Scandal-lovers look to Toddlers & Tiaras to give them reasons to rail against child beauty pageants, and the TLC reality series consistently delivers. The show follows a parade of mini divas and their attention-starved moms as they prepare to compete. Since its first season premiere in 2009, the show has delighted and disgusted fans as parents dressed their tots and instructed them to act in ways that were, to put the criticisms mildly, not age-appropriate. The series has even spawned a spin-off — Here Comes Honey Boo Boo — about sassy 6-year-old pageant-circuit veteran Alana Thompson, aka Honey Boo Boo, and her self-described "redneck" family. What are some of Toddlers & Tiaras' most memorable controversies? Here are five that have helped earn the show its notoriety:
1. "Smoking" on stage
The latest uproar came last week, and it might be the most "disturbing" yet, says Adriana Velez at The Stir. Toddlers & Tiaras mom Lisa Christian "sent her daughter sashaying on stage in a Grease-themed costume" — with a candy cigarette in her mouth as a prop! She coached the kid, saying, of all things, "Don't forget to smoke!" Seriously, "what in the world is she thinking? A cigarette — in a 4-year-old's mouth?!?" Please, get off your fainting couch, says Amanda Marcotte at Slate. The problem here isn't the candy cigarette, it's the pageants themselves, and the way they're "teaching girls from the cradle that their main value in this world is their looks."
2. The toddler with fake boobs
A judge in a child custody battle last month ordered Toddlers & Tiaras mom Lindsay Jackson to stop entering her now 5-year-old daughter, Madisyn "Maddy" Verst, in beauty pageants, at least until the case is resolved. Maddy's dad, Bill Verst, says Jackson is exploiting the little girl, citing a 2011 episode of the show in which Jackson padded her then-4-year-old's chest with fake boobs and an improbably bulbous rear-end for a Dolly Parton number. A court-appointed psychologist sided with Bill Verst, even though he's a convicted felon on probation for DUI and child endangerment, says Neetzan Zimmerman at Gawker, so this is "a case of the pot calling the kettle a bad parent."
3. The mom who dressed her girl as a hooker
"If you ever wondered what it would take for the Parents Television Council to go after Toddlers & Tiaras," says Bill Bundy at Zap2It, "here's your answer: A 3-year-old named Paisley dressed up as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, the streetwalker scenes." In September 2011, the conservative PTC said that dressing up little girls as prostitutes is "robbing these small kids of their childhood." Paisley's mom, Wendy Dickey, begged to differ. The girl's outfit was "less revealing than gymnastics wear and swimsuits," she said. Besides, Dickey argued, Paisley transformed into the movie's "classy" Julia Roberts, but TLC edited that part out.
4. Honey Boo Boo's "pageant crack"
Back when she was a regular on Toddlers & Tiaras, Honey Boo Boo and her mom shared their secret to keeping her energy up on stage: Drinking lots of "Go-Go juice" (a mix of Mountain Dew and the energy drink Red Bull), and eating lots of "pageant crack" (really just Pixy Stix, a powdered candy). "When they do get on stage you have to be alive and... your personality has to shine a long day," the girl's mom, June Shannon, said. She appeared to recognize, however, that not all parents would approve. "There are far worse things," she said. "I could be giving her alcohol."
5. Eyebrow waxing: Outright physical abuse?
In January 2011, TLC aired an episode in which a mom forced her "absolutely terrified" daughter to get her eyebrows waxed in a salon, says Verena von Pfetten at Styleite. As her daughter screamed and trembled, the mother confided to the camera that her kid was scared because once a salon worker put on wax that was too hot, and tore off her skin. When the horrifying scene was over, the girl was shaking in pain and crying, as her mom said, "There! Doesn't that look pretty?" And there you have it. "Another week, another episode of Toddlers & Tiaras, and another horrifying act of child cruelty."