Skin Deep

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.

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10 comments for “Skin Deep

  1. May 13, 2011 at 11:12 am

    I had to click on the link in regards to Meghan because I didn’t recall what she looked like. And, I have to say, she is very, very pretty (at least from what I saw…). And, really? Glenn Beck has no room to judge. At all.

    But that’s not really the point. To sit there and tease people about how they look and use middle school antics, as an adult, is childish. She was trying to use her popularity for something worthwhile, trying to spread awareness about using sunscreen to prevent skin cancer, and all he has to say about that is gag.

    What a fucking tool.

    And pretty much ditto on everything else. Any parent that injects Botox into their children deserve a special place in hell.

  2. May 13, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I have ALWAYS hated the kiddie pagent shows. I view them as whacking material for kiddie-rapists. Just VILE. Again, one of the reasons I have turned OFF TLC. They specialize in this type of thing that disgusts me.

  3. May 13, 2011 at 1:58 pm


    If I was at my computer instead of typing on my phone I would probably leave a 400 word comment, so lucky you I guess. But every word of this is true and so vitally important.

    Also, as a woman, a mother, and especially as the mother of a 15 year old daughter, I am enjoying watching Mr. Beck’s public chastisement over his on-air vomit-fest.

  4. Amy
    May 13, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Very good post R!
    I have to say that as a girl who has had a rhinoplasty or nose job by any other name, it was something I needed to do. I was 13 and very very self conscious and was teased. This was in the late 70’s and I was going thru a MAJOR ugly phase, frizzy hair, the nose and braces. Oy. Sometimes you need to do what is best for you.
    But..botox on anyone younger than 40 is crazy. And Glenn Beck is an ass hat.

  5. May 13, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Every parent should read this and engage in dialog with their kids. My boys are too young to talk, but I’ll be preaching “wisdom is eternal” for the next 18 years.

  6. May 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    My daughter is so not in to anything girly or wasn’t. But we found a pageant circle that is actually Christian based and I was so excited to see her embrace some portion of her feminine side. She spends SO much time around tween boys (hockey) that it was becoming alarming to see her hock a big wad of spit on the ice. So while I fully agree with 99.9% of the sentiment in this (Toddlers & Tiaras makes me want to hurl something heavy at my TV) I have to kind of stick up for the one pageant circle out there that rocks my face off. It’s a “scholarship fund” more than a pageant and it focuses on inner beauty. They have super strict rules about make-up, hair, teeth capping (WTF?!), clothes, etc… it’s about making friends and building self esteem in healthy ways.

    I don’t watch or listen to anything Glenn Beck says or does and I won’t comment on Bristol. I thought she was pretty before. Vanity in these girls is so sending the wrong message, but I believe in a healthy lifestyle and inner beauty so I was thrilled to find some way for my daughter to embrace her inner girl (I knew it was in there) without having to have her teeth capped to wear a pretty dress and be the center of attention for a few minutes.

    I hope that makes sense.

    One last thing, to these parents injecting Botox in to their kids and capping their teeth I have two names to give them: Demi Lovato & JonBenét Ramsey

  7. Shelley
    May 16, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    WTG Meghan McCain!

  8. Jules
    May 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Very well said. Meghan McCain rocks. And I thought you would find this amusing.

  9. May 16, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    I thought about blogging about this, but you said it right on.

    Thank you!
    Xo susie

  10. December 5, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    To Whom It May Concern:If you stop advertising on the Glenn Beck shows, I will never use your sceivre and/or products again. I am passing this information onto my friends, family and Internet users. We, the American people, need a person of integrity and honesty to be sponsored by great companies like yours. Many great Americans are finally waking up and are loyal to the companies that are affiliated with Glenn Beck. I will always support those brave enough to stand up for what they believe in spite of attempts to bully and intimidate through this type of extortion. Thank you for advertising with this true American, Glenn Beck!

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