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Painted Babies
August 15, 2009 3:24 AM   Subscribe

At just age five, Brooke Breedwell and Asia Mansur were bitter arch-rivals, the top dogs in their age group on the Southern child beauty pageant circuit. The two were even featured in the 1995 documentary Painted Babies [2 3 4 5]. When the two were seventeen, the director of Painted Babies returned to see what kind of women they had become (the resulting documentary is linked under "more inside"). Several days ago, Brooke Breedwell spoke about the impact that beauty pageants had on her life in an interview taped for Good Morning America.

Painted Babies At 17 (1 2 3 4 5) examines the divergent paths of these two child beauty queens and former arch-rivals as they grow up into wildly different young women.

Brooke's interview with Good Morning America was partially in response to the controversial TLC series Toddlers & Tiaras, which also features child beauty pageant contestants as they prepare and compete for crowns.
posted by SkylitDrawl (43 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
To my relief, the two shocking little Dolly Partons whom I had filmed all those years ago had both become poised, decent and disciplined young women.

First off, Dolly Parton is a poised, decent, and disciplined woman. Always was. Jane is a bit of a classist twit.

I get the sense she expected they'd be doing porn by now.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:45 AM on August 15, 2009 [50 favorites]


Agreeing here with fourchesemac. Dolly Parton is a class act. She's a great lady. The "little Dolly Partons" quote is some stupid shit, and makes me disinclined to read anything else this writer has to say.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:49 AM on August 15, 2009 [13 favorites]


I expect that Dolly Parton didn't look the way she does when she was a child, whereas these children looked like grown-up Dolly Partons. I guess it's still a somewhat careless thing to say, but I don't see that much call for alarm.
posted by hypersloth at 5:08 AM on August 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


I see your point hypersloth. Maybe I'll read the article after all.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:13 AM on August 15, 2009


I'm just calling out the sloppy writing and the sideswipe at Dolly, who is one of the best all around human beings in the music business and whose appearance/costume is in fact a commentary on these very subjects -- she calls it her suit of armor.

The piece itself is sort of meh, not particularly illuminating. Pageant girls can grow up to be normal adults. Who woulda thunk?

It's the *mothers* who interest me (and the dads, who seem largely absent). What happens when these people no longer have living dolls to play with?
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:21 AM on August 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh also, "her grandmother Bunny Breedwell" had me in an eponysteric fit.
posted by hypersloth at 5:21 AM on August 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Breedwell is just too weird a name.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:23 AM on August 15, 2009


In this wonderful country of ours, it's great that these two teenagers can look forward to opportunities like mayoring, governing, running for President, and field-dressing a moose.
posted by localroger at 5:38 AM on August 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


I guess I have to poke my head in here and say that I grew up in the same small town as Brooke. Although I am several years older than her, we were in plays together growing up. She always seemed very unhappy when she was offstage. When performing, however, she was all smiles. I had no idea she was a beauty queen or had been in any sort of film. I hadn't thought of her in years until I saw the Good Morning America bit, and went and looked up the documentary. I'm personally just sort of fascinated and horrified. By child beauty pageants in general, but also by Brooke and her family. She was, like, 8 and she just detested her mother. I had no clue why. Now I'm like, "Oh. Well, that makes sense."

Also, in Painted Babies at 17, you kind of get the feeling that Brooke's mom and her grandmother kind of miss having a living Barbie to play with and wish she had stuck to the pageants. The film makes it seem like she's distanced herself from them, though, probably for good reason. She seems to have turned out okay, she seems smart and confident.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 5:43 AM on August 15, 2009 [17 favorites]


Some of those clips were ineffably off, as if I had just seen tapes of a banned, ill-conceived kindergarten play about Jack the Ripper. Later tragedy reveals that Johnny's father, who wrote the play, subbed the stage knife for a real one and ...

Seriously, moms, don't dress up your babies like tarts and fight all of your high school battles through them just one more time.
posted by adipocere at 6:41 AM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Watching this makes me so glad the South lost the Civil War.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:59 AM on August 15, 2009 [11 favorites]


I watched the original documentary a few years ago, but remember almost nothing of it beyond my personal recoil at the baby pageant thing. I'll have to rewatch it and follow up with the follow-up. Thanks for the post!
posted by hippybear at 8:02 AM on August 15, 2009


"her grandmother Bunny Breedwell"

Ms. Breedwell? Any relation to Stackhouse?

Seriously, moms, don't dress up your babies like tarts and fight all of your high school battles through them just one more time.

Totally. You could end up trapped in a cheerleader trophy.
posted by The Whelk at 9:07 AM on August 15, 2009 [12 favorites]


I get the sense she expected they'd be doing porn by now.

Give 'em time. They will. They're only seventeen.
posted by John of Michigan at 10:14 AM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Totally. You could end up trapped in a cheerleader trophy.

But then you get to save the world!
posted by jmd82 at 10:14 AM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, the kids perform for no audience, just the parents and judges? Where does all the prize money come from? From entry fees? That seems even more sad to me than the simple fact of the pageants. They work so hard for all this, and then perform to NOBODY. I guess it stops the creepy creeps from hanging out in the back of the hall wearing trenchcoats, but learning to sing, walk, turn, and all the other stuff for really no reason? That's just peculiar to me.

(Then, I have to say, the singing of the 17 year old Asia isn't going to land her any parts on Broadway. Or even in community theater, for that matter.)

Watching this does make me wish there were more long-term follow-ups to documentaries over the years. The "7-Up" series has held my interest across the years, most certainly. I'd love to see a (not full movie length) followup to Hoop Dreams, amongst others.
posted by hippybear at 11:14 AM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Watching this makes me so glad the South lost the Civil War.

I don't think this is exclusively a Southern thing. FWIW, I'm from the South, but the only friend I've ever had who did pageants was born and raised in a rural part of central Ohio.
posted by naoko at 11:26 AM on August 15, 2009


Watching this makes me so glad the South lost the Civil War. (MegoSteve)

Reading this makes me annoyed that, yet again, someone has decided to point to a fringe, outrageous part of southern culture (and are pageants exclusively southern, even?) to imply, self-righteously, that other parts of America are better than the South, and has dragged in a 145-year-old war, to boot.

I may not live there anymore, but I grew up in Alabama, and I loved it there. There are aspects of southern culture that I am not fond of (and hoo boy, pageants are one of them), but there are aspects of the culture of New York and Boston (the other places I've lived) that I didn't like very much either. To only pay attention to those parts of a place that you dislike, and to dismiss the better parts, is narrow-minded.

I'm glad the South lost the Civil War, too—not only because the major outcome of that war was the end of slavery, but also because if it hadn't, I likely wouldn't exist, and even if I did, the life I've lived would not be possible. My parents would have grown up in different countries, and would never have met, and even if by some chance they had, the nature of my existence would be circumscribed to one country or the other. I'm glad that the South is part of the United States, and that I've had the opportunity to live in the South and in the North, and that no matter which region I call my home, they both add to the fascinating melting pot of American culture.

Anti-South snark is just as bad as the "Fuck Texas" shit that people pull around here sometimes. SOUTHERNERS ARE MEFITES, TOO. Don't dismiss where we're from, 'kay?
posted by ocherdraco at 11:28 AM on August 15, 2009 [57 favorites]


I agree with Ocherdraco wholeheartedly; I'm from New England but my husband is from North Carolina and the knee-jerk assumptions often made about the South are at best problematic. Thanks to her for her response to MegoSteve's comment; I'd flagged it but I hadn't yet moved on.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:36 AM on August 15, 2009


The little girl who took home the Grand Supreme title in the only episode of Toddlers & Tiaras I've ever watched was from Utah, so no, pageants certainly are not exclusively Southern. I'd just say they're predominantly Southern.

And I say that as a native of the South who competed in and won exactly one pageant as a kid. I was 3. I stomped across the stage screaming and bawling my eyes out, but I won because I had the prettiest dress on. Go figure.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 11:48 AM on August 15, 2009


> Watching this makes me so glad the South lost the Civil War.

Um. That's out of line. You can find overambitious (choose your derogatory term for class segment or ethnic group) pretty nearly anywhere in the U.S.

For that matter, parents pitting children against each other in competition is a nationwide phenomenon and if you're not aware of any events near you, it's because you're not bothering to check your neighborhood listings for Little League, soccer, Pee-Wee football or basketball leagues, karate tournaments and spelling bees, piano, violin, art or stage talent competitions, and dozens of other venues where parents pit themselves against each other, using their kids as proxies. Most parents, I suspect, have healthy attitudes about competition, but enough don't to ensure the stereotypes of stage mothers and soccer dads will endure.
posted by ardgedee at 11:53 AM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I like Dolly Parton very much, and she's weighed in on her own appearance a few times:

"It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”

“I look just like the girls next door... if you happen to live next door to an amusement park.”

And my favorite:

“I'm not offended by dumb blonde jokes because I know that I'm not dumb. I also know I'm not blonde.”
posted by Malor at 12:14 PM on August 15, 2009 [25 favorites]


I feel like the invisible elephant in the living room here is JonBenét Ramsey (previously on the blue). For a lot of people, including me, those clips of JonBenét at one pageant or another was the first glimpse of the little-girl beauty pageant circuit (although Harlan Ellison had written about one some decades before in his Glass Teat column). Even though the parents were cleared, I think that a lot of people looked at those clips and thought, well, isn't that sort of child abuse right there? (Just to be sure that I'm not misunderstood, I don't agree.)

And it is pretty weird to watch, although Brooke Breedwell seems to have come out OK--Asia Mansur seems to still be in pageant mode in the little bit that I watched--but then people might say the same thing if they watched me play D&D and alternate between arguing with the GM about minutiae of rules and pretend to be a female half-elf rogue.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:43 PM on August 15, 2009


just as bad as the "Fuck Texas" shit that people pull around here sometimes.

You won't be hearing that shit around here as much anymore.
posted by longsleeves at 2:03 PM on August 15, 2009


Yeah, but wfrgms isn't the only one who does it; just the most visible.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:20 PM on August 15, 2009


Watching this makes me so glad the South lost the Civil War.

Seriously this kind of comment just makes you look narrow-minded. I put up with this shit when I was moving from New England down to Texas. Things have changed quite a bit since the 1800's. Come visit Austin anytime if you want to see what I'm talking about. (Although I'd wait till the fall, it's pretty f*ing hot right now.)
posted by meta87 at 4:00 PM on August 15, 2009


Dolly Parton is awesomeness itself. A 60-something woman who's not only enormously talented as a singer and songwriter, but who's also vibrant, ridiculously sexy, knowing, warm, funny, and smart is a joy to see, and Parton's tremendous sense of humor about her over-the-top bombshell image is completely delightful.

"Over-the-top bombshell" is not really a good look for a 5-year-old, though, to say the least.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:33 PM on August 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


naoko:
the south to a new yorker is anything below staten island --although some of us are more "learned" and think of the south a anything bordering but the north of Pennsylvania.
posted by liza at 5:14 PM on August 15, 2009


Back in the late '60s, in college, I worked some regional qualifying pageants for the Miss Tennessee/Miss America pageants, and even then, 40 years ago, the 17 to 19 year old beauty queens in those affairs were creations of a long string of kiddie pageants, that culminated in young women who had thousands of hours of practice in twirling batons, playing short, dramatic piano pieces, tap dancing, or singing "Suwanee," and all of whom, when asked in front of an audience were solidly, to a woman, for whirled peas.

I suspect, based on that experience, as much as any of the links of this post, that "pageant mothers" probably can and do get 5 and 6 year olds up on those stages in their little costumes, but that by 9 or 10, if a little girl doesn't want to continue, herself, she won't, in any but the most dysfunctional families. It's just too much time, expense and pressure for even the most motivated "pageant mom" to undertake, when it all it generally takes for a girl to repeatedly do badly, is just to not smile enough, at the right moments.

Girls who are still in pageants at 17+ are, in my experience, all, themselves, willing show horses scholarship contestants.
posted by paulsc at 5:17 PM on August 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I get the sense she expected they'd be doing porn by now.

I think she was more than prepared for that. The film is called Painted Babies at 17, for crying out loud.
posted by rokusan at 5:22 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bunny Breedwell looks a lot like a woman I used to know named Karen Lykstafuk.
posted by Foam Pants at 6:37 PM on August 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Y'all defending the modern South are more patient than I. I was just going to say:

Watching this makes me so glad the South lost the Civil War.

Well bless your heart.
posted by hippugeek at 7:30 PM on August 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


Dolly Parton is Awesome. But who is going to walk her dog?
posted by ovvl at 8:34 PM on August 15, 2009


some of us are more "learned" and think of the south a anything bordering but the north of Pennsylvania.

Indeed. But I also think (and I guess I hinted at this without actually saying it) that there are some people occasionally use "Southern" as a convenient shorthand for "rural" or even just "white trash" Regardless of my feelings about said categories of people, that is just sloppy.

Speaking of white people, that reminds me: I thought it was interesting that other than one pageant official I noticed, the people in these videos are overwhelmingly white. I don't know what this means - just something I noticed.
posted by naoko at 9:56 PM on August 15, 2009


...the people in these videos are overwhelmingly white.

Other folks just too classy for this tacky shit.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:32 AM on August 16, 2009


and has dragged in a 145-year-old war, to boot.

To be fair, Southerners often drag in the 145-year-old War of Northern Aggression too.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:10 AM on August 16, 2009


True, Brandon, some southerners do. And some southerners are in beauty pageants.

But not all of us, and certainly not most of us (and particularly not those of us on MeFi, unless I've got this community pegged all wrong).
posted by ocherdraco at 7:41 AM on August 16, 2009


and has dragged in a 145-year-old war, to boot.

Pfffffft! That's nothing. Over in Serbia, man, they'll drag in eight-hundred-year-old wars, and clue your ass in on particular battles.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:06 AM on August 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have a black leather keppie that I wear just as a hat. ('cause that's how I roll) Here in eastern WA state, I am ALWAYS asked at least once while wearing it something about reenactments or being a rebel or something. I try to point out that the cap is black, not blue or grey, that the war ended a long time ago, and give them a brief history of the hat style and how it came to be associated with the Civil War in the first place. It gets old. Damnit! I'm a queer wearing black leather. How much explanation does that require?
posted by hippybear at 9:48 AM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


and give them a brief history of the hat style and how it came to be associated with the Civil War in the first place (hippybear)

Do share!

posted by ocherdraco at 11:00 AM on August 16, 2009


Well... as I understand it, the design of the keppie (with a long solid back panel and forward tipping flat top) were designed to protect the heads of people riding coal-fired trains from hot cinders which may escape the furnace into the smoke plume. The back is long to cover the full back of the head when worn to help the cinders roll off, and the top is slanted forward to help the cinders, again, not get caught on the cap and burn through to harm the head. The hat became associate with the Civil War when they began shipping soldiers around via train. (This is an easier concept to relate when I'm actually wearing the hat and you can see how it covers my head.)

That's the story as I have had it told to me by at least three historical costume researchers, including the man who sold the hat to me at Texas Renaissance Faire some 20+ years ago. (It's a very well-made hat, I should say.)

Funny story that. I walked up to his till to purchase said hat, and he grumbled at me "damn, I spend all this time doing the research, I have insignia custom cast for these", gesturing at the blue and grey hats behind him, "but all anyone ever buys are these damn black leather ones."

posted by hippybear at 11:54 AM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


The kepi was developed by the French armies during the occupation of Algeria in the early 19th century. It was adopted by the US armies before the Civil War; they saw the utility of the kepi while fighting the Mexican War, and adopted a soft-sided version of it (also called "forage cap" and "bummer"/"bummel", or "chasseur cap" after some of the kepi-wearing French regiments who fought in Mexico). The kepi was also called the "McClellan cap," as it was that general's favorite headgear.

the design of the keppie (with a long solid back panel and forward tipping flat top) were designed to protect the heads of people riding coal-fired trains from hot cinders which may escape the furnace into the smoke plume

That's not accurate. Its popularity with the Union Army may have been consolidated because it was a good shield against cinders, but it wasn't designed for that purpose.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:14 PM on August 16, 2009


well, that's what I get for listening to people who research these things for a living, I guess.
posted by hippybear at 8:22 PM on August 16, 2009


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