By now most everyone has heard about the mother who went on tv to defend injecting Botox into her 8-year-old pageant competitor daughter’s face. I wasn’t even sure I was going to write about this because what could I possibly add to the dialogue on this issue? Either you consider this mother to be pathologically batshit or you’re sharpening a syringe to jab your own kid in the face. There’s no middle ground. I read about this sort of thing and something in me withers and dies. The whole
kiddie porn pageant industry looks like a recipe for creating strippers and bulimics and I wish it would vanish. Barring that, I wish the porn mongers pageant organizers would all band together and make a rule that kids under 18 are not allowed to use Botox if they want to compete because HELLO! Neurotoxins and children should never mix.
If you ever watch the crop of reality shows about pageants, you’ll see that the whole system rewards the kids (and their parents) for looking as little like themselves as possible. With the giant hair supplemented by extensions, make-up that covers every inch of their face, false teeth covering their real gap-toothed little smiles, and costumes that resemble Vegas showgirl costumes, they don’t look like children at all. They look like a My First Drag Queen doll. The whole process of preparing for competition is a lesson to these girls in “You’re not good enough as you are. You need to change.” It’s heartbreaking because what comes out of these pageants? A room full of trophies? A check that covers the cost of hairspray? Self-esteem that’s entirely based on pleasing other people by covering up everything that’s real and charming about their personalities in favor of canned cuteness?
Reinforcing this idea of alterations in the name of perfection is Bristol Palin. This daughter of a former beauty queen has recently shown up in public sporting an entirely new jaw. She’s claiming it’s the result of dental surgery to align her teeth but if you believe that, I have a deviated septum to sell you. Bristol was perfectly pretty before this surgery, in the young, dewy-skinned way of all 20-somethings and enhanced by the level of affluence that allows for pampering. Heaven only knows what drove her to take her $225K paycheck from the Candie’s Foundation for hawking abstinence and buy a new chin and sharper jawline but it probably was due to external validation. Or invalidation, as the case may be. (Aside: Does anyone else worry about what message Bristol’s abstinence promotion will send to her son? Isn’t she kind of saying “Having a baby pretty much sucks – trust me, I did it and know it firsthand. Don’t do it.”? How is Tripp going to feel when he finds out him mom is willing to call her entry into parenthood reluctant and regretful?)
This transformation of Bristol coincides with an upcoming book release and an announcement of a reality show. I can only think that she felt like she needed to change her face to capitalize on these opportunities. As if her face is the only thing she has to offer. And, up until now, it really has been. She’s been a walking ad for pro-life motherhood, a pretty girl cuddling a baby and smiling and waving. There was one time when she tried to be candid about teen sex and contraception but that message, which may have been the most genuine thing we’ve ever been allowed to hear from Bristol, was shut down. Shortly afterward, she began selling her mother’s agenda and dancing on tv. She’s just another doll being dressed up to serve other people. And now she’s changing her face to make sure she’s pretty enough to keep doing the only thing she’s been allowed to do.
Among all these examples of girls changing themselves at the behest of others, we have Meghan McCain. Daughter of Senator McCain, who functions rather nicely as an autonomous human being. Meghan has been carving out a role for herself as a political commentator. When she first popped up on tv, I wasn’t in love with her style or delivery and I was quick to dismiss her popularity as the result of a combination of nepotism and media fascination with political offspring. But she’s kept on going with her writing and speaking and I like that she has a unique voice and isn’t afraid to step away from her famous father’s stance and speak her own mind. She’s come out in favor of same sex marriage and she’s developed an unlikely but interesting dialogue with Rachel Maddow, where she’s willing to talk reasonably instead of getting into the kind of defensive shouting matches so common among members of opposition parties. She also has a face made for television, with her perfect skin and penchant for smoky eyes. Meghan McCain is, by any metric, lovely to look at as well as being a smart woman who’s not afraid to let her brains show.
Meghan’s loveliness is what makes Glenn Beck’s actions of this week all the more bizarre. Meghan was asked to appear in a PSA about skin cancer, which she did because both of per parents are skin cancer survivors. In the PSA, she appears bare-skinned from the shoulders up. Glenn Beck takes exception to this because apparently Meghan McCain doesn’t meet up to his exacting standards of beauty. He spent 8 minutes on his radio program calling her fat and ugly and making vomiting noises over the idea of her appearing partially undressed.
Clearly, Glenn Beck has not spent a lot of time in front of mirrors.
Beck’s pretending to puke about Meghan McCain’s shoulders is the flip side of the coin that’s used to buy Botox for babies and new chins for beautiful young women. Giving voice to insensitive fools who aren’t afraid to say horrible things about how other people look is a symptom of decay in our culture. When did insulting other people’s looks become acceptable? When did it become entertainment? Why do we tune in for it? That Beck has an audience of any kind, on any outlet, validates his message. It says it’s ok to criticize not just the opinions and actions of figure in the political arena but also to belittle them for how they look. It says to women who aspire to be thought leaders that they must also be Barbie-doll perfect to be regarded seriously. It suggests that women should focus more on their looks than on their message. It says that if you aren’t eye candy, you aren’t worth hearing.
Meghan McCain was wise enough to recognize Beck for the bully that he is and call him out on his middle school antics. But Bristol has already gone under the knife and a little girl in false lashes has already gotten Botox. The damage is already done and there’s no sign that it will stop happening to the rest of America’s female population any time soon.
I don’t know how to fix any of this. Turning off the tv when Glenn Beck starts insulting anyone or when a row of tiny pageant girls is presented for our approval is a start. Allowing young women to speak honestly instead of constricting them to “acceptable” roles that leave them floundering for approval and acceptance is another. Learning to turn away from artificial construct for what is beautiful will help. And reminding everyone – including ourselves – that beauty is fleeting but wisdom is eternal is key.