Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Little Miss Perfect

Yesterday, while working out, I found myself watching a TV show called “Little Miss Perfect.” It is a reality show, each episode of which features a look at the lives of two contestants in a little-girl beauty pageant. It was riveting in an I-can’t-believe-I-live-on-the-same-planet-with-these-people kind of way.

The pageant is held in different cities throughout the south and seems to attract participants whose families live in little southern towns. It is overseen (and hosted) by a man named Michael Galanes who judges the competition and sings a dreadful song to the five finalists while gazing deeply into their eyes. (“Little Miss Perfect Pageant, where all your dreams come true/ the Little Miss Perfect Pageant, where the special one is you! / The secret of tomorrow is to live your dream today,/ your memories and your friendships will always feel this way!/ There are perfect colored rainbows on the other side,/ hop on your magic carpet and take a wild ride!/ If you think it, want it, dream it, today’s the start,/ just feel it in your heart.”) Michael and his fellow judges are shown discussing each contestant’s relative merits in three categories (“Beauty,”
“Interview,” and something called “Wow Wear,” which, as far as I can tell, is when the little girl gets dressed up in a costume and exhibits talent, usually dancing, but sometimes, if the kid is under six, waving and winking.) Michael’s critiques can be ruthless, but he has evidently found his milieu. (His bio begins, “Once upon a time, there was a little boy born and raised in the mountains of Vermont, but he knew his calling was the sparkly stage, somewhere, somehow….”)

The girls themselves look normal enough in their everyday lives. Most of them talk about how much they like getting dressed up, wearing makeup, winning big trophies, and being the center of attention. They complain about practicing and cry when they are being readied for competition. Their incarnations as beauty contestants are startling: big, teased hair, heavy makeup, sprayed-on tans, body-hugging costumes. You just can’t look away.

The real stars of the series, though, are the mothers. They are almost always fat. Some of them are ex-child-beauty-queens themselves. They oversee their daughters’ careers with military precision, arranging for coaches, driving to dance lessons, assessing smiles and twirls and coquettish over-the-shoulder glances with dispassionate calm (“Amber just isn’t graceful at all!”) They are supremely unembarrassed about what they are doing. They talk about the (not inconsiderable) amounts of money they spend on this lifestyle as though it is proof of what good mothers they are.

It is easy to be snide here, to laugh at people who look as though they live in houses with broken-down cars on the lawn, to take perverse pleasure in seeing seven-year-olds coiffed like country-music stars break down in tears when someone else wins the trophy. But I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that these families aren’t really so different from families I have known. In my neck of the woods, people don’t enter their daughters in beauty pageants. They drive them to theater auditions and soccer meets and chess club championships. They are still defining themselves by their children’s accomplishments. It really isn’t all that different.

Another thought: Ultimately, this show is about what lots of people in this country still value in women. It’s massively discouraging to think that when all is said and done, the “perfect” girl is the one with the best makeup, the most complicated hairstyle, the cutest hip swivel. Really? Is that really what we’re still about?

1 comment:

  1. Another insightful triumph. I always look forward to these blog posts. Josh