(Photo: Reuters/Oleg Popov)
Wholesome images of a 4-year-old swinging on a playground seem to be a thing of the past since tiny, self-proclaimed divas started showcasing padded bras, painted-on tans, and fake teeth inserts, while grinding in sexually aggressive manners dressed all-too-provocatively in lace mini-tops and hot pants.
TLC’s hit reality television show "Toddlers and Tiaras" has sparked public protests and debates about the sexualization of little girls, pushy mothers, the exploitation of children, misguided parenting and allegations of abuse.
The Parents Television Council, an advocacy group that promotes wholesome family values through media, has called for the immediate cancellation of the show this week.
In what was likely a misguided effort to pump up publicity, the group said, network executives released footage of a 3-year-old contestant dressed as Julia Roberts, who played a prostitute character in the 1990 film Pretty Woman.
The child’s mother dressed her up in thigh-high boots, a blonde bobbed wig and a white and blue tank dress with a bare midriff.
“Such brazen material should qualify as child abuse,” the advocacy group wrote in its letter to the network.
“This comes just one week after TLC was forced to pull their Facebook page over another episode that featured a little girl dressed to look like Dolly Parton, complete with padded bust and buttocks.”
The organization says everyone in society suffers when children are sexualized, but those who are hurt the most are the children, who are robbed of their childhood.
Conservative leaders agree with anti-pageant voices, saying mothers are going too far when they bleach their children’s teeth so they will sparkle.
But Christian family experts say critics of the show are missing another important point.
Since children today see such a twisted and narrow image of beauty and how it is connected to self-worth, parents are left with the difficult task of redefining beauty itself, family experts say.
In an article that appeared in Focus on the Family, Diane Montgomery, of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote that parents are the "God-given guides to show children that their true worth lies in Christ and in having a beautiful heart - not in boys, clothes or beauty, which fade with time."
“Children are constantly being told by the world that their worth and potential popularity is based on how pretty they are,” she said.
Montgomery feels strongly about not letting young children get involved in beauty pageants. She said even when parents act in a stressful way about their weight issues in front of their child, this teaches the child to place his or her worth in being pretty or skinny.
She referred to 1 Peter 3:3-4, reminding parents, “We must instill in them and show by example that God desires an inner beauty, which is what actually makes a girl beautiful.”
"I used to think girls and boys didn't experience sexual peer pressure until middle or high school,” Montgomery said, “But now even second-graders and younger are engaging in sexual acts."
Family experts say that as a child's earthly guardians, parents are the ones in charge of protecting their daughters from sexually-themed situations and protecting girls’ hearts and minds from things they can't comprehend fully or handle emotionally.
"Young girls today are bombarded with sexual images and messages that can do major psychological damage if parents aren't there to censor and protect them," Montgomery said.
Christian author Vicki Courtney writes in her book, 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter, that in a world that beckons our daughters to grow up far too fast, it's never too soon to begin the conversation regarding true beauty in the eyes of God.
Only by pointing out the lies of culture and continually reminding our daughters of God's definition of beauty and virtue, "will we stand a chance of protecting them from culture's inevitable brainwashing,” Courtney writes.
“We must be faithful in reminding them that beauty is not defined by a number on the scale, a clothing size, an hourglass shape, washboard abs, slender thighs, big chests or surgical procedures,” the book reads. “While some of the above may garner catcalls from men, they don't impress God in the least.”
Experts say faith in a loving and forgiving God will be the root of any and all manifestations of beauty.
As Proverbs 31:30 teaches, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised."