Monday, 14 May 2012

Toddlers were harmed in the making of this programme

My friend and fellow blogger Tanya recently did a post on "Toddlers and Tiaras", a topical and much talked about show on the TLC channel. Even if you haven't seen it yourself, you'll have heard friends and fellow moms talking about (and I doubt positively).

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 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...


  1. I am so sorry that Emma (and you) had such an awful experience. I have very kinky hair and have been relaxing it since I was about 5 or so.Have been through braids and hair weaves and corn rows and the works!
    I used to read a blog where a Mom had a very similar struggle and after much trial and error it seems like they got it sorted. Have a look at this link. She doesn't seem to be blogging anymore but talks a bit about her gorgeous Angel's hair journey:

    Good Luck. And please don't be too hard on yourself. We live and learn.xx

  2. Poor Emma and poor you! You only meant well! (hug) As a young girl, I hated washing my hair. My mother always used to threaten cutting it off if I didn't keep it clean and I used to cry my eyes out when she eventually got me in the bath and scrubbed it so hard and squeaky clean! One of my best features today as a grown woman is my hair. Thanks Mom. So honestly, there's no way what you did is anything related to what those pageant mothers are doing.

  3. I don't watch that program, it upsets me too much. I did watch a few first, but it just seemed to be unhappy moms trying to feel good at the expense of their daughters. Of course the daughter will say she loves it, because they want to make their moms happy. Imagine if they tried to say 'No, I don't want to do this anymore'? I really wish they would cancel the show.
    As for the hair, sigh. I was so lucky we had a lady at her school that helped me up until December last year. She even washed it, combed it, braided it a couple of times, and tried different styles. No-one else was allowed to touch her hair. She wouldn't let me try and comb it. The problem came in the December hols when I couldn't just leave it. The first year I took her to a salon, and asked them to cut it. Well, she screamed blue murder, but since it was not actually painful, I let them carry on. There was no combing involved, only cutting. We were both sweating and covered in hair by the end. She promptly stopped crying and politely said 'Thank you, Bye!' as we left. This last December, I told her since school is on holiday, I would be doing her hair from now on. So now twice a week we wash and comb, and we have found a style she likes with two bunches on top and two at the back, that she calls her pompoms. She looks like Minnie Mouse, love it. I find it is easier straight after washing, I use a leave-in conditioner and a de-tangler, and the more we do it, the easier it gets. Also, since she is allowed to watch TV while I do it, she is fine with it. No more tears! If it gets a bit untidy in between, I take out the elastics, and just re-comb using the detangling spray. I try not to leave it open, because then it really gets tangled and takes forever to comb.
    I am still a bit too scared to use the relaxer. I also hope to find a salon where they treat the kids gently. She needs a cut! But for now we are ok.

  4. Kamva has an afro but luckily a soft afro and loves having water thrown on her head - for now we are lucky! On the days\weeks where we are having bad hair days we struggle to comb the knots out but normally get it right if the hair is wet. I plait her hair when she is sleeping as I find I can finish the whole head quicker.

    As Pandora said rather you sit and struggle to tie it up\plait then leave it open as this causes more knots.

    I let Kamva choose the hair bands and clips.

    But as soon as you find what works for you it will be easy.

    P.S Braids cause knots where the extensions are put in as that collects dirt, so would advise you stay away from them :)

  5. Thank you so much for the advice and the words of support. I suppose I figured if I could adopt then doing hair would be a walk in the park

    Hold thumbs that we get there without too much fuss and upset xxx

  6. Hi Melinda

    I have kinky hair too and know the pains of having it combed out when I was younger.

    But leaving it loose will cause more nots. Introduce Emma to a hair washing routine and buy her some cute hair bans & clips so make the entire process fun for her. The more you comb the better.

    I know that my sister in law bought a whole lot of "Hello kitty" hair goodies from the chinese markets and my niece loves them.

    Also moisture is the key and the more you moisturise the softer the hair becomes. If you like I can e-mail you a list of kiddy friendly products you can try on her hair and I know that my SIL have tried en tested many.

    PS I love you BLOG.


  7. Thanks so much for this Angelique - I really appreciate it. A friend of mine came round last night and put a little bit of relaxer on Emma's hair. Emma was fine with the whole process, fromputting vaseline around the hairline, to having the relexer put it and even having it washed out. Emma seems to have incredibly thick coarse hair.

    As soon as we wanted to comb it through and put clips in or tie it up she went beserko on us...

    I've told I'm going to buy her some beautiful hair clips and bows, etc and I'm hoping that getting our nanny's daughter (who Emma adores) to do it will make a difference

    Please send me a list of child friendly products - would really really appreciate it

    PS - Emma looked like one of those little trolls this morning leaving for school :)

  8. I only saw this post now, you must have been horrified!

    I have no good hair advice, but I am sorry that you had such shitty experience :(

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