Girlhood: Toddlers and Tiaras

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?

4 thoughts on “Girlhood: Toddlers and Tiaras”

  1. When I was younger, I was a huge fan of “Toddlers and Tiaras” and watched it all the time. I’ve definitely thought about what kind of message the show sends about what it means to be “beautiful,” but I’ve never really connected that to what it means to be a girl. This post makes an excellent point that each individual experience of “girlhood” is different and certainly does not need to be characterized by glitzy dresses, lots of makeup, and competing in pageants. There’s no “wrong” way to be a girl, even if television shows like this may make it seem that way by implying that “girlhood” and “beauty” are inherently linked when they aren’t.

  2. I think the concept of Toddler and Tiaras would be more acceptable if it were the kids who dictated their participation. A great amount of the show illustrates that it is the parents who want their children this highly involved in pageants. It is an interesting conversation to think of whether the children actually want to participate or whether their participation is mostly coercion. On the topic of beauty competitions, I wonder whether pageants can be re-imagined to include other aspects of girls and women beyond their looks or talents.

  3. I really appreciated your post, Jami! I find it interesting, as Imani pointed to, the role that specifically mothers play in Toddlers and Tiaras through reinforcing gender norms and standards of beauty. It links dialogue of beauty and being a girl with dresses, femininity, and objectivity. I don’t agree with the concept of Toddlers and Tiaras. This shows utilizes children as objects and forms of entertainment and unattainable “beauty” in a way that I think is harmful to many girls who participate and young girls who watch the show. Thank you for bringing this up within our discussion!

  4. I think that your post is interesting and brings up an important discussion on girlhood. I think that Toddlers and Tiaras is a great example of stereotypes of how women and girls are supposed to act. Along with this, I think that it is important that Miss America and other beauty competitions are brought up as well. These shows, although possibly making small progress, still create norms of how women are supposed to act and dress.

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