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Does "Toddlers and Tiaras" Hurt Kids?

Little girls dolled up with fake eyelashes, caked on makeup, fake teeth, spray-on tans and synthetic hair extensions may be inappropriate, but is it child abuse?

Some critics say TLC’s “Toddlers and Tiaras” is exploitative and that the contestants’ parents are verging on abusive.

Personally, I can’t bear to watch the reality show, which just launched its third season, because I find the whole kiddie beauty pageant thing disturbing. I wouldn’t want my young daughters to be judged on their appearances and to be sexualized at such an early age. But, then again, I can’t stand bikinis on babies and hesitated before letting my girls playing with makeup, so I’m probably not the demographic for the show.

Based on the ratings, clearly, someone is tuning in to watch — the second season of “Toddlers and Tiaras” averaged 1.3 million viewers each week.

In case you’re not familiar with the show, it features tots as young as four as they prep and primp for glitzy, high-pressure kiddie beauty pageants. Viewers gawk as stage mothers pump their kids with energy drinks and the girls themselves strut around in skimpy outfits acting like mini-divas. Aside from TV stardom, the contestants are vying for a tiara, as well as $12,000 in cash and prizes.

Are the parents of these kids doing damage to them by exposing them to the competitive, sexualized world of beauty pageants at such a young age?

Fox News recently interviewed child psychologists who said that the contestants’ parents are hurting their kids.

Dr. Nancy Irwin, a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist, told Fox News that these parents are “selfish…spoiling their children, and training them that their value is based on their beauty.”

Last season, when a set of fraternal twins competed for the tiara, viewers cringed as their mother clearly favored one over the other.

Some experts worry about the long-term psychological effects of being on the show. Others say  that children aren’t old enough to understand what it means to consent to participate in pageants and be filmed for TV.

Annette Hill, the founder of  Universal Royalty Child and Baby Beauty Pageants, which is featured on “Toddlers and Tiaras,” insists that pageants are a family-friendly activity that helps to build contestants’ self-esteem.

“Children that compete are more assertive and vocal, they aren’t afraid to look you in the eye when they talk to you and they communicate very well,” said Hill. “Besides, what is wrong with showing off your beautiful, talented daughter to the world?”

There are a lot of psychologists out there who could present Hill with a long list of things that are wrong with “showing off” your daughter on national TV.

“Toddlers and Tiaras” has stirred controversy since it premiered. Last year, two teenage girls started a Facebook campaign to ban the show, arguing that it sexualizes young children encourages pedophilia.

What do you think? Are the contestants’ parents doing damage? Would you let your child compete in “Toddlers and Tiaras?”

Photo: TLC/Discovery Communications

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