Girls in Curls

Hello, 1980s? Are you there?

I suspect you’re just around the bend corner, since Larry Hagman and Dallas are all the talk, and apparently returning to my local idiot box station, so surely the 80s aren’t a generation ago, and I can beg my Hair Guru for permed locks once again.

Natch, I’ll be digging through the back of my closet to select a wide-shouldered horror beauty among my fave 25-year old blouses!

I do not miss the neon-colored skin tight fitness wear and god awful perky headbands, but my curls! Those carefree crimps! Those dizzying twists! Girls in curls – for some of us – what could be more unnatural?

Apparently, curls on girls have not gone the way of Shirley Temple dolls, or photographs we’re embarrassed to reveal from the days when we actually had photographs, which we carefully tucked under transparent pages in monogrammed albums.

Oh. And the Big Hair we were so proud of at the time.

It seems that curls remain the Style du Jour in certain circles – among them, Irish dance competitions, as wigs and jigs are covered in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. The photographs feature 10 and 11-year old girls in startling hair with mega-watt lipstick and eye shadows. We won’t even mention the glitzy, gaudy costumes and accessories, or the costs associated.

I admit, seeing these little girls who gather from around the world to compete isn’t as worrisome as the infamous shots of 10-year old Thylane Blondeau of last year’s Vogue Mini-Models controversy, but I can’t say I care for these images.

They seem vaguely sad, and worse – unsettling.

Having given birth to two male devils angels, the closest I ever came to dolling up my boys was Tumbling Turtles when they were two and three years old. I have a vague recollection of one of them in a silver suit resembling the Tin Man, non-stop complaining (and giggling), along with stumbling about on a stage with other powdered, primped, and tulled tots similarly captive to some obligatory maternal thrall with “cute” which, fortunately, was shed shortly thereafter.

I have no personal experience with the toddler pageant scene or the years that may follow – pugilistic pretty girls taught to compete against each other, while slathered with paint, and going for the coveted tiara.

So I’m interested to know what both mothers and fathers think of these pageants and competitions, and specifically, the styling that makes our children appear many years older.

  • What do you think of these rosy cheeked, overly coiffed, and heavily painted 10 and 11-year old girls?
  • Since this is performance associated with competitive dance, does it bother you less than the mini-model outcry, or for that matter, tots in tiaras?
  • Is there something disturbingly anachronistic – or simply disturbing – about parading our little girls in this adult, borderline sexual fashion?
  • What are we teaching our daughters in these theatrical and competitive displays – not about talent – but about how we judge women? What constitutes beauty, much less their value?

Dress up? Of course!

I played dress up as a child – raiding my mother’s costume jewelry drawer, grabbing for the permissible items that routinely included a pair of heels, a pretty satin slip, one or two dresses that would drag across the floor, and a variety of scarves and gloves. Why not?

It was about emulating role models, playing at being grown-up. It was about play. 

And there was no allowance made for going overboard – and that was before the promotion of our Warholian 15-minutes of fame, stretched into permanence by the Internet.

Girls in curls – in their late teens, their twenties, their 90s if they like?

Any woman in whatever attire she deems chic, unique, and preferably appropriate to the occasion?

No problem.


I’m wildly mildly uncomfortable.

Click thumbnails of Irish Dance contestants, photographed by Kenneth O Halloran, to access originals at NYTimes Magazine. Click Thylane Blondeau Vogue to access fashion spread at

© D. A. Wolf



  1. says

    I have a nine year old daughter. The idea of putting her in one of those pageants makes my skin crawl. I feel comfortable saying that she is a beautiful child – we get unsolicited compliments from strangers all the time, in addition to my personal bias – but I work hard with her at developing character based on her insides, and not judging people based on their outsides. We also work hard at making sure she doesn’t take a leap from nine years old to twenty years old: she is NOT a sexual object, and making her appear older than she is seems as ridiculous (though more dangerous) as dressing her in onesies and bonnets.

  2. says

    I think that dressing little girls up like this is absolutely disgusting. It’s absolutely giving them the wrong message about what they should value in life. It’s tough enough being a woman in our society today as it is, let alone when we’re teaching our daughters from very young ages that you get ahead in life by being “pretty”.

    I would never, ever, EVER allow my daughters (they’re 7 and 9) participate in a pageant of any kind. No way!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I never had to deal with this issue, having boys… But it does seem that little girls are encouraged to grow up much too quickly these days. As you say, Momma Sunshine, it’s tough enough being a woman. Why would we push our girls to exit their childhood so quickly?

  3. says

    Toddlers in Tiaras, like most reality TV, just seem like people behaving badly to me. Don’t mean to sound priggish but I don’t give them any time, and fail to understand the allure. And there’s so MUCH of it. Pageants? I agree with your readers above – no way for my daughters. It’s on the verge of creepy to me. If a young woman wants to pursue that kind of thing on her own – I’m okay with that. It can be a means to scholarships, modeling careers, etc. But yes, when they were in their formative years – I focused more on education, a curiosity about the world, kindness, hygieine, a work ethic.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      There was a wonderful piece in the NYTimes this weekend, Barb, that was indirectly about character, which is what I think of when you mention curiosity, kindness, work ethic, learning.

      How have we lost the importance of character? Or is it simply that we don’t discuss it or give it any press any longer, though it still reigns in many households?

  4. says

    Those pageants with little girls in make-up and suggestive poses/expressions are just sad and the mothers, even sadder. No one seems happy, despite all the fakey-fakey smiles. Little girls need to learn that they have so much more to them than fake nails, hairspray (what IS the fascination with the BIG hair??) and lipstick. They need to learn to feel good about how smart, strong, creative and special they are.

    My 4 year old granddaughter was selecting nail polish for us and told me “No red. Mom says I’m not old enough for red polish”. Hurrah for good moms!

  5. says

    I guess there aren’t many fans here reading your blog that approve of the trend of making our little girls into little women, which extends beyond the pageant world. Little girl fashion still exists, but there is “sexy” clothing and make-up that is marketed to little girls. I must assume that parents are paying for what their children are wearing. The question is why?

    Pageants – Creepy? Yes! Parents can guide their children. I don’t watch programs like Toddlers and Tiaras, but I have seen a couple of these mothers and daughters interviewed. Mothers and daughters alike usually claim that it is the daughter’s choice. She wants to do it. I can think of plenty of things I asked my parents’ permission to do that received a resounding no. Same when my children asked to do something that seemed age inappropriate – I said no. Parents can offer alternatives. I’m not sure I get these parents.

    If performance is what these children are interested in, why aren’t they involved in ballet, piano, theater, or a myriad of other choices that create an age appropriate platform, like a recital or a play? There is plenty of time to grow up.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      In this particular instance, Robin, we’re dealing with dance. And certainly, even girls who do ballet and perform in recitals are “made up” in a somewhat theatrical fashion.

      I don’t see a problem with that.

      What is so striking in these examples is the over-the-top nature of the hair and makeup. Perhaps that’s part of this particular “event,” or perhaps as we become inured to the pageants we see excess growing even more excessive. I’m not certain. But I do find it disturbing to see little girls painted as though they were teenagers (or older). There is something tragic in that – to me – for all of us. And then there is the issue of 14 and 15-year old models used to advertise to women… more for us to “live up to” – that we couldn’t possibly? More distortion for those girls, as to the sophistication (in appearance and sexuality) that is acceptable / expected?

  6. says

    Posts like this make me so thankful to have sons. That said, I think the pageant thing is pretty atrocious, and not just because it’s been villified in the media in the past few years. The sexualization of little girls is a problem, yes. So is the conniving nature of the competition. But my biggest problem with it? It asks these little girls to act as mini-adults. Childhood is a time for clean skin and a clean conscience. It’s a time for leisure and play and learning. It’s a time to learn to navigate real life, not contrived arch-rivals. These kids should be kids. And the pageant scene robs them of that.

    As for curly hair, naturally curly hair is wonderful. But I’m inclined to think that perms are almost always a bad idea…

  7. says

    The Toddlers in Tiaras thing, child beauty pageants, those things that focus primarily on overly made-up, far-too-young girls, I find repulsive. Worse yet are the mothers that push it and the fathers that allow it. Little girls experience with make-up should be accompanied by their wearing mom’s too big dresses and heels, done with friends and giggles and not for public consumption – other than perhaps a photo or two in a family album. Children should be allowed to be children and not try to compete as adults. It seems to me this goes completely against the desire for women to be treated with equality and to be loved for what they have to offer in areas other than external beauty, which will fade with time. However, the makeup used for things like a dance recital, or a school theater production is different, and participation in those should be only because the child desires it – not to fulfill mom’s never-quite-came-true dreams.

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