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 411mania » Politics »
Should “Toddlers & Tiaras” Mom Lose Custody for Dressing Daughter in Padded Bra?
Posted by Enrique on 08.22.2012

I'm not blessed with children myself, but based on my observations of people who are, it would be a massive understatement to say that parenting is a challenge. Children don't come with handbooks, and even though the human race has existed for at least 6,000 years, well-meaning people still have sharp disagreements about what constitutes proper parenting.

Take Lindsay Jackson. (Please.) Ms. Jackson is a character on a "reality" television program called "Toddlers & Tiaras," which is apparently about beauty pageants. In a recent episode, Ms. Jackson dressed her daughter as Dolly Parton, including a padded bra, and now faces a custody battle with her ex-husband. For our story this week, let's have a look at the often arbitrary judgments we make about how other people raise their kids.

The story so far…

Skin deep

Although I have never even seen 30 seconds of this "Toddlers & Tiaras" show, I think I can safely say it is utter trash. But that's just my uninformed, knee-jerk opinion. There's no accounting for taste, and I don't fancy the idea of telling other people how they should raise their kids, no matter how vulgar their choices may appear to me.

Ms. Jackson's choices appear very vulgar indeed. But should she lose custody of her child over them?

Bill Verst, has asked a Kentucky court to grant him sole custody of his daughter, who is now 6.

During a court proceeding Saturday, a judge threw reporters out of the courtroom, closed the hearing and placed a gag order on mother Lindsay Jackson. The judge also imposed a ban on any pageant activity for Maddy or her mother for the duration of the trial.

A court-appointed psychologist has sided with Maddy's father, condemning the Parton costume and recommending that a judge make Verst the girl's sole custodial parent. […]

Jackson dressed her daughter herself in the Dolly Parton costume, telling the TLC show's cameras, "When she wears the fake boobs and the fake butt, it's just like an added extra bonus and it's really funny when she comes out on stage and everybody thinks it's hysterical."
The issue of "sexualizing" a young child can be very tricky. I'm sure we can all agree that putting a child in danger of sexual predation would be indefensible, but is that what happened here? Ms. Jackson says that she thought dressing her daughter in a padded bra was a silly joke. As everyone from Bill Maher to Rush Limbaugh can attest, jokes can be taken the wrong way.

It seems like an extreme overreaction that Jackson should lose custody for making a bad joke. Can anyone argue that Jackson's daughter was somehow put at risk by being dressed up in a silly costume? This "sexualization" is something that we as adults project on to the situation. Little Maddy has no understanding of the sexual significance of the female breasts and caboose. Dressing her up like Dolly Parton does not put her in any real danger or cause her any actual harm.

Still, the court-appointed psychologist took the father's side, and the judge banned Maddy from participating in any more pageants – even though such behavior is legal. It doesn't seem fair that court officers can impose their tastes on Jackson simply because they don't share her sense of humor. But many folks seem to agree that what Jackson did is so egregious that she should lose custody. That's the opinion of some guy named Keith Ablow who is apparently a psychiatrist employed by Fox News, and who wrote a book with Glenn Beck – so I think we can assume he speaks for all patriotic Americans:

Parading around for applause, in part to seemingly satisfy one's parent's displaced need for attention and a form of success, while dressed in skimpy or racy clothing intended for adults can make a child forever wander in search of that firm foundation in self that other children, happily develop when free from acting out the pathological needs of their mothers and fathers.

Sometimes in psychiatry, as in the law, the principle "Res ipsa loquitor," translated from the Latin as: "The thing speaks for itself," applies. In such cases, no argument really need be advanced to prove someone has failed to exercise duty and care toward another, because the fallout is just plain obvious. When someone lets her daughter play sexy dress-up on a reality TV show, for fame and prizes, that is called child neglect or child abuse or both. And that parent should not have parental rights. Period. Obviously.
Ah yes, the "obviously" defense. I doubt many people employ "obviously" as a line of argument when they have loads of data and evidence to support their position.

What is obvious or common sense changes over time, particularly in the fields of psychiatry and child rearing. It was obvious at one time that homosexuality was a mental illness, and that female hysteria was a legitimate medical condition. It wasn't always obvious that seasonal affective disorder was legitimate, but now it apparently is.

When I was growing up, it was obvious that spanking children was a perfectly appropriate method of discipline. Not so obvious anymore. It's obvious that video games can make kids violent. Except when it's not.

Maybe I'm being obtuse (always a possibility), but it's not at all obvious to me that dressing up a kindergartener as Dolly Parton is harmful to the child's psyche. It seems much more obvious that people who collaborate with Glenn Beck aren't in a strong position to question the judgment of others.

People seem to be criticizing Ms. Jackson primarily because they don't agree with the activities she chooses for her daughter. It's pretty arbitrary to take a woman's child away on that basis. As Ms. Jackson herself has said, "It is my right to put my child in pageants, it is just like any other extracurricular activity like soccer or gymnastics or football. It is not illegal to do pageants, it is a hobby that we participate in and the government cannot tell me that I can't put my daughter in pageants."

Actually, one could easily argue that soccer, gymnastics, or football are much riskier than pageants. With the Olympics recently completed, plenty of Americans were proud of the performance of the women's gymnastics team. Does anyone think that if Maddy were involved in gymnastics that Ms. Jackson would be faced with a custody hearing over it?

Yet gymnastics has been plagued by stories of physical and sexual abuse for decades. The main U.S. gymnastics organization just this year put additional safeguards in place to address the "culture of exploitation" that has existed in the sport. Even if there wasn't any risk of possible sexual abuse, kids who participate in sports like gymnastics or football are certainly putting themselves at risk for injury, which does not apply to beauty pageants.

Ms. Jackson may not be the greatest parent in the world, but who are any of us to judge? As long as she isn't putting her daughter in danger of physical harm, it would be an injustice for her to lose custody. Obviously.


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