Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Ugly Duckling

Today someone asked me to vote for their daughter in some local Prettiest Child Evar competition.

I genuinely don't understand beauty contest parents. I know most parents think their kids are beautiful. Some people do at least attach the slight caveat that "they're beautiful to me." Which is the sort of thing - if said about your wife - is an admission that you think they're revolting to some people tually I think I've only ever met one parent who conceded that their little troll was aesthetically challenged. But still - I know my kids are phenomenal specimens. I don't mean in some shallow, wanky America's Next Top Model sense of beautiful either. Because that sort of beauty is ten-a-penny and usual contains within in it an ugliness more rancid than a wound filled with pus. Most kids look like identical to me. Which is lumpy, snotty and oddly pink. In a stretch to say something positive I'll concede their teeth are strangely white and their clothes look much better fitting than most things adults wear. But in general most kids look deformed or somehow like they've grown all wrong to me. Still - the fact remains that even children whose parents think their kids are more beautiful than most others look much like every other generic blob to my eyes. And even though I know in the deepest recesses of my soul that any child stood next to mine looks like the deformed acid-victim from Robocop, I still wouldn't enter my child in a beauty competition. Because it's just wrong.

I've been married for over ten years now. I'm not an ugly man. I'm not Daniel Craig either mind you - but I'm in pretty good shape and don't have any hideous deformities (on the outside, at least). I like to think of myself like a damn good chili. That being while there are some people who go absolutely bat-shit for chili most people would probably chose something else to nosh on first. But stick a chunk of cornbread in me or a dollop of sour cream and I'll definitely warm your cockles (or whatever you call them). Anyhoo the point being that I'm just not the type to overly preen and obsess about how perfect I or other people might look. Sure I'll have the odd day where I'll try on a different shirt. But I wasn't ever really a Metrosexual type because it involves too much effort. And nor am I a proponent of this new Menaissance bollocks because that just sounds a justification for being a twat whilst dressed like Don Draper. I think I extend this attitude to how I look onto my kids as well. Except whereas I'm a grower my kids are immediately beautiful.

Nevertheless allowing your kids to run around all feral and rancid isn't a good thing either. I do not spend massive amounts of time over how my kids look. I'll help them get dressed so that they don't wear anything they shouldn't be. And by that I mean if my daughter is going to school she can't wear stuff that is stained with dried mud or is too manky. She has specific clothes that are expressly for jumping in unidentified brown splodges in the back yard - and none of them are suitable in that sense for school. And obviously stuff the kids put on should be weather appropriate. But as long as it isn't a horrible clash of clothing my daughter can pretty much get away with whatever she chooses. My son is still only two and a half so he gets whatever I pull out of the drawer. And as a helpful guide the school has color days (today is a red day) at the moment so I tend to coordinate with whatever that is. Until he inevitably runs off upstairs to grab a Thomas the Tank Engine shirt that he wants to wear while he's shoving engines around a wooden track (it's the same mentality as football fans going to the game in a replica shirt really).

But signing a Prettiest Child Evar competition thing is weird. And it happens more often than you'd believe too. I know people are proud of their children even though absolutely nothing has been achieved by them. And it's particularly twisted when you consider the backwards nature of what you are being asked to do. That being voting en masse - as friends of someone - that their kid is easily the prettiest child in a collection of other very similar looking kids. The outcome being that the parent then gloats the confirmation back to the same people who were cajoled into voting that their kid is now officially prettier than all the other kids in the area. And along with that they all are at fault for fostering a weird sense of faux-superiority in a child that teaches them everything that is wrong with society. That life is a popularity contest totally devoid of any sense or justice at all. Life might often be grim and grossly unfair, but one thing we can all do as parents is not encourage this awful bollocks about how the only thing that matters above anything else is how other people view the thin false exterior that tells people nothing about who you really are. In short it leads to this sort of evil shit.

So no I can't bring myself to do it because it isn't some innocent thing either. Especially as it isn't the first one I'm aware of that this kid has been ignorantly chucked into. From memory I'm thinking at least 5th or 6th. I don't have a lot of hard and fast morals that I ooze out at other people. I'm pretty much content to let you get on with whatever you judge to be good for you and yours - as long as you are actually judging it. As long as you have ownership of decisions and understand why you're committing them - go nuts. But weirdly this is one of those things where I have to make an effort not to be preachy. Especially, in this instance, as the Mom came back to me (and presumably by the vague, non-specific nature of their message - to all the people they know online but don't actually talk to with any interest outside of this sort of oddness) chiding those of us who haven't joined in the burgeoning destruction of their child's sense of ethics. Along with rudely probing people who'd already voted by pointing out that they could stop working their pathetic little jobs (that clearly aren't worth focusing on at a sensitive time like this) and vote again and again and again. After all a little girl's future is at stake here. It takes a village to do this sort of awfulness apparently. Where will it end? There will be more of these weird things surely? And after photos, then what? Pageants? But what if she stops winning? Or is actually not strikingly attractive when she hits the formative teenage years? She'll then be officially ugly, by these rules. Then she'll stretch out reaching for moments when strangers cheer her purely for the way she looks. So I'll be just like the alarmist twaddle that makes up pretty much every OH GOD WE'RE ALL RUSHING TOWARD DANGER!! newscast and suggest that the implications of this are absolutely revolting when dragged out to their absolutist disgusting conclusion (skip to the 12th minute to see someone who's clearly been told the only thing that will make her life worth living at all is if other people think she's pretty just like everyone else).

Obviously I can tell some people think I'm jumping from an innocent little competition involving a Mom sending a head-shot of a 3 year old girl (totally unaware of the entire thing, after all) in, to a despicable attitude about people that causes them to seek approval from people who insist that they are so disgusting to look at that they simply have to cut themselves up. But even if you slip slightly down the scale it's still the same. And really - if you're going to teach your kids values surely one that we all tell them is the fluffy, boring point that, "it's what's on the inside that counts." That as long as things don't go too wrong in life that - after the teenage years and possibly a period of intense judgement during your early twenties - most people come to realize that the laser-like focus on aesthetics and falseness is appalling.  But really - what is the point of the competition? Nobody being asked believes this kid is the prettiest - whatever that even means. And the people holding the competition aren't judging anything - they're just taking votes and increasing ad revenues. They care not one iota. And the kid involved is none-the-wiser.

Still - I'm not instinctively turned off because I think a three year old is going to get fake tits and fat sucked out of her body in twenty years in a desperate attempt to have someone - anyone - to like them. I'm turned off because even something as little as this perpetuates a strange value system that most adults agree is wrong. So why introduce it into the formative years? If my five year old girl won something like this it would make her feel good. But anyone with kids knows that a child engrossed in anything will start feeling intense emotions about it even though they don't understand it. Which is why lots of parents even go as far as to carefully explain popularity contests like this on television with a judgmental lens - careful to point out that looks, clothes and being judged for them is worth piss all. And lending power to it is the root of bullying. I did the same thing 6 months ago with some gaudy Disney Princess guff that she involved grading dresses and styles. I recall asking a few parents about that sort of thing and getting the same response. That being it's sad that this sort of thing exists and that it's our job as parents to instill those values that will teach them that looks are useful, but generally they're just a tool.. But I still ended up talking about Trinny and Susannah (I brought it up as endemic of this sort of thing and was told it was different somehow) and how some people think it's a fantastic British TV show. But surely it is the exact same thing in principal - once you chip away the toffee-nosed, English veneer - as The Swan and Toddlers and Tiaras. Just with less knives and without grotesquely spoiled children in it. I don;t think I could find anyone who could find anything positive about The Swan or Style By Jury. But apparently it's okay if Trinny and Susannah tell people they're ugly because they're posh and take you shopping.

Now if you don't mind it's Orange Day at school tomorrow and I have to figure out if any of us have something appropriate. I also have to figure out what my son and I can do tomorrow now that we've fired our contractor and no longer have someone in the house retelling Carlos Mencia jokes but with more prejudicial spite.


  1. Thank you for using the term 'manky'. Loved this post and your tirade!

  2. Thank you very much. And "manky" is a fantastic word.