – eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem among a host of others. Young people in these milieus are treated like objects to be weighed up against each other in a ‘livestock market’, a phenomenon which damages all those involved.

The subliminal value system being disseminated through this type of entertainment erodes the audience’s own sense of right and wrong as such outlandish behaviour becomes ‘normalized’ when broken down into weekday episodes in convenient time slots. Particularly for the impressionable children taking part who have not yet reached the emotional-intellectual milestones of understanding who they are and their own worth, a process where they are given recognition based solely on their looks does not foster the creation of ambitious, hard-working and successful females who contribute to society. Why bother with all that when you can slap on some lipstick and a mini skirt and play to the crowd for your fifteen minutes of fame? And what do we know about the long term damage done through chemically dangerous spray tans, bedazzling glues and hairsprays on developing bodies?

These little girls ultimately become infantilized adults as their parents and coaches do whatever it takes, or whatever the indulged ‘cash cows’ throw a tantrum for, and win the ultimate prize – you guessed it, money. All healthy boundaries, self-respect and unconditional love seem to fall by the wayside in this scenario.

Let’s be honest here, the responsibility for this situation cannot be laid squarely at the door of one cable TV show. Indeed everywhere one turns our culture seems to be teaching young girls and boys a very narrow version of beauty, transforming their bodies and creating pressure to conform to socially engineered and artificial roles. In a progressive world, it is not just the ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ moms who need to re-evaluate their actions.

Why is it still acceptable in this day and age for people to dress young girls up in full make-up and veils as brides acting out a wedding or damsel-in-distress princess, whose sole purpose is to be married or rescued by a man on a white horse respectively? In the 21st century can we not find a better way to allow girlsto reach their full potential and true purpose through their own achievements and abilities? Can the next generation not strive for something higher than being an object of beauty, a victim to be rescued or defined by a relationship to a partner?

Everyone has the right to make their own decisions and certainly some of these young girls, if they were ever actually asked mind you, would say that they want to participate in these competitions. I would argue that this would be a result of certain influences at home but nevertheless I agree that the decision would ultimately lie in the young woman’s hands. However, surely this call could only be made at an age when they could reasonably be expected to make an informed decision on how their body is portrayed to the world? Or in the context of an environment where they understand and appreciate the value of all aspects of their own identity – be that physical, emotional, and intellectual? The consequences of how they wish to project themselves to others and how they will view their own substance, must also be understood or at least explained to them.

While I’m on this soap box, let me say another thing: surely TV audiences have tastes slightly more discerning than to find unhappy toddlers in sequined Vegas showgirl outfits being cajoled into performing by obnoxious mothers, vicariously living out their dreams through their children, riveting viewing? What does it say about each of us that there is even a market for shows of this nature? I think it’stime that we stepped back and took a long look at the messages we are sending the youth of today. If we have this much spare time on our hands maybe we should focus our energy on making a difference in the injustices I described at the beginning of this rant. Oh yeah, and pageant moms? Put the glitter guns down and step away from the rollers.

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1 thought on “Cattle markets and glitter guns”

  1. It is a strange and disturbing practice. It’s the lack of choice the kids have that really make it exploitative. It’s not even as though they’re auditioning for a typical ‘acting’ role. Agree about the effects of fake tan rubbish on their skin and unhealthy levels of hairspray! Very good argument here. I have to wonder if the popularity of Little Miss Sunshine (the inevitable movie reference) was an influence on this sort of thing becoming ‘reality’ freakish TV? Although the film fully acknowledges that the pageants are more than a little weird. Anyway, this isn’t something I’d watch. It’s b

    I avoid shows like this like the plague, and only watched the first episode of Jersey Shore after I’d seen South Park send it up! Again, Jersey Shore is full of ‘adults’ who decided to be there. Getting drunk and shagging. On camera. Oh well…

    Like

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