Friday, May 1, 2015

Jon-Benet Didn't Eat My Daughter, but Elsa Might Have

Back in my first post about child modeling, I wrote that people often ask, with demi-horror, “Is that like Toddlers and Tiaras?”  And I always fly back with a response, “No! No! Not at all!”  Child modeling in the NYC market is soooo different from what you see on that show.  (But I do know a really great mom and her daughter who were on the show years ago!  Shout out!!!)  The truth is, however, I have met some really cool pageant kids and moms in the industry, and I’ll give you my perspective on the whole thing.

When we were spending time in Florida a couple weeks ago, my wife’s cousin uttered a name I hadn’t heard in a while: Jon-Benet Ramsey.  (May she rest in peace.)  For those of us a little older, we probably remember those pictures of giant hair, makeup, and sophisticated clothing.  Like a little adult.  Well, like a little adult who wears way too much makeup.  Her death was obviously horrifying and I really don’t think there was any connection to her time as a pageant girl, but that’s the image we have of this little one – and it’s kind of uncomfortable.  Like, why couldn’t we see her in play clothes on a swing at the park?  I think the media exploited that whole pageant thing far more than focusing on the tragedy of her death.

I conjure that image in your mind, though, to present a sort of “opposite” of what child modeling in like in the NYC market.  I’m emphasizing the NYC market, but my description really applies to any market that does shoots for the products and clothing you see in national (and international) campaigns.  For this market, the look for kids is very natural.  Absolutely minimal makeup: maybe a little concealer to even out skin tone; a dab of blush; wisp of lip gloss…and never anything on the eyes but a little clear mascara to add a little gloss to the natural lashes.  Take a look at your J. Crew, Hanna Andersson, and Macy’s catalogs.  Those kids are fresh-faced and look playful, like they just stepped off the playground or maybe a little dressed up for a special occasion.  If you want to submit your kid for child modeling work, those are the images you should be considering.

Now if you shift a little bit more toward the direction of hair, makeup, and fancy outfits there are opportunities for modeling for boutiques and designers or photographers who do styled shoots.  You’ve probably seen some of those looks on the internet as well…a lot of those shoots are actually unpaid (or sometimes parents pay) and can be really fun for parents and kids who love dress-up and a more formal setting.  This is where I’m getting toward pageants…if you like that kind of thing – the hair, makeup, the over-the-top outfits – great!  Enjoy…and really, the moms I know who do pageants have a great time and their daughters love the experience.  I’m sure they would not do it otherwise.  But really, you cannot compare it to modeling for clients like Target and Oshkosh.  It’s totally apples and oranges.  So when people ask if what my daughter does it like Toddlers and Tiaras, the answer really is no way – it’s just very different.

If you’ve ever hit up a women’s studies class in college, you’ve heard of Peggy Orenstein.  Peggy (I’ll go with the whole first-name basis, because of my casual style…I do not know her personally, however, and I mean no disrespect.)  is a feminist.  She wrote one of the essential Women’s Studies 101 books,  Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self Esteem, and the Confidence Gap.  She was a prominent voice in the movement to close gaps between boys and girls in school.  So, absolutely, Peggy is a feminist with a capital F.  After a very long struggle with fertility and adoption, Peggy had a daughter.  Naturally, she believed that she had a leg up on the whole raising-a-self-confident-daughter parenting method.  This is where I want you to think about every parenting method you imagined before you had your children.  They all went out the window, right?  And if not, I cannot relate to you.  (I once said my child would own no Barbies.  We would not have princess crap.  Falling out of my chair laughing now…)

If you’ve encountered Peggy Orenstein more recently, you may be more familiar with the title Cinderella Ate My Daughter.  As she raised her daughter, Peggy realized that this thing – a phenomenon, if you will – happens to girls.  There is something about the culture out there that can sweep girls into its lair of pink and glitter, and turn tiny radical feminist offspring into tiara’d wand-wavers.  So Peggy examined it and wrote about it.  It’s a great book; full of thought-provoking observations and investigations.  (Spoiler alert: it’s all about the money.)  She did a chapter about pageants, and interviewed a lot of moms who said they experience was great for their daughters’ self-confidence.  She was pretty critical about the lengths to which these families would spend and prepare…but whatever.  I don’t want anyone telling me how to spend my money.  Bottom line, if you like it…and your kid likes it…why not?  Is it damaging to kids?  I don’t know.  Each kid is different.  Is being a crazy hockey mom or soccer mom or gymnastics mom any different from being a pageant mom or model mom?  What is or isn’t damaging to kids?  Find the perfect recipe for parenting and enjoy that Nobel Peace Prize money, because there would never be strife anywhere because we’d all be so well-adjusted.

There’s one difference I can think of, though.  And I am by no means implying this is better or worse.  Sports, music, and even pageants have competition.  In modeling, the competition is different.  It’s like, you have NO control whatsoever.  In sports and the arts, and this includes the acting that some of our kids do, practice and lessons and hard work can improve your kid’s chance.  In pageants, you can hire a better coach, work more on the routine, get a new dressmaker…and see if that improves your outcome.  That kind of competition can actually be pretty satisfying; put in the effort and see improvement.  (And the whole money thing?  Yes, more money can equal better chances.  How much does that ice time cost for our Olympic athletes?  Summer sports camp?  Private acting lessons?)  The modeling industry as I know it could be called competitive: as in, how many Caucasian size 4 medium blonde girls are at a casting?  But short of being on time and presenting a clean and cooperative kid, there’s nothing she or I could do to improve her chances.  (And by nothing, I mean not even showing your…nevermind.)

Do moms get competitive over the whole thing?  Eh, maybe sometimes.  I’ll tackle that a different day.

Pageant moms, feel free to give me your take on all of this.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Add a comment here, on my facebook page The Bizzy Mama, or send me an email at …I’m also on Instagram at TheBizzyMama.  Don’t forget to share the love by clicking on the brown icon below…I want to become a top-ten Mommy Blogger!

Dress up can be fun!  (Photo by Altie Charlap)

1 comment:

  1. Love your blog! Just want to clarify as a pageant girl myself there are two pageant worlds - the natural; which is very much about poise, confidence and a modeling gateway and then there is the "glitz" which is the made-up, big hair, toddler tiara type. I don't know any glitz girls myself but I do know a lot of natural pageant moms who are awesome. :)