Oh, reality television, when will you stop giving me so much blog material?! Why must you insist in glorifying poor decision making and flat out sinful, hurtful choices? I have said before in this blog that I don’t particularly like reality television, and this story is one that proves why I think reality television simply brings out the worst of our culture.
In a recent episode of “Toddlers and Tiaras,” a show focused on the toddler pageant circuit and the families who participate in them, three-year-old Paisley wore a costume based on Julia Roberts’ prostitute character in Pretty Woman. While the judges laughed at Paisley’s provocative outfit, she strutted across the stage in a neon yellow wig, midriff-bearing tight dress and thigh-high patent boots. Paisley went on to win the pageant but cameras caught another competitor’s mother saying, “Us pageant moms already take a huge rap for what we’re doing to our little girls, but it’s outfits like that that give us a bad rap. I would never, ever do that to my little girl.”
She’s not the only one speaking out against such a young child wearing this kind of inappropriate outfit. Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for The Parents Television Council commented, “We have a serious problem when The Learning Channel features a toddler, who probably hasn’t even learned to read, dressed as a prostitute showing off her sexy strut. There is no question TV executives are complicit in robbing these small kids of their childhood. For years we’ve seen adult sexuality being inappropriately and aggressively foisted on innocent young children, but children today are being sexualized at younger and younger ages.” The Parents Television council is calling for “Toddlers and Tiaras” to be taken off the air completely.
The outcry over this particular outfit has brought to light many of the questionable choices made by parents featured on the show. One parent consistently gives her six- year-old energy drinks to keep her going while another parent is featured giving medication she calls “be good pills” to her rowdy child. One contestant recently wore a costume with prosthetic breast and bottom pads for a Dolly Parton outfit. It is common for the young girls featured in the show to wear fake hair, fake teeth, and get spray tans.
Paisleys’ mother defends her decision by saying, “I’m raising my child just as well as any mother does. I take my kid to church every week. It was meant to be funny, not sexual at all.” She claims the outfit revealed less than many gymnastic outfits or swimsuits and that it was harmless. During an interview, Paisley’s mom asked Paisley if she knew who she was dressed as. She simply replied that she was dressed as Julia Roberts.
You don’t have to look far on reality television or television in general to see younger and younger children and teens dressing in a more sexually provocative way. It has been a long running issue in our culture, and what we see on the screen filters into what we see in the stores and on our teens. While Toddlers and Tiaras is certainly an extreme example, this incident has reopened the conversation about a much longer running issue about what is appropriate clothing for children and teens.
It is so difficult to find clothes for children and teen girls anymore that isn’t a near exact replica of adult women’s clothing, if not even more sexual and provocative. I hear parents complain all the time that they cannot find clothes they believe are appropriate for their tweens and teens. For a long time now, it has been commonplace for youth to wear clothes that are tighter, show more skin and make them look older. When it is a normal, everyday occurrence for children and teens to be wearing this type of clothing, it isn’t such a far stretch for these pageant mothers to believe wearing outfits like Paisley’s to be just fine.
I spend time every year talking to my tweens and teens about their clothing choices, especially before trips like our youth mission trip. I try and drive home the point that what they wear is a reflection of who they are and the values they hold. If they believe God has called them to be sexually pure then their clothes should reflect that belief. We talk about why girls especially should be careful in choosing clothes that show they want to be known for something other than their bodies and sexuality. Despite my efforts, every so often I have to ask a girl to adjust her skirt, or put another shirt on top of the one she is wearing.
If what we wear is a reflection of what we value, Paisley’s costume isn’t just a poor choice, but an indication of something far more serious. For her mother, it was all about winning the pageant at any cost, and this was something that would win. It didn’t matter that the idea behind the costume portrays a young child in a sinful, sexual way for the enjoyment of an audience. I don’t want to vilify this mother by herself. She made a poor choice, but she also fell into the trap that was so easily set by younger and younger children wearing more and more grown up, sexualized clothing everywhere else in our culture.
We have to be clear with our children and teens that as Christians we are to hold to a higher standard despite how hard it might be. It also means having to spend time talking and working through how to do that when a girl comes to youth group in a midriff-bearing top or a too-short skirt. There has to be grace and discussion when our teens and even sometimes their parents fall into the same easy trap Paisley’s mom did.
As I wrote this article, I saw a report that said the “Toddlers and Tiaras” Facebook page had been shut down because of all the nasty comments they were receiving about Paisley’s costume. When I went to go see if it was back up, I discovered that two of the youth I work with had “Liked” the show. It drove home the point to me that teens are watching this show and others like it. We can only hope and help them to see it through critical eyes and make better choices for themselves.