'Toddlers & Tiaras' mom could lose custody of daughter
Published Friday, August 31, 2012 11:48AM EDT
The mother who dressed her little girl as Dolly Parton – complete with a padded bra -- for an episode of TLC’s “Toddlers & Tiaras” could lose custody of the girl, as the girl’s father argues the girl is being sexually exploited.
Maddy Verst’s father, Bill Verst, has asked a court to grant him sole custody of his daughter because he says she's being exploited by her mother, Lindsay, who regularly enters the girl into beauty pageants.
A judge in Kentucky will continue hearings today on the case.
In particular, Verst is angry about an episode that aired in 2011 that showed Maddy’s mother, Lindsay Jackson, dressing up her daughter as Dolly Parton in a padded bra and padded underwear for a pageant event.
During a hearing earlier this month, the judge banned Maddy and her mother from any pageant-related activity for the rest of the hearing.
The judge will now decide whether Bill Verst, a convicted felon currently on probation for a DUI and child endangerment, should have sole custody of the girl.
While the court battles continue, so does the controversy about whether toddler beauty pageants are going too far.
Melissa Henson, the director of communications and public education for the Parents Television Council, says she thinks parents who enter their children into these pageants don’t realize the consequences of what they’re doing.
“I don’t think the parents who involve their daughters in these pageants are doing it with the intent of sexualizing their children. I think they think it’s cute or that their kids are playing dress-up,” she told CTV’s Canada AM from Washington.
"But I think the effect in reality is that these girls are being sexualized.”
Henson notes there was one episode where a mother actually dressed her daughter like a prostitute, choosing the outfit worn by like Julia Roberts’ hooker character in “Pretty Woman.” But she notes that outrageous outfits get attention in pageants.
“The TLC show drives these extremes in the pageant because the parents quickly learn that the more shocking the outfit, the more provocative the outfit, the more likely it is that their daughter will get air time,” says Henson.
Jade Gardiner, the co-director of Princess Pageants in Alberta says not all pageants are as extreme as those in the U.S. South.
“It’s important to remember that pageants look for beauty not sexy, and Canadian pageants are completely different from those in the U.S.,” she said from Edmonton.
“At Princess Pageants, we actually deduct points if outfits are too mature. And I have to say, we haven’t come up against that yet. It has yet to be a problem.”
Gardiner adds that beauty pageants offer “endless” benefits to children, including building self esteem, confidence and new friendships.
But Henson would disagree.
“I think it sends the message -- not only to the little girls who are involved in these pageants but all little girls who are watching – that this is how you get attention, this is how you become successful. It’s based on how you look, how you dress, how you act. It’s seeking to please others on your looks rather than on who are and your accomplishments,” she said.
She says that parents taking part in these pageants and viewers of these shows should know the consequences of sexualizing young girls.
“We know, for example, that young girls who are exposed to a lot of sexualized media have reduced academic performance, are more likely to be accepting of domestic violence or workplace sexual harassment, eating disorders, depression – a whole litany of problems.”