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June 4, 2007 9:42 PM   Subscribe

"Oh, someday, when I am Miss America, I'll tell the world to make things start when you're young. And what fun, it's gonna be, when Regis sings his song to me." In 2001, the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary Living Dolls captured child beauty pageants of the South in a post-Jon Benet world. Parts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 [Update inside.]
posted by miss lynnster (66 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Need a little something to cleanse your palate after watching that? Okay, these should do the trick.

UPDATE
Here is what Swan Brooner looks like now at 13. Sadly, both of her parents passed away from cancer since the documentary was made six years ago.

Leslie Butler is still competing. She was last year's Americas Model Miss 13-15 Beauty Queen.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:44 PM on June 4, 2007


Make things start when your young what, exactly?
posted by jonson at 9:45 PM on June 4, 2007


Just noticed the typ-os.
Your = you're & Americas = America's.

posted by miss lynnster at 9:48 PM on June 4, 2007


Happy, Texas
posted by pruner at 9:50 PM on June 4, 2007


I remember watching this when it was first uploaded to YouTube (I don't have HBO)... So creepy and sad, yet riveting to watch.
posted by amyms at 10:07 PM on June 4, 2007


miss lynnster-
This is one of my favorite/least favorite documentaries. I would get so damn mad when I watched it, probably angrier than I've ever been in my life. Swan was such a tragic little girl, obviously competing just because she wanted to spend time with her mother; it was easy to get angry with the mom, but she wasn't exactly bad, but not really a good parent either, pressuring her daughter because she (the mom) was missing something in her life, but didn't know what it was, and consequently ignoring the rest of her children.

By the way, the guy behind the "Swan Brooner" link (and many of the people in his comments) in your update seems like a total cock, treating the whole thing and the people in the film as jokes.
posted by papakwanz at 10:07 PM on June 4, 2007


I accidentally hit post... had to take a call.

Anyways, what I was gonna say is that Happy, Texas (IMDB link above) is a pretty funny movie dealing with children's beauty pageants.

and I watched Living Dolls when it premiered on HBO... it creeped me the F out.
posted by pruner at 10:09 PM on June 4, 2007


I especially love the blog four-four's commentary on this movie. It is truly amazing.
posted by fillsthepews at 10:10 PM on June 4, 2007


Fox News reports that JonBenet's dad and Natalee Holloway's mom are dating.
posted by pruner at 10:13 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I saw it when it played at the Frame by Frame festival at New York's now-defunct Screening Room. The mother said she used to train horses....your kid isn't a horse, sweetness (yeah, I know she's dead).
posted by brujita at 10:22 PM on June 4, 2007


obviously competing just because she wanted to spend time with her mother; it was easy to get angry with the mom, but she wasn't exactly bad, but not really a good parent either, pressuring her daughter because she (the mom) was missing something in her life, but didn't know what it was, and consequently ignoring the rest of her children.

Bingo. These things are really pageants of disfunctional adults and should be mocked as such.
posted by three blind mice at 10:22 PM on June 4, 2007


Anyways, what I was gonna say is that Happy, Texas (IMDB link above) is a pretty funny movie dealing with children's beauty pageants.

So is Little Miss Sunshine.
posted by amyms at 10:28 PM on June 4, 2007


Pained Babies was another doc about the Miss Southern Charm pageant. Absolutely repulsive.
posted by oflinkey at 10:29 PM on June 4, 2007


Oops sorry, I just noticed that Little Miss Sunshine is one of the palate cleansers that miss lynnster offered :)
posted by amyms at 10:30 PM on June 4, 2007


Actually, the 'your' in 'something to cleanse your palate' is right. 'You're' is a contraction of the words 'You' and 'are'.
posted by Afreemind2007 at 10:30 PM on June 4, 2007


Yep, missing the "creepy" tag.
posted by dreamsign at 10:32 PM on June 4, 2007


Originally in the lyrics I started the post with, "you're" was spelled "your" accidentally because I copied it from IMDB & didn't proof it properly. Someone was nice enough to fix it for me after jonson pointed it out and I offered up my mea culpa. (Thanks.)
posted by miss lynnster at 10:34 PM on June 4, 2007


Jon Benet changed everything.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:46 PM on June 4, 2007


All I know about child beauty contests came from reading about those horrible Ramsay people after JonBenet was murdered, occasional discussions like these, and from "Little Miss Sunshine" (which truly ripped into those people, especially the organizers and audience of these events). But from that limited experience, I've formed a strong opinion that there is something about a little girl, dolled up in thick, plasticy makeup, with that horrible sprayed and blowdried hair (how does anyone still think that looks good?) and that wide, eye-staring empty grin they force them to maintain, that is just plain awful. They give me the shudders.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:49 PM on June 4, 2007


So is Little Miss Sunshine.

agreed... Happy, Texas is more obscure... I figured not many Mefites would know about it. :)
posted by pruner at 10:50 PM on June 4, 2007


So glad to see the "creepy" tag being used. Did you check out those ads on the Pageant World link?

"Hollywood Babe"!?

You keep using those words. I do not think that they mean what you think they mean.
posted by loquacious at 10:50 PM on June 4, 2007


On a somewhat related subject in Texas, some parents would just kill to get their kids into cheerleading.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 10:57 PM on June 4, 2007




Pruner, thanks for the movie rec even though I disliked Little Miss Sunshine..

My problem with these competitions are the judges. Shouldn't young children be healthy and building strong foundations on which to develop their bodies and their minds?

There are athletic events and band/choir, where young people are encouraged to achieve adult-levels of performance.

The virtues that these 'pagent' judges seemingly desire are the buds of those traits that are desirable in mature women forcibly superimposed on prepubescent girls.

What I'd really like to see done is a profile on the parents of pagent contestants regarding their views on at what age they're willing to let their daughters go on a date with a boy.

... and how much older that boy can be.
posted by porpoise at 11:16 PM on June 4, 2007


There is no measure for the shame I feel in correcting this, other than to blame the media for beating me over The. Head. Daily. For. Years.

Jon Benet changed everything.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:46 PM on June 4 [+]
[!]


It's JonBenét.

Oh the dirtiness I feel.
posted by OneOliveShort at 11:24 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


What does it say about me that when I saw this I immediately thought of this?
posted by miss lynnster at 11:25 PM on June 4, 2007


EEK, having lived in pre- and post Jonbenet Boulder, Colorado, this shit disgusts me. (My nephew who is graduating high school went to school with her). While the murder of a little girl was disgusting in of itself, the whole pageant thing for these children is a horrendous version of parents living vicariously through their children, and worse than the athletic versions of this that I know of, but perhaps it's not that far off. I'm just glad my parents accept me for the failure that I am, and not forced me into some kind of ridiculous ideal that I can't meet.
posted by Eekacat at 11:26 PM on June 4, 2007


Looks like I spelled her name wrong too, OneOliveShort. Whupps.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:28 PM on June 4, 2007


They're like tiny Tammy Fake Bakers. Prostitots, out on display. I would love to see some kind of follow-up study done on these girls as they mature through their teenage years. I'm thinking eating disorders and cuddling up to older men for scraps of approval.
posted by adipocere at 11:55 PM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's just white people that do this, right? Black people don't do this whole children's beauty pageant stuff, right? I'm just wondering, if anyone knows.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:25 AM on June 5, 2007


Its ironic how they make these little girls up to look like men in drag.
Tiny little men in drag.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:45 AM on June 5, 2007 [6 favorites]


What I'd really like to see done is a profile on the parents of pagent contestants regarding their views on at what age they're willing to let their daughters go on a date with a boy.

Depends on the family background of the boy concerned:

Son of local oligarch -- age 3.
Son of local trailer trash -- age 23.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:49 AM on June 5, 2007


miss lynnster writes 'UPDATE
'Here is what Swan Brooner looks like now at 13.'


I'd hit it... Oh wait, no, no, no, no, NO!

What I meant to say was, I'd announce our impending engagement, and wait patiently until she was sixteen and old enough to marry!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:54 AM on June 5, 2007


I was waiting for a flight in a food court at the airport in Houston a few weeks ago and at the table next to me there were two ladies with their daughters talking about the pageant they were off to somewhere. I immediately flashed back to the HBO documentary and felt so sorry for the girls. It was a shame these girls were having their childhood warped like this by their parents.
posted by birdherder at 2:03 AM on June 5, 2007


another nightmare.
posted by nicolin at 3:09 AM on June 5, 2007


UPDATE
Here is what Swan Brooner looks like now at 13. Sadly, both of her parents passed away from cancer since the documentary was made six years ago.


Actually, that page is wrong. The girl pictured in the "now" photo appears to be a stolen image of a missing child, (Tammy Lynn Lepert))

On the second page of comments a poster is claiming that an internet poster is misusing the image regularly, and claims personal connection to the (still open) missing persons case.
posted by softriver at 3:20 AM on June 5, 2007


@PeterMcDermott - On a lighter note, the girl in the photo has been missing since 1983, which would make her 42 years old today. Should help you assuage any guilt you may have felt. ;)
posted by softriver at 3:23 AM on June 5, 2007


'Here is what Swan Brooner looks like now at 13.'

InSANE. She really does look like a plastic doll.

Well, I'm sure her parents are moulding her into a wonderful, well-rounded person.
posted by dreamsign at 4:03 AM on June 5, 2007


What does it say about me that when I saw this I immediately thought of this?

And the hambone's connected to the funnybone....
posted by rob511 at 4:13 AM on June 5, 2007


And in the photo referenced she was 18, so, yeah, hit that without any guilt!
posted by liquorice at 4:14 AM on June 5, 2007


Is the singing judged on volume, or tune? Because it seems all the singers are pushing to be loud and are very flat. I sang in choirs at that age, and I think we were in tune - there were even some soloists (not me) who had amazing tone, though rarely the power of an adult.
posted by jb at 4:18 AM on June 5, 2007


That's not Swan Brooner at 13. That's Tammy Leppert who has been missing since 1983.
posted by pieoverdone at 4:37 AM on June 5, 2007


damn. slow on the uptake i am.
posted by pieoverdone at 4:38 AM on June 5, 2007


So I'm thinking, while I'm watching this:

There's a marked difference in how the professional coaches speak to the girls and how Swan's mother talks to her.

The coaches seem like their having a blast the whole time they're pracing about with the girls. It seems like a game, and it's as if the girls are lucky to get to join in such a fun passtime. Even when they lose, they don't seem to pass any blame onto them. Bad luck, never mind, you did well. No wonder they do so well.

Swan's mother seems to browbeat the routines into her. You can tell she used to show horses. And it's a pity, because every now and then it looks like Swan is enjoying herself, right up until her mother starts into her. Someone needs to teach her about honey and vinegar, I think. And denying your kid affection till they perform to some arbitrary set of standards? What an abhorrent woman.

I was a pretty extroverted kid. I more or less bullied my mother into letting me do theatre when I was Swan's age. And I loved it. But any pleasure that poor kid is getting out of performing is just getting stomped on by her mother.
posted by Jilder at 5:06 AM on June 5, 2007


Jilder - I noticed the coaching difference, too. I wonder if she changed at all after seeing how the professional coaches did? It did seem to be much more effective, for one thing.

Mostly, it was a very sad story - not for just the pagents, because the children did seem to enjoy it. And high levels of discipline are necessary to achieve anything competitive - I'm sometimes a bit sorry my parents (and I) didn't push myself more when I was younger. But Swan's family seemed to be really struggling, her older brother especially, and yet her mother was so obsessed with the pagents. It was heart-rending.

I would really like to know what happened to Swan Brooner, if only because I would like to know how she is doing today. I shouldn't be so nosy, but when a documentary invites you into someone's life like that, you can't help but get emotionally involved.
posted by jb at 5:19 AM on June 5, 2007


Miss Lynnster, I'm starting to doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion.
posted by flabdablet at 5:30 AM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


I thought checking out the comments first would inform me without creeping me out. Then I saw the word 'prostitots'.

Jeez, adipocere, that's vile.
posted by Shave at 6:01 AM on June 5, 2007


If you watched each and every one of the links to show, you are.....but I did watch number 5. Wow. That daddy with white sock and sandals !!only old people men combine socks and sandals...
posted by Postroad at 6:10 AM on June 5, 2007


I had a feeling that wasn't her, oh well. I kept thinking "Wow, she looks awfully familiar." Now I know why. Strike.

I looked to see if there's any info about her now, google detective that I am. My understanding is that after her mother died she went to live with her father in Alaska. Unfortunately, then he passed away so I'm not sure after that. Most of the tidbits of insight on her I've found have been defensive comments made on various forums by family members.

For example, this page shows comments from a woman named Chelsea in response to a poster's criticism of Swan's dead mother:

Leilani007-that was pretty harsh! Swan, Devon, Bubba, and Silva are my step sisters, and Robin is my step mother. My father Richard was married to her, and although from what you all saw on Living Dolls, yeah it seemed bad, yeah Swan's life was rough, but it's not as bad as you're all making it sound! You didn't live with her, you didn't meet her, you don't know exactly what went on! I DO! Trust me, it wasn't as horrible as it seemed. Yeah, Robin pushed Swan, yeah, Robin had problems...alot of people had problems. And Robin dies and people sit here trashing her and her family! That's not right! I'm sorry for this random outburst, I mean I know Robin and I had our major problems, but still, she was human and I respected her! She was worthy of my respect, no doubt about it. So please, before you start trash talking about it anymore (and I'm not targetting just you Leilani007) think. Because NO family is perfect, and Robin's just happened to be one of those. She was truly an amazing woman, and if you knew her you'd know why. She did alot, and I respected her for that.


*Oh and by the way, "I personally think that Robin should have spent the money on a car, or books to read to her children, or at least spent time with them, instead of spending all of her precious free time (she worked three jobs to pay for all of Swan's pageant crap) screaming at a 5-year old on a make-shift stage in a hot garage in Florida about how to do her routines." isn't true. She had a car, more than one, the children had plenty of books for your information, and she spent time with them. Oh and I happened to live in that house with the "make-shift stage in a hot garage in Florida" thankyou! So I'd really appreciate it if people would just stop with all of the mean comments, and maybe think about the children for once.


On the HBO forums after her father died, someone claiming to be Robert (Bubba) came on as yota2much & all he said was: "none of u no my family u guys have no respect for us. hey this is robins son Robert if u guys want to find out anything about me or my family talk to me.People keep talkin crap about my family y cant people let them be."

On fourfour, there has been a link to Swan's sister Silva's myspace page which lists her as living in Virginia. In the comments, one poster wrote: "I IMed Silva before her Myspace went private. She's a mom with two little boys, the manager of a Carraba's restaurant, and has a steady guy. Still looks as mature and together as she did in the documentary... Leslie Butler's Myspace is on private also. Still pageanting it up! Shane is doing pageant stuff on the West Coast and the other guy is still down South."
posted by miss lynnster at 6:28 AM on June 5, 2007


softriver writes '@PeterMcDermott - On a lighter note, the girl in the photo has been missing since 1983, which would make her 42 years old today. Should help you assuage any guilt you may have felt. ;)'

Actually, I wouldn't hit it at all. Those blonde Barbie doll types aren't really my thing.

But I'm curious about how you think that the fact that she's been missing for twenty-five years is a 'lighter note'. ;)
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:15 AM on June 5, 2007


It's really a shame that no one seems to notice that these kids are so much cuter without the makeup and dresses and manicures.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:05 AM on June 5, 2007


i'm pretty mortified right now
posted by es_de_bah at 10:33 AM on June 5, 2007


Yeah. Everything about this is awful.
posted by stenseng at 10:38 AM on June 5, 2007


I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the depth of their makeup but by the content of their character.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:57 AM on June 5, 2007 [3 favorites]


it's the trainer's that i find interesting, tho. effeminate fellas who seem to be projecting their fantasies on the little girls. they should really just rock the drag pageant circuit and have a good time themselves. they could drink, cavort with actual adults, and NOT FUCK UP LITTLE CHILDREN and PLAY TO PEDOPHILES.
posted by es_de_bah at 10:59 AM on June 5, 2007


Broken minds, broken lives. Ah, the wonderful chaos of humanity, how you creep me the fuck out.
posted by daq at 12:09 PM on June 5, 2007


This is actually quite a racket, especially in South Carolina. 18 years ago when I became editor of a newspaper there, these women would come in all the time with photos of the winners -- girls aged as young as 3 or 4 in pounds of makeup.
Once I found out what it was all about -- and that these mothers were required to get their girls photo in the paper so the pageant promoter could get the word out about the contest to promote more business for themselves, I banned them from the paper. I told one irate woman that I considered what she was doing to her daughter akin to child abuse. Needless to say, she didn't take that too well...
posted by darren at 12:54 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well I think the problem with this style of pageantry is that some good ideas have been taken to the extreme. Healthy kids, good. Discipline, good. Competitive spirit, good. Self confidence, good. 3 pounds of make-up turns this whole situation into a freak show. I can think of a lot of people (including myself) whose parents pushed them to learn something outside of school, or participate in something, when they were kids. Were my parents living vicariously through me? Well, I wouldn't put it that way. I really do wonder what causes these people to be so fanatical. (Lets not forget this kid.) Youtube reg required
posted by phaedon at 7:35 PM on June 5, 2007


Fox News reports that JonBenet's dad and Natalee Holloway's mom are dating.

Hard-hitting journalism from the fine folks at Fox News.
posted by Mikey-San at 8:11 PM on June 5, 2007


I'm not all the way through the series yet, but in Part 4 am I really watching a mother debate whether or not to give her four-year-old son Human Growth Hormone not because of health issues, but because of the cost?
posted by schroedinger at 8:30 PM on June 5, 2007


There was a very young adult fiction book I read many years ago that revolved around a boy who had been turned into a roach and had a crush on a child beauty pageant queen. It was pretty bizarre, but the account of the girl's sacrifice of her childhood for pageantry stuck with me, even if it was fictionalized (there was one great bit where she said she liked shows with laugh tracks, because then others could laugh for her and she'd be less likely to develop laugh lines).
posted by schroedinger at 9:17 PM on June 5, 2007


Schroedinger, I simply must know the name of that book.
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:39 AM on June 6, 2007


Shoebag!

I just spent ages looking for "shoebox", cause I knew I remembered something like that, but no. It is Shoebag, and it's by Mary James.

Funny, I've read tons and tons of books, especially around the YA-middle reader level, and I have no idea why that one stood out to me like it did, enough that I still kind of remembered the character name.

It's a little different, apparently, and the cockroach actually turns into a boy, and his sister is "Eunice 'Pretty Soft' Biddle--the protected, isolated, insulated star of toilet tissue commercials".
posted by redsparkler at 1:38 PM on June 7, 2007


Ooh! And wow!
There's a sequel, too!
Shoebag Returns!
posted by redsparkler at 1:40 PM on June 7, 2007


Holy crap! The name! I've been trying to remember that book for ages! Sweet!

OK, so I was off, but it was still pretty cool.
posted by schroedinger at 9:37 AM on June 8, 2007


Sick. Sick. Sick.

Speaking about beauty meat.
posted by homodigitalis at 2:09 PM on June 8, 2007


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