Criticized since its 2009 premiere for exploiting young children as they competed in beauty pageants—and for stoking both provocative behavior from them and disturbing behavior from their parents—Toddlers and Tiaras was nonetheless addictive television. Stage moms became the backbone of this TLC series, and the appetite for the drama that comes with kids’ talent competitions only grew with the arrival of more shows like Lifetime’s Dance Moms, which launched the careers of actor Maddie Ziegler and influencer JoJo Siwa.
But Toddlers and Tiaras, credited with influencing the rise of “kidsploitation,” also introduced viewers to Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson and her mother, June “Mama June” Shannon, who would become central to the debate surrounding reality TV series starring children. The duo made their Toddlers and Tiaras debut in season 5, and eventually went on to have their own spin-off show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, also on TLC, from 2012-2014. That show underscored the ugly realities of what it takes to win a children’s beauty pageant, and was canceled after news broke that Shannon was romantically involved with a convicted child molester who had allegedly assaulted one of her children years before (the case involving Shannon’s daughter was dropped, but the man was convicted in a separate one). The drama that followed Shannon, Thompson, and their family escalated discomforts when it came to creating—and consuming—entertainment about extremely young kids. —Annabel Gutterman
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