From the minute the story appeared in the news, it felt like a parable—a mom so entrenched in the wacked-out world of kiddie pageants that she was willing to put her daughter at risk by injecting her with Botox to erase imaginary wrinkles. But that was only the beginning of the weirdness. We’ve now heard that Kerry Campbell did not in fact inject her daughter with Botox. We’ve also heard that Kerry Campbell isn’t even Kerry Campbell. After being investigated for child endangerment and having her daughter temporarily removed from her custody, Sheen Upton has now confessed, under oath, to making up the whole story, including a false identity for herself and her daughter.
This could have been a brilliant activist act, calling attention to the horrors pageant tots endure at the hands of stage mothers dressing them up like little showgirls; or even commenting on the pains endured by women everywhere in pursuit of absurdly narrow beauty ideals. But it doesn’t seem like Sheen Upton was trying to make a statement. It seems like she was trying to make a little cash. Or was there something more complicated going on?
Upton now claims the entire story was scripted, and that her plan was just to help out a friend by posing for a story set up by UK Tabloid The Sun, which originally published the piece. She says she was told she would be photographed having a “spa day” with her daughter. She says there was no mention of Botox at the photo shoot, and that she, in fact, “doesn’t even know what Botox is”. Her explanations for why she agreed to be photographed holding a syringe to her daughter’s head while the 8 year old pretended to suffer were somewhat vague. The Sun denies the accusations. Good Morning America, who brought the story to the public eye, claims to have done background research to verify Campbell’s story (ABC is now rescinding their $10,000 payment for photos of “Brittany” receiving “Botox” injections.)
Was Upton a victim of press manipulation, or did she seek out the spotlight due to her own desire for fame? Did she lie about lying to get her daughter back and get Child Services off her case? How much better is it to make your daughter perpetuate your lie on television than to inject her with Botox? Not that much, says Rachael Larimore at XX:
“One of the many disturbing aspects of the pageant culture that we all thought Upton was submitting her daughter is that so often moms seem to be living vicariously through their children, subjecting them to garish makeup and hairdos and way-too-mature clothing in pursuit of … fame? If not fame, then at least attention. Upton might not have actually put her daughter through the rigors of the pageant circuit. But what she actually did wasn’t so different. She got an 8-year-old to lie about taking Botox, and about worrying over wrinkles, on national television. For what purpose?”
Everything I’ve seen points to the fact that whoever this woman is, she’s making some very, very bad choices. And whatever way you slice it, this incident calls attention to larger problem: the kinds of things that attract the attention of the public, and how far people are willing to go to get it. There are a lot of stories out there. Tragedy has always been prime subject matter. But true-life shock value has gone from a small part of media to the bread and butter of television (reality shows) and print (tabloids). And don’t even get me started on the internets, where the eyeballs almost always go to the craziest story. Whether we are a part of the media machine that profits from this, or the audience that hungers for it, we are all part of this equation. I worry about what will happen to the kids who grow up in this culture that feeds on other people’s mistakes. Not just the ones who are forced to participate in the performances, but the ones who learn about how the world works from watching them.