Players: Melissa Henson, communications director for the Parents Television Council--a group that "advocates responsible entertainment"; Lindsay Jackson and Wendy Dickey, mothers whose young girls appeared on TLC's Toddlers and Tiaras.
The Opening Serve: On August 31, Toddlers and Tiaras featured a 4-year old wearing fake breasts and butt enhancements, dressed as Dolly Parton. "It was an outfit that was made for me when I used to compete in pageants," said Lindsay Jackson during the episode. "When she wears the fake boobs and fake butt, it's an added bonus and it's really funny...they all of a sudden realize she is Dolly...we tend to score really well with it." Facing viewer outrage TLC pulled the show's Facebook page, but that didn't stop the show from featuring a 3-year-old dressed as Julia Roberts's Vivian Ward, a prostitute, in Pretty Woman. "We have a serious problem when The Learning Channel features a toddler, who probably hasn't even learned to read, dressed as a prostitute showing off her sexy strut," Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the PTC tells The Hollywood Reporter. "There's no question, TV executives are complicit in robbing these small kids of their childhood," she continues. "For years we've seen adults sexuality being inappropriately and aggressively foisted on innocent young children, but children today are being sexualized at younger and younger ages. All available data suggests they will suffer for it later in life."
Dickey, the mother of the Julia Roberts' performing toddler, told TMZ, "I'm raising my child just as well as any mother does ... I take my kid to church every week ... at least I'm not forcing them into sports and getting my child injured like some parents." Dickey addsed, "People need to look at their own family and what they're doing. I don't know why people are focusing so much on pageant moms when there's much more harmful things people are letting their children do!" Dickey said that TLC edited out the part where her daughter dressed up as the "classy" Julia Roberts from the movie.
What They Say They're Fighting About: Responsibility, TLC, and pageants. Henson warns that "television executives are complicit in robbing these small kids of their childhood" and are facilitating the sexualization of young girls, but also doing this for the sake of entertainment. Jackson and Dickey also don't see the sexualization that the PTC perceives--Jackson in particular, sees her daughter's act as more comedy. And both don't seem to have any concerns about the harm of child pageants or Toddlers and Tiaras. Dickey argues that getting injured in organized sports is a more irresponsible option while Jackson continues to defend and fight "a never ending battle about children beauty pageants.
What They're Really Fighting About: Dickey and Jackson's parenting. It's a given that the PTC and the general public are critiquing Dickey and Jackson, and possibly any parent who attaches fake breasts to their child with or dresses her up as a prostitutes. But it also seems like PTC believes they might be lost causes, and that it is more productive criticizing The Learning Channel. Dickey claims she is a good mother, while Jackson's supporters believe it is her right to raise her daughter as she sees fit--one claims compares the outrage over her child's costume to eliminating Halloween.
Who's Winning Now: The public and therefore the PTC. What Dickey and Jackson fail to understand is that if a producer from Toddler and Tiaras calls you, it is not a good thing. They probably don't have your best interest in mind, and it's not the same type of talent show as American Idol or Star Search. While we aren't on board with the majority of the PTC's numerous boycotts and alerts, they have a point here that's backed by the general public and implicitly acknowledged by TLC (hence the pulling of the Facebook page). Henson's point is that it's one thing to be Dickey and Jackson and have incorrigible and perhaps terrible parenting styles, but it's arguably worse to be taking advantage of them and other mothers week after week.