La La How The Life Goes On

Ugly on the Inside

Posted on: February 27, 2011

Whenever Bambina tells me that someone is pretty or cute or good-looking, I always follow up with my now-expected Mama interrogatory bromide: “Cute on the inside, the outside or both?” I know it’s almost a joke at this point, along the lines of, “We don’t use the word ‘hate’ in this house” or “because I said so” as far as Things Your Parents Say That You Can Lip-Synch Simultaneously go. But I ask because I want her to understand that someone can look beautiful but be awful, and that someone can look not so beautiful but be beautiful. I want her to wonder about the nature of beauty, “Do I like this person because everyone else says she is pretty or because *I* think s/he is good-looking? Do I think s/he’s cute based only on looks or on how s/he treats others?”

With that in mind, I was up late the other night and randomly clicked on a show called Toddlers and Tiaras. It has been on for a while so I’m aware that I’m not ploughing new ground here in mentioning it. But if you have not seen it, you really, truly MUST. It’s a show about the child pageant industry. Each episode features 3 kids competing in a particular pageant somewhere in America. The show I viewed had an 8 year-old who knows “I am the prettiest girl ever,” a 4 year old who screams and cries that she does not want to do a photo shoot, then at her mom’s urging turns on the best, brightest, most chilling and disturbing smile you’ve ever seen, and two 1 year-old twins. Yes, that was a “1.” There are indeed pageants for one year-old babies. Babies who cannot walk or speak or possibly comprehend what they are doing, but hey–they can win a prize for prettiest, so USA #1!! W00t!

I was deeply disturbed by the one year-old twins being flown all over the country and dressed in ludicrous outfits and paraded in front of strangers for money. I was more disturbed by the unbearable 4 year-old from Louisiana who had a mouth and an attitude like a trucker, and the obvious developmental abilities of, well, a four year-old. The child needed a nap; no nap was had. The child needed her binkie; momma had hidden it because it was not good for her makeup pre-pageant. The child did not want to get her picture taken for the shoot; she was made up, dressed up, and cajoled until she caved, offering a winning smile that lasted only the necessary .04 seconds for the camera. However, I was most disturbed by the 8 year-old girl who was obsessed with her own beauty. “I am so pretty!” was perhaps her mantra. She was nasty about other participants, hair-trigger angry if she didn’t win every category, and just shockingly and cruelly overaffirmed in all the wrong ways.

So how does this show exist? Because, as with all kiddie shipwrecks, we have fucked-up parents at the helm, don’t we? Or course we’ll start with the moms, all of whom (as a friend said) “aren’t exactly the pick of the litter.” Before you send hate mail to me for being catty, hear me out. I grew up a fat kid. I grew up an average looking girl. I was by no means ugly, but let’s be honest: there are the beautiful girls and there are all the other girls. It’s not a depressive self-hating thing to know–and say–that you weren’t one of those girls in the rareified world of blockbusterdom. Most of us weren’t, right? So don’t send me mail about bad self-esteem either. It’s just a fact: we’re all beautiful in our own way (that’s the mom talking), but some girls are just, aesthetically, prettier than others by our society’s standards. Right? I’m not preaching some new gospel here. Hate it if you want, but it’s the truth and you know it. So, as a former (and sometimes current depending on my meds) fattie, I completely understand what it must feel like to look at your [societally-affirmed] beautiful child and think, “Wow, you are going to have a completely different life experience than I did based solely on your looks.” I might also understand that little itch inside you that wants you to relive or redo something via your child. These are all human emotions that I understand. What I don’t understand is how a mother (in the case of the 8 year old) can so inflate her daughter’s perception of her own beauty to the exclusion of all else that the child becomes a repulsive creature to behold. I watched this little girl go on and on about how gorgeous she is, and how no one is prettier and how everyone else is just jealous, and I heard the sad, mad, thwarted voice of the child her mother used to be. This little girl’s (ie, her mom’s) contempt for other pretty girls was obvious to anyone with eyes to see. This child was ugly on the inside.

Also contributing to this internal scrofulosity were the Dads. The simpering, moronic, idiot Dads. (What? You think I’d be nastier to the moms just because I’m a super-judgmental mom?) When you have a daughter, according to Chris Rock and his disciple my husband, your only job is to keep her “off the pole.” If your daughter becomes a stripper, you can go ahead and admit that you did something real wrong somewhere along the road of fatherhood. I tend to agree. Your job as a father is to ensure that you do not give your daughter any Daddy Issues. Because we all know to what long, dark and hideous roads those lead girls. Again, don’t hate. You KNOW you know girls with Daddy Issues. You KNOW them when you see them. These girls on this show were prime candidates for every Daddy Issue under the sun. My daddy constantly told me how beautiful I was. My daddy took me to contests so I could stand in front of people in different outfits and have my value judged. My daddy never emphasized that I could be validated by anything other than my appearance. These dads are going straight to hell, and with any luck their daughters won’t be dragged along with them.

Hear me out. I’m not a prude. I don’t myself get the allure of beauty pageants, but if some 18 year-old wants to don a swimsuit and say she’s for “whirled peas” or for ending hunger among “cheedren” then have at it. Like I said, USA #1! But please show me a father who wants his young daughter in a tiny outfit parading in front of strangers for the potential of money and I’ll show you a father who needs to be bitch-slapped, and hard, by another father. I have a hard enough time getting the BabyDaddy okay with Bambina’s pierced ears and occasional use of lipgloss on her birthday or days out with Gram. If I ever suggested she get a full face of makeup, throw on a tiny outfit, and go prance around in front of strangers for cash prizes, he’d have my shit on the lawn and the locks changed in about 20 minutes. He’d call the men with white coats, and he’d throw me in the nutbus to CrazyTown with his own hands.

Over-reacting? You can call it that if you want. I prefer to call it “beautiful on the inside.”

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2 Responses to "Ugly on the Inside"

Preach! I haven’t watched the show, I just read the recaps on MamaPop, but it gives me the shudders.

Never seen the show but having seen Tom Hanks do what I’m sure was a pitch perfect skit of it on Jimmy Kimmel last night I’m happy to say I don’t need to.

BBD allowed pierced ears at that age….hmmm….he and I need to have a chat……

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