Recently, reality television has evolved to include children as entertainment to American viewers. Popular shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras,” and “Dance Moms” have received much criticism for the way children, mostly young girls, are being exploited. As Sarah Porter mentions in her blog about “Toddlers and Tiaras,” the amount of preparation for pageants is a lot of work and pressure for young girls. This is also seen in “Dance Moms,” which follows a group of girls ages 6-13 in the Abbey Lee Dance Company. The show highlights all of the hard work and pressures that it takes to be a successful dancer. The young girls in the show spend hours everyday at the dance studio practicing, and on the weekends compete in dance competitions all over the country. In recent controversy, actress Katherine Heigl, slammed the show “Dance Moms” for how it exploits young girls. Heigl mentions in her blog, “girls as young as seven were encouraged to dress provocatively and shimmy around stage doing a dance performance that could just as easily been a burlesque routine. I kept thinking all these girls were missing is a pole!” Heigl goes on to rant more about how Abbey Lee, the dance instructor for the young girls is too harsh with them and yells at them instead of encouraging them. Heigl insists that shows like “Dance Moms” encourage children to think that acting sexy is the best way to succeed, when instead children could be performing with age appropriate routines.
When reading Kasson’s article, “Behind Shirley Temple’s Smile,” I immediately thought of the girls on “Dance Moms.” Like Shirley Temple, the girls on “Dance Moms” are expected to always be at their best in performances and put in many hours to succeed. Also, they have in common the aspect of flirtatiousness in their performances. While people loved Shirley Temple long ago, it seems we are still entertained by the same themes today.
Below is a video of the Abbey Lee Dance Company performance, ‘Electricity’
What is the worst thing you have ever seen on television? If you asked me, or Charlotte Trigg’s from People Magazine, it would have to be TLC’s Toddlers and Tiara’s. This television series follows the behind the scenes action of what really goes on in a child’s beauty pageant. In the pageants there are girls of all ages. You are never left wondering when the next temper tantrum is going to be because the show is full of them. Even though, if I were four years old I’m sure I’d be throwing a temper tantrum the size of these poor girls hair as well. Prepping and preparing for these pageants are a full time job for mothers and daughters alike. The girls spend hours practicing routines and singing songs to get them ready for the big day. They are also put through the ringer with the amount of make up and hair appointments the mothers drag them along to. What I find most disturbing is the mothers that whiten their daughters teeth, or take the daughters to get waxed. Why anyone in their right mind would take a four year old to get their eyebrows waxed is completely insane. To me, a great example of the type of exploitation of kids is in the case of Shirley Temple; whose parents exploited her talents and cuteness to captivate the country during the Great Depression. Shirley was forced to spend long hours on set, nearly seven days a week filming, so that her parents could reap millions. In John Kasson’s “Behind Shirley Temple’s Smile” he states how one of her directors scolded her for playing, saying “This isn’t play time, kids,” and later Temple recalls him saying “it’s work.” As a child, what is important is just having fun and being a kid, not being on set all day trying to please their parents by making them look good, or by making money with their acting. How do we expect our kids to grow up, if they are not spending time with other kids, learning and developing their minds to become adults. This type of exploitation has to stop because it’s not doing anyone any favors.
This is the course website for Rebecca Onion's American Studies seminar at the University of Texas at Austin, convened during the spring semester of 2012. You can see the website for last semester's version of this course at this link.