Small Wonders: Down a runway toward destruction

Ever since M*A*S*H went off the air, I’ve been a little disillusioned with TV.

That’s not to say I don’t watch, or like, certain TV shows: “30 Rock” and “Modern Family” stand out. While channel surfing, I will stop and view random mind-numbing programs with a measure of unabashed shame and guilt.

“Keeping Up With the Kardashians” comes to mind. But only because I like Bruce Jenner. “Project Runway” because my wife likes to watch it. “Hillbilly Handfishin’” because, well, damn, they pull 40-pound catfish out of muddy rivers with their hands. What’s not to like about that?

But there is one show I simply cannot stand, one show I find reprehensible, immoral and without redeeming value. I see no substantive reason for its being on the air and I blame not only the subjects of the show for the damage they do to society, but also the show’s producers and the television network behind it.

I find them all complicit in what I think should be a criminal activity.

That show is “Toddlers and Tiaras.”

It's gotten much attention lately for an episode in which one beauty pageant mother dressed her 3-year-old daughter in a prostitute outfit ala Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman.”

The mom defended dressing her daughter as a lady of the night by saying it was meant to be cute and comical. She said that everyone in the audience understood that, and her daughter had no idea what she was dressed like.

But funny doesn’t make it right. A roomful of parents with the same questionable taste as you isn’t exactly the best focus group. And 3-year-olds shouldn’t have to know that dressing like a prostitute is wrong. You, the parent, are supposed to know that.

And it's not that I merely dislike the activity these parents have engaged their children in, or the business of child beauty pageantry. It repulses me.

For years, people have talked about the sexualizing of our children happening at a younger and younger age. Well, folks, we’ve hit rock bottom with this show.

Watch one episode and you’ll see small children squirming under the application of false eyelashes, hair extensions and contact lenses, not to mention bustiers, padded bras, false teeth, spray-on tans, high heels, bikinis and elaborate Vegas-style costumes. And all the while, attention-seeking parents holler directions and cheer their young ones down a runway to destruction.

Ten-year-olds are too young for this, let alone 2- and 3-year olds.

The show airs on TLC, which used to stand for The Learning Channel, a member of the Discovery Communications group. But a network dedicated to the benefits of learning and education loses all credibility by promoting this show.

While one would hope that most viewers see it for what it is — a loosely unbiased look at a small subculture of parents that most people find atypical; a show viewed only for its “train wreck” factor. The fact that it is allowed to be on the air at all is shocking.

Toddlers can’t ride in the car without a car seat or watch certain TV shows and movies. They can’t step up to a bar and order a Long Island Ice Tea or get a pack of smokes at 7-Eleven.

But, with the consent and glee of their parents, they can be decorated like hookers, showgirls and Barbie dolls, and made to strut their stuff, sing and dance before so-called “judges,” then demeaned and humiliated in order to take home a trophy and bragging rights.

Starting at such an early age to beat into children’s minds that they are more or less beautiful, talented and worthy than any other kid their age, is repugnant.

Make no mistake. Adult beauty pageants are about sex appeal: bathing suits, evening gowns, cleavage, long legs, high heels, silky hair, poise and grace. They are not about academics or charity work, despite the contestants' involvement in those activities. Applying that format over children and babies, shutting one’s eyes to the explicit sexual nature the beauty pageant exploits, is purely and simply wrong.

I would argue that the parents of the children in these pageants, and the programs and networks that broadcast them for commercial purposes, are engaging in something that is more than just immoral, but illegal: the exploitation and oversexualization of minors too young to know what is right, or best, for them.

While the gleam and stature of the adult beauty pageant has waned in the last decade, the wave of child exploitation entertainment has only seemed to increase.

“Kate Plus 8” is finally done. Let's hope “Toddlers and Tiaras” is not far behind.

Television networks may only be bringing us what they think, and what ratings say, we want to watch. But it's time for TV viewers to change that.

PATRICK CANEDAY feels like Andy Rooney this week. He may be reached on Facebook, at and

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World