Pageantry, primping and pimping: let the babies be babies

Chunky, sticky, doe-eyed children adorned in colorful clothing who clutch everything from rattles to cartoon coated backpacks are life’s most beautiful entity. Part of children’s wonder is their unaltered essence. Something about keeping a child filled with curiosity and color, and gradually giving them information, keeps their childhood in tact. And we all know that adults who felt deprived of a childhood tend to act out later.

I believed in Santa Claus, had to be inside by the time the streetlights came on and brought Valentine’s for all my classmates in elementary school.

While none of these practices automatically qualify childhood, they shaped the way my then underage eyes interpreted the world.

Yet somehow, today’s culture trivialized childhood, shortened its time span, and reduced toddlers and other children to tiara touting performers.

TLC features a reality-based docudrama with pageant children and their families on it. The show, Toddlers & Tiaras, reached about 1.3 million weekly viewers during its second season.

As an adolescent I watched the HBO documentary Living Dolls:

The Making of a Child Beauty Queen and was disturbed to see girls taught to flaunt their nonexistent shapes, given false teeth and have their hair highlighted, all in hopes of bigger trophies and grander prizes.

These children employ odd voices, adopt saunters and flirt with judges in the pursuit of crowns and vicarious experiences for their guardians.

Maybe I’m an extremist, but Americans switch-hit on too many issues. Childhood is one of them. Sexuality and its presentation, are others. Our culture glorifies and shuns sexuality.

The Bible belt conservatism to baby burlesque range makes me mindful of the images given to children, how they process the information and how we teach them to conduct themselves.

It is not all about pageants, which could arguably teach teamwork and comfort with groups. It is about parading children around in an overly suggestive manner. I have seen girls who pranced around in snug cheerleading uniforms at Pop Warner games early on, suffer down the line.

Maybe I have unresolved issues, because as a gangly child, I wanted to be the pom-poms and pageants girl, more revered for my canvas than for cognitive ability, or maybe, now I understand why my mama cracked certain whips.

She always said we teach our children what to value. She also said that what children spend the most time learning will be what they know.

I am not a mother. So my viewpoints might be idealistic or woefully ignorant. But, I would like to believe that when I have a child, especially a daughter, I do not try to live through her or exploit her for cash and sashes.

Sure there can be benefits. I have seen some pageant gals who are as seemingly refined and prim as the best of us. But, when does a child stop performing and start to live?

Is a childhood authentic if it is centered on limelight, speech coaches, walk technicians, hair appointments, manicures and politically correct responses?

There is no rule of thumb about how much pageantry is too much. So that is where personal taste comes into play.

I now see that some old-fashioned rules my mother instituted about how I looked and what I learned to value, proved to be beneficial.

Makeup was a non-issue in the Jackson household until high school. I could not date until I was 16.

If my creative face paint went garish drag queen, my father would give me an East coast side eye that could melt mascara and babyface the best of us.

Now if I were to hear about my nine-year-old sister “being fast,” I would explain to her the way we do things and the value in not becoming old before one’s time. Although our parents are notably more lenient with her, the family lines of appropriateness are not crossed.

As an adult, I now understand the relevance in reveling in childhood and I tell my sister that all the time.

She will always be the dimpled pink blob whom I rocked to sleep and my instinct is to protect her from the world- especially its perversions and distortions.

The pornographic business booms, and although child pornography is illegal, people with disturbing fetishes will find ways to get what they want.

It’s too easy for pervs in pajamas to get to their happy place watching children in pageants. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter send children’s behaviors internationally in seconds.

Ultimately, each household does what it believes works and some children emerge from pageantry unscathed. Others segue into trouble.

Nevertheless, whenever I have my youngins, their lives will involve more hide-and-go seek, than sashay and get paid.