Lifetime's Dance Moms concludes its second season tonight, and its spawn, Dance Moms: Miami will be carrying the torch of Worst Show for Earth during the next few months. Dance Moms is a bad show on several fronts: The production is hacky (must rival-studio Candy Apples be introduced with jokey music every time?), the confessionals unbelievably unnatural, and worst of all, the show's a portrait of and tribute to emotional and psychological abuse. Somewhere, Dr. Philip Zimbardo is saying "did my Stanford prison experiment teach you nothing?"
Dance Moms isn't alone, though. Toddlers and Tiaras similarly glorifies the sexualization of children and fuels a cultural schadenfreude and sense of superiority: I may not be perfect, but at least I'm not her. Both shows are bad. But which is worse? Let's examine the ways in which they are damaging.
The Exploitation of Children
Attention, parents: If you are approached to have your child appear in a reality show, say no! Always say no. No matter how talented or precocious a child is, early exposure to fame — even crappy TLC-level fame — is rarely recipe for long-term emotional and financial stability.
But that's getting ahead of ourselves! Before they were on TV shows, these mothers were already spray tanning their children, wrapping them in garish lycra concoctions, smushing lipstick onto their little faces and shoving them out onstage to prance around unnaturally, like simulated Happy Childrenbots stranded in the uncanny valley.
Who's worse? Toddlers and Tiaras. Dance is an artform. Pageants are... not.
The Sexualization of Children
On Dance Moms, instructor and she-satan Abby Lee decided to teach her students a burlesque fan dance. "Boobs, boobs, crotch," she said, as she explained the choreography. Her oldest student is 11. They dressed as showgirls.
On Toddlers and Tiaras, Paisely performed a routine dressed as Julia Roberts' character from Pretty Woman:
Mia likes to wear her cone bra costume as a tribute to Madonna. Mia is two. On Dance Moms, the moms called the fan dance "risque," and laughed that if the girls' fathers saw the number, they wouldn't pay for dance lessons anymore. Something is seriously wrong with a family's dynamic if a 10-year-old girl complains "I don't want to be nude" and her mom's only response is just to never mention anything to the child's dad. Everybody loses!
Who's worse? Dance Moms. It's possible the little girls on T&T are too young to know what's up, but the girls on Dance Moms definitely know what the deal is when Abby tells them their attitude during the dance should be "you can't afford me."
The Lessons Learned
We are all taught at some point or another to play through the pain, or to suck it up. This is often a valuable lesson — particularly if the product of said perseverance is, oh, a sense of self-worth or a feeling of meaningful accomplishment. It's a less valuable lesson when the arduous task at hand is ice-cold spray tan, and the prize at the end of the road is mommy's assessment that you are now "pretty," and can therefore be paraded in front of others to earn higher scores than the other "pretty" girls. What are we learning here? Oh, right: That the discomfort of waxing, primping, fake teeth, fake nails, fake hair, and strange clothing is worth it as long as it makes your appearance more pleasing to others.
The lessons the girls on Dance Moms learn is a different one, a more acutely sad one: That their moms won't protect them. There's a difference between parents who push their children, ones that hold them to high standards, and ones that are complicit in their child's misery. The dance moms insist time and again that their daughters simply love dancing, and that sure, Abby is a despicable bag of human garbage, but she trains champions or some such. It is such a shame that we live in a world that only has one dance studio.
Who's worse? Dance Moms. Society will always come up with new ways to police women's bodies, but children deserve their parents' support.
The Actual People
Honey Boo Boo, Eden Wood, Anderson Cooper — pageant folk are scary. The Dance Moms give them a run for their sad, trashy money, though, with the combination of shrieking, drinking, and abdicating parental responsibility that has made the Real Housewives franchise such a success.
Who's worse? Dance Moms. Abby Lee is Voldemort in movement clothes.