ABC News’ Andrea Canning and Taylor Behrendt report:
The hit show “Toddlers and Tiaras” took beauty pageants to a whole new level, spotlighting pushy mothers and preschoolers made up to look like showgirls, and the show’s new season will deliver more of the same when it airs tonight on TLC.
The program, which showcases little girls with big hairdos and makeup competing for crowns and cash, has attracted lots of attention and criticism since it first debuted in 2009.
Little girls are shown in environments of glitz and glamour, and their mothers can be seen making extreme efforts to ensure that their daughters stand out, even if it means putting pint-sized girls in hair extensions, heavy makeup and racy costumes.
Contestant Paisley Dickey recently channeled Lady Gaga for the Darling Diva’s pageant in New York City, but it was another costume that Paisley wore earlier this year that took many people by surprise.
She appeared in a pageant decked out in a blonde wig, blue mini skirt, tube top and thigh-high boots – a replica of the skimpy costume Julia Roberts’ character wore in the hit film “Pretty Woman.”
The girl’s mother, Wendy Dickey, was roundly criticized.
“It’s actually been pretty crazy,” she said. “I had no idea that it would go that far, that it would be blown that far out of proportion”
She also said that the costume was “meant to be comical.”
“The outfit was not sexy, it was tacky and hideous. It was comical. Nothing more than a costume,” Dickey said.
Just weeks after that happened, Dickey took even more heat when she dressed Paisley as a biker babe for Halloween.
Writers and commenters on blogs and websites across the country questioned her actions and accused her of exploiting her 3-year-old daughter.
“It was very hard and the worst thing, you know, is that people could come on there anonymously and they were saying anything and everything,” Dickey said. “No woman in her right mind would try and sexualize her 3-year-old daughter.”
In a clip from the show’s new season, one woman admits that she wanted to have only girls and she explains why.
“When I was pregnant and found out I was having a boy, I was quite upset because I actually had the children so we could do the pageants,” she said.
Elizabeth Barrett, whose 5-year-old daughter, Lily-Ann, competes in pageants, says the circuit gets a bad rap because of how it’s portrayed on television.
“They think screaming kids having their hair pulled, you know, not wanting to get their makeup on. You know, crying and kicking and screaming on the stage kind of thing. I like to sit them down and show them the video of my daughter on the stage because you can’t fake that smile,” she said.
She added that her daughter also enjoys ballet, jazz, gymnastic, singing and art.
“If you see her at home all she does is color and play. She won the tractor pull at the fall fair,” Barrett said. “You know, she’s just a regular kid.”
And Barrett says she isn’t too focused on an “end goal” for just how far her daughter’s pageant career may go.
“Well the first goal is to have fun, but I’d say the end goal is a confident, happy kid,” she said.
Casey Watkins, 6, is new to the pageant scene, but her mother, Melissa Wigfall makes sure the little girl doesn’t focus on that too much.
“It’s not just about pageants. Casey does other things,” Wigfall said. “We have a lot of family time. It’s just something she’s doing right now that makes her happy.”