Tiaras, Toddlers, and Breast Pads? What Makes Their Mothers Tick?

Beauty pageants began as a marketing strategy in 1921 by an Atlantic City hotel manager who wanted tourists to stay at the hotel longer. ” A local news reporter called the winner of this pageant “Miss America”, a term we still use today. Beauty pageants became a cultural ideal of which many young American girls hoped to aspire to as adults.

But, is it okay for toddler children to participate in beauty pageants? It seems that school-aged children have participated in performance-type pageants for several decades, already. Although the Tiara and Toddler beauty pageants of today is a different animal altogether. These mostly female toddlers ranging from 2 to 6 years-of-age compete as adult entertainment and sexual icons of our day, complete with wigs, makeup, provocative outfits, fake C-cup padded breasts and padded buttocks, hair extensions, and, when necessary, fake teeth to replace baby teeth that have fallen out.

The world of child beauty pageants is a booming industry with more than 5,000 child pageants held annually in the U.S., and approximately 250,000 children participating. What is this all about? It can’t be money. The parents actually spend much more than they will get, if their child wins the pageant.

Some mothers say, they like the developmental experience that these pageants give their children. Their toddlers gain confidence and poise and learn about the healthy aspects of competition.  One mother said, “ I want my child to know that there’s going to be somebody better than her. That’s a hard thing to learn, she said; It was for me. I want her to start early.”

Why do these moms choose the route of a beauty pageant to enhance their child’s competence and self-esteem? Are there healthier ways to build confidence and poise in their children, without setting them up as objects of beauty alone?

Of course, there is. These self-serving defensive responses suggest to me that at some level of awareness, these mothers know that there is something not quite right about showing off their children in this way. Rather than face squarely their own unfulfilled childhood wounds, desires and needs, these mothers project their unrealized dreams onto their children. You fulfill what I couldn’t.

You will take mynot your place in the world.

The mother’s psychological defenses operating here include denial (I don’t have the need to be loved and objectified), projection (here, you take this need and own it for me) and reaction formation, justifying this defense by formulating a reaction that turns it into a good thing. Now, it is not bad to use your beauty alone, to win love and approval; it’s actually a good thing. It builds confidence, self-esteem, and teaches you about competition. Never mind that you may be turning your child into a victim for sexual predators and growing her into a narcissistic personality. Of course, these defensive transactions take place beneath the mother’s awareness.

The mothers of these children use their toddler girls as a vehicle to express their own pasts wounds and needs and desires that they cannot admit to themselves.  When these “tiara toddlers” grow up, they will most likely spend many hours in a therapist’s office separating out mommy from me.

These young children show signs of their discontent and their developmental unease and unpreparedness to carry out the tasks that these pageants demand of them.  Levey found one mother grabbing her child’s hand and dragging her off the stage when the 2-year old girl started to cry, running her mascara down her face.  “Meanwhile, an unfazed announcer told the audience that the girl was 2 years old, from Massachusetts, and her life’s ambition is to bring happiness to all who come into contact with her. The girl stopped crying and began to eat Cheerios with the other beauty-pageant contestants. Her mother began laying out her rhinestone-studded jeans for the next phase of the competition – modeling.”

Between the ages of 2 and 5 years old, children grow rapidly. Increasing brain development helps them to slowly increase their ability to tolerate greater levels of frustration and to delay of gratification and reward. But, a two-year old child does not have sufficient brain maturation to wait for hours on end until it is time for her to perform her routine, to delay what she wants now for a later reward, to have adults pick at her, adjust her clothing, reapply makeup, and push her onto a stage is way to much to ask of a growing toddler.  To ask these children to participate in situations that exceed their developmental capacities is cruel, moreover, a strong sign of their mothers’ insensitivity and narcissism.

I don’t believe that these mothers set out to victimize their children or to turn them into future narcissists. The mothers don’t really understand themselves, so how can they fully appreciate what they are doing to these children in terms of their development and growing self-esteem.

Many of these tiara toddlers are gifted children. A mother intuitively senses the best child to project upon her inner desires and needs.  And, if the mother’s wound is one of being unlovable, with a deep need to be appreciated and recognized, then who could be a better container for these unresolved issues than her most beautiful, talented, and gifted child. She will be the child most apt of realizing her mother’s dreams.

These mothers need to recognize the drama that they are creating in these gifted children. Alice Miller’s book called the Drama of the Gifted Child articulates well the background of adults who were not allowed to define themselves as separate from their parents, who were used as an extension of their parents’ unfulfilled needs and desires. Remember, narcissists grow narcissistic children who, as adults, will carry the wounds of their parents, until they learn how to grow past them.

You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that there’s something wrong about exhibiting your child as an adult. The majority of mothers know that there’s a difference between a young girl dressing up like a princess or like her mommy versus putting her on stage to resemble sexual and entertainment icons, like Beyoncé, Marilyn Monroe or Dolly Parton. Allowing children to compete academically and to participate in school shows, theater, sports and dance performances are the developmentally sound ways to enhance a child’s sense of self, confidence, and ability to cooperate and compete constructively—and for more than beauty alone.

If you liked my post today, please say so by selecting the “Like” icon that immediately follows. I value your comments and experiences. Warm regards, Deborah

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