On Friday afternoon, a California court will decide who will gain custody of Madysin “Maddy” Verst, a 5-year-old child beauty pageant contestant who has appeared on TLC’s “Toddlers & Tiaras” series dressed as Dolly Parton—in a costume to make her appear as though she is fully developed sexually, with breasts and a shapely bottom.
Maddy has also competed on television while dressed up as a “sexy police officer.”
Maddy’s father, Bill Verst, is using the fact that her mother, Lindsay Jackson, has allowed Maddy to dress up in “sexy” clothing and compete on the reality show as part of his argument that, as part of the couple’s divorce settlement, he should be awarded full custody of Maddy.
Provided that Verst has always voiced his objections to Maddy competing in the manner she has, he is 100 percent correct. Renting out your young child for public display on television, combined with further bending her developing sense of self by sexualizing her dress and behavior (through dance moves meant to parody erotic themes), risks serious psychological injury that can manifest itself many years later in severe symptoms of major depression, panic disorder and other illnesses.
It should go without saying (but obviously has not been heard by mothers like Maddy’s or the producers of "Toddlers & Tiaras") that human beings require a period of emotional development during which they become comfortable with their own, individual, God-given opinions, thoughts and feelings. They become themselves. That process allows a person to interact with the world from a firm foundation based in reality and individuality, so that the inevitable challenges we all face in the world—whether interpersonal, professional or otherwise—don’t make us feel as though we have no perch from which to evaluate them or survive them.
Parading around for applause, in part to seemingly satisfy one’s parent’s displaced need for attention and a form of success, while dressed in skimpy or racy clothing intended for adults can make a child forever wander in search of that firm foundation in self that other children, happily develop when free from acting out the pathological needs of their mothers and fathers.
Sometimes in psychiatry, as in the law, the principle “Res ipsa loquitor,” translated from the Latin as: “The thing speaks for itself,” applies. In such cases, no argument really need be advanced to prove someone has failed to exercise duty and care toward another, because the fallout is just plain obvious. When someone lets her daughter play sexy dress-up on a reality TV show, for fame and prizes, that is called child neglect or child abuse or both. And that parent should not have parental rights. Period. Obviously.
The fact that “Toddlers & Tiaras” has been party to such monstrous behavior is a matter for another day and, perhaps, another court.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.