What do you get when you mix heavy makeup, spray tans, hair extensions, and children? You get Toddlers and Tiaras, TLC’s popular reality series. Since 2009 cameras have followed alongside parents and children as they prepare for and compete in beauty pageants across America. Washington-based portrait photographer Rebecca Drobis was hired by TLC/Discovery Communications to shoot one of these pageants. The images are used on their website and promotional pieces for the show.
The show is certainly not without controversy. Overzealous parents are featured covering their tiny competitors in make up, fake eyelashes, wigs, and false teeth (aka flippers). These families spend considerable amounts of money to get their little ones ready in hopes of winning the crown and cash. The week before is the most hectic, with gown fittings, alterations, hair and nail appointments, spray tans and rehearsals. Then when the big day arrives, children are dressed in showy costumes and put in front of an audience to be judged on looks, talent, and personality.
Here’s what Rebecca had to say about her Toddlers and Tiara’s experience,
They sent me to a shoot the Southern Celebrity Children’s Pageant in Charleston. They were filming the show at the same time, so we were really crammed into tiny spaces with the film crew plus the contestants and their families and fans. Despite these challenges, it really was one of the most rich photo experiences of my life. There were just amazing dramas unfolding everywhere— the parents take this pageant life very seriously, they invest a huge amount of time, money and passion into training their tiny children to compete and perform on stage. But of course these are small children— (the youngest were 3 months old), so many of these contestants have little understanding of anything around them.
Rebecca was inspired by the shoot, saying she’d love to continue with the project now that she has a deeper understanding of the pageant world. She also explained that there were so many shots ready for the taking. According to Rebecca,
There were amazing vignettes everywhere—screaming children and mothers, racks of tiny puffy dresses, huge hair pieces, little girl patent high heels, fake eyelashes and fingernails, coloring books, stuffed animals, crowns, diapers…
In the end, whether you believe Toddlers & Tiaras to be an entertaining look at the pageant world or a shocking glimpse of a strange subculture, you can’t argue that it isn’t interesting.