Pageant moms across the country are closely watching the bitter custody battle taking place in Campbell County, Kentucky, as the issue of the sexualization of young girls in beauty pageants, and on the popular TLC show "Toddlers & Tiaras," takes center stage.
On August 31, Judge Richard A. Woeste could decide if six-year-old "Toddlers & Tiaras" star Madisyn "Maddy" Verst will remain the custody of her mother, Lindsay Jackson, or if that custody would be transferred to her father, Bill Verst.
As FoxNews.com reported last week, Jackson claimed that her ex-husband was using Maddy’s participation in child beauty pageants as a reason for the court to award him full custody.
The case took an unexpected turn on August 18 when, in an unprecedented move, Judge Woeste ejected all media, closed the hearing, and slapped Jackson with a gag order.
The judge also placed a moratorium on pageantry for Maddy and her mother until further notice.
“I’m actually very worried,” fellow pageant mom and single parent Fransoly Gonzalez told FoxNews.com. “I’m very concerned. Who’s to say that a few months from now, my crazy baby daddy isn’t going to want to apply for custody because (Jackson and I) have the same hobby?”
"If (Jackson) gets her kid taken away, there’s going to be a lot of pageant moms going through the same thing"
- A fellow pageant mom
Gonzalez, whose daughter Dianely was also featured on TLC’s “Toddlers & Tiaras,” believes that Jackson is a good mother, despite accusations that she is sexualizing her child with provocative outfits.
“The case is bulls**t,” said Gonzalez of the ongoing custody battle. “You don’t get your kids taken away because of your hobby. Lindsay is a good mom, she’s a responsible mom. Maddy is a happy little girl and she’s well-taken care of. She’s spoiled and she gets a lot of attention, but that's not grounds for her to be taken away. Maddy was wearing a costume – it was an outfit. The public needs to understand that it’s not about us sexualizing our kids – because we’re not.”
“It makes me sick to my stomach that the court is actually considering taking (Jackson’s) daughter away from her over the Dolly Parton incident,” said pageant mom Wendi Ryan. “It was a 90-second clip of something that she would do on stage to pretend that she was someone else. It’s not like she’s going to Wal-Mart dressed like that. It’s just a funny routine, there’s nobody there who would take it in a sexual context.”
“We are not sexualizing our children,” emphasized Wendy Dickey, whose daughter was featured on an infamous episode of “Toddlers & Tiaras” where she was dressed as a Hollywood Boulevard prostitute from the 1990 film “Pretty Woman.” “What we are doing is no different than what other parents are doing. My daughter Paisley competes in pageants, she does gymnastics, she takes dance, she plays T-ball and she’s four-years-old. Her costume–even the ‘Pretty Woman’ costume–is less revealing than her gymnastics costume.”
The psychologist appointed by Judge Woeste disagrees.
In a confidential report obtained by FoxNews.com, the psychologist wrote that “Children adorned with pageantry identities are not ‘playing’ or ‘pretending.' Instead, they are trained to closely resemble their adult counterparts. Their makeup transforms five or six year old faces to that of women in their twenties or thirties and is not something for playtime.”
The psychologist specifically cited Jackson’s choice of placing Maddy in certain costumes as evidence that she is willingly sexualizing her young daughter.
“Of great concern to this evaluator is not just the Dolly Parton costume, but also other costumes Madisyn has worn,” the report stated. “The most sexualized costume found by this evaluator is... Madisyn dressed as a sexy police officer. Her young body is sexualize (sic) by having her midriff revealed, her skin tanned, her eyes painted as a woman and her open lips glistening with lip gloss.”
New York-based psychotherapist Mark Sichel agreed with the court-appointed psychologist’s assessment.
“(The sexy police officer costume) is reflective of adult sexuality and what some people might consider deviance,” Sichel explained to FoxNews.com. “A lot of adult men, as a part of their sexual repertoire, will want their partners to dress up in specific ways. The most famous stereotypes are the French maid and the nurse, and there are probably adult men who are turned on by women who will dress up for them as police officers.”
The court-appointed psychologist’s report also cited the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, which finds that “psychological research shows that the sexualization of girls negatively affects girls and young women across a variety of health domains,” including cognitive, emotional, mental & physical health and sexual development.
“Any report from the APA is taken with seriousness,” noted Sichel. “I certainly take it as serious, given that they have the opportunity to do comprehensive, scientific research.”
But mothers who participate in child beauty pageants steadfastly defend their choice.
“The whole thing is crazy,” said Gonzalez. “If (Jackson) gets her kid taken away, there’s going to be a lot of pageant moms going through the same thing. We all need to be watching out for this, because it’s going to affect all of us.”
“People are always quick to tell us how we are affecting our children psychologically and how bad our children are going to turn out because they do pageants,” said Dickey. “We may spend three or four hours a month on pageants. On pageant day she may spend an hour in her costume, but outside of that small amount of time, we are raising Paisely in a Christian home, we are teaching her and my son moral values–she is a very normal child. She loves riding four-wheelers, she plays ball–she does everything that every other kid does and she enjoys it. People always assume–and I’ve heard so many people say and I’ve read it on the blogs–that we need to let our children lead ‘normal’ lives–let them play in the garden and play with dolls–and that is exactly what they do. Pageants are a hobby, we do it on the side. This is not a lifestyle, this is not ‘Pageant World.’ It’s just a hobby.”
While Jackson gears up to defend her controversial “hobby” in court later this month, TLC just launched a hit spinoff of “Toddlers & Tiaras” that shows an entirely different side of pageant life.
“Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” features a tight-knit clan that clips coupons, splashes in mud pits and attempts to raise a temperamental teacup pig, all while pursuing the elusive “Ultimate Grand Supreme” crown for the family’s six-year-old daughter, Alana.
“I think it’s hilarious,” said Todd. “I think it’s good to show that side of their life because our kids enjoy different things besides just beauty pageants.”
While fellow Georgian Dickey may not approve of some of the negative Southern stereotypes portrayed in “Honey Boo Boo,” she agrees that the show may help shatter some long-held notions about pageant families.
“It does give a good example that these little girls are not walking around 24/7 in hair and makeup, they’re not going to school with their crowns and costumes on,” said Dickey. “They’re normal, everyday little girls who live like other little girls–, hey just happen to put on a costume every so often and perform.”
On August 31, they will learn if Judge Woeste agrees.