This morning I was up with little Ben and while he slept in my arms I thought I'd subject myself to reality TV and this particular show happened to be on.
One of the 'pageant mommies' had me cringing as she subjected her child to long hours of practising, hair pulling and eyebrows been tweezed. All in the name of beauty. All to win a pageant. Jeanie Alcalar came across as pretty abusive. If her daughter wasn't doing what she wanted she'd grab and pull her across the room and if her daughter went to her for a hug she'd push her away.
I noticed when the moms are interviewed it's very rarely about the toddler. The 'stage mom' uses words like "we", "us" and "ours" but there's also a lot of "I want her to win", "I've spent a lot on this so she better do well" and "I make sure she practises otherwise she looks like a complete idiot on stage and embarrasses me".
There's moms who spray tan their kids and get 'flippers' so their teeth are even and sparkly white. Stylists give them BIG hair (which Marge Simpson would envy) while makeup artists colour them in with eyeliner, pens, blush, lipstick and mascara. There are no limits for these mothers and botoxing an eight year old isn't uncommon. BOTOX at EIGHT to get rid of WRINKLES!
They are made to practise for hours on end and pageant days are long and gruelling. They're fed loads of sugar to stay awake and to perform at their best. Their fear of letting mom and dad down is palpable and the day ends in 'snot and trane' for most. BUT of course these moms will insist that their children LOVE IT.
I think what made me particularly sensitive to this was Emma and my visit to a hair salon on Sunday morning. I've been meaning to have her hair done by a professional for ages. I don't know a lot about black hair. I know that it's hard to manage and I know it's major upkeep, but in terms of plaiting, braiding, combing, etc I have no idea. None. Niks. Zilch. The most we do with her hair is wash and condition and like a lot of toddlers Emma hates having her hair brushed or even touched. So we don't. I've been told by friends that also know relaxers aren't good for children under the age of three but I've also been told that there's gentler ones for little girls, and if it's done properly, then it won't damage the hair.
Believing I had taken Emma to the right salon (they specialise in kiddies' hair) I asked them if they could take a look and see if they could comb out the knots. They assured me it would be fine and that she'd look beautiful afterwards.
Emma jumped onto the chair to have her hair washed and was suitably impressed when she saw a TV screen above her head. "This is going well," I thought and so I popped out to get a coffee. Coming back up the escalator I heard screaming. SCREAMING and WAILING and SOBBING...it was a little voice I recognised.
It was Emma.
Dropping my coffee I ran towards the salon and there Emma was, one woman combing her hair and another one physically restraining her. I asked them to stop but they told me it always hurts (especially the first time) and she'll get used to. They told me to go outside so that Emma wouldn't see me upset.
I had no idea what to do. I walked outside and called Mark. I'm not sure what he thought had happened when he said "Hello" and got the sound of me bawling on the other side. My heart was breaking for my little girl and I was to blame. I was letting them do this. My husband, the calm and rational one, told me to calm down and take a breath (or 10). He assured me that we needed to do this and it would be okay BUT in the background I could still hear Emma.
"That's it" I decided, "Enough!" In I stormed, like a lioness defending her young. "You need to stop. You need to stop now! You should have stopped when she asked you to!"
"But it's going to hurt. We're combing through dreadlocks you know!"
"But did you put any conditioner on her hair or something to make it softer?"
"Nah, you can bring her in tomorrow and we'll relax it!"
Firstly there's no way I'm going to get Emma back into that salon again. At least not easily. And I've also been told by my (black) friends that you're not supposed to put a relaxer on clean hair. It should be three days or more after a wash. Clearly not knowing enough I couldn't tackle them as I should have but thank goodness for my mommy friends out there who helped me with advice and information yesterday, especially Anita.
I felt awful. My heart broke that I had allowed this to happen. I felt like a mother out of 'Toddlers and Tiaras'. My only saving grace, I suppose, is I didn't justify it and I didn't stand by and watch. I'm mot sure how those moms do it on the TV show.
This week I have a friend coming over to our house to show me how to care for Emma's hair. I know there'll be a few tears (more than likely from me) but it won't be anything like Sunday.
I've been wondering what moms would do if pageants like this were ever introduced in SA. What price would you pay to make sure your child could compete. But more importantly, what price would your child pay?
PS - Emma scored a Dora the Explorer Doll with a baby Boots and a DVD because I felt so awful...