According to the keywords essay “Girlhood” by Jaqueline Reid-Walsh, “the term “girl” derives from the Old English word for dress or apparel, gyrela;” (93). Girlhood can be experienced in many ways. In the Western world, dresses are seen as feminine and most all girls wear or have worn dresses. This symbol of girlhood has been ever changing over the last century. Women were once only allowed to wear dresses and not pants because it was not socially acceptable or “proper” for a woman to wear pants. That has completely changed and in today’s society, women and girls have the choice of whether they want to wear a dress or not. However, girls are sometimes labeled as “tomboys” if they don’t wear a dress. Dresses are seen as feminine and little girls are looked at as adorable, precious, and beautiful when they wear dresses. It is now looked at as a symbol for beauty more than girlhood.
In the TLC show Toddlers and Tiaras, little girls are shown competing in beauty pageants to win titles such as Princess, Queen, Grand Supreme, Ultimate Grand Supreme, etc. Little girls are dressed up in bright, sparkly, over the top dresses and compete against each other for these titles. Their coaches and parents will do whatever it takes to prove that their little girl is the prettiest and deserves the title of Ultimate Grand Supreme. The little girls compete in these dresses in the “beauty” portion of the competition. Their beauty walk, smile, and overall appearance is judged and they are given a score. According to Toddlers and Tiaras, girlhood is defined by physical beauty. It puts more value on which little girl is the most beautiful. In Meet Kirsten by Janet Shaw, Kirsten is an immigrant from Sweden moving to America. When she arrives, her relatives give her a dress to wear. This dress to her symbolizes her new identity as an American girl. To Kirsten, her new dress formed a new identity for her. What identity do these sparkly, brightly colored, frilly dresses give the girls on Toddlers and Tiaras?
According to Jaqueline Reid-Walsh, “linking “girl” and “apparel” or fashion, may be startling to the modern reader, but it underscores the problematic association between two terms that have been linked in Western Culture…” (93). There is no issue with letting little girls feel beautiful in their glitzy dresses, but when it is made into a competition, that is where is can become harmful. This is not what girlhood is about. Every girl has a different experience of girlhood and there is no right or wrong way to experience girlhood. It is a varying term that has multiple meanings. The relation to dresses, makeup, long hair, and painted nails are just physical traits that coincide with the term “beauty”. Beauty is not just for girls however. Toddlers and Tiaras shifts the keyword of “girlhood” to “beauty” or in this case, “beauty pageant”. Beauty does not define girlhood.
Do you agree with the concept of Toddlers and Tiaras?