TLC's hit reality series "Toddlers & Tiaras" has raised a lot of eyebrows since it debuted in January 2009. Viewers have been shocked and outraged by some of the things they've seen pageant moms do to get their little girls ready for the beauty contests: forced brow waxings, sexy outfits, teeth bleachings and more.
But perhaps not all pageant parents are going to extremes.
Juana Myers and her daughter, 6-year-old MaKenzie, have appeared on three episodes of "Toddlers," most recently on the season four premiere. On that episode, the little girl was competing for the title of Ultimate Grand Supreme at the Universal Royalty Grand Nationals Pageant in Texas, which she didn't win. ("It was the first time she has never won anything," said Juana. "I was so shocked.")
Mama Myers talked to TODAY.com on Tuesday to share her experiences and dish on why she and MaKenzie participate in beauty pageants.
TODAY.com:When did MaKenzie start participating in pageants?
Juana: She was around 18 months old. We started out ... in kind of a small vegetable pageant. Everybody kind of does that around here, luckily. That was her first one. She competed in about five when she was a baby. And we kind of waited until she was 3 or 4 until ... to see if it was something she would be interested in, and she loved it. We started out natural. Then we started more glitz and more larger pageants as she got older.
TODAY:Who's idea was it to enter MaKenzie at 18 months?
Juana: Well, it was kind of a mutual thing ... her nana. We all kind of agreed. Like, everyone around here does it. It’s a local festival pageant. Everyone enters it.
TODAY: Did you ever compete?
Juana: I started when I was 18 months old too, and competed until I was around 16. I loved it. MaKenzie plays with all my things: my dresses, my crowns. I have all of it at my mom’s.
TODAY: What was your prep routine like for the Universal Royalty Grand Nationals?
Juana: We started about three months in advance, you know getting our clothes together, getting everything made. Everything had to be custom made. Her dress we actually started about six months prior to the pageant. And with our lessons, we started about a month, four weeks or so, in advance to work on the routines. Then I’d bring her to her pageant coach, and I’d work with her here at home as well. We normally practice about an hour once a day before the pageant. Seven days a week, every evening.
TODAY: With all the practice, does she still have time to be a little girl and play?
Juana: Oh yeah. She’s playing right now. In the evenings after school, she’s just a little girl playing with her dolls. Playing dress up. Every afternoon when she comes home from school and she’s putting on a pageant, whether it’s with her baby dolls and she’s their mama, or the baby dolls are the mama and she’s the pageant girl. Always playing pageant.
TODAY: Pageants aren't exactly cheap. How much do you think you spend on a pageant?
Juana: Oh gosh. I’ve never added that up. I honestly can’t even tell you. Entry fees for a big pageant can be about $400. Her glitz dress was $4,000. Costumes, they’re around $300 to $500. Coaching lessons are $50 a session, which is like an hour. If you get into headshots, that’s super expensive. So it gets pretty expensive, not including your (hotel) stay and your gas and everything.
TODAY: How often do you recoup the cost of a pageant when MaKenzie wins?
Juana: You never do. You never get back the money you put into it. Never. The reason (we compete in pageants) is that MaKenzie loves ... this is her hobby and her sport. We tried T-ball, we tried dance. She loved dance, but she always goes back to pageants. It’s what she loves to do. It’s what she constantly talks about. It’s about her. It’s about what she wants to do. ... If she wins money, we’ll put some of it into savings (and her college fund), and then some of it might go into another pageant. Also, I sell a lot of her things that she wears. I can sell those and make money back.
TODAY: If MaKenzie said she didn't want to do pageants anymore, would you be OK with that?
Juana: I would be absolutely fine. Like, this is tiring. It stresses me completely. I’ve said it before. I get so stressed out. But I enjoy it for her. I get to see her have a good time. But yes, if she changed her mind, we could do something different. Completely.
TODAY: A lot of our readers are shocked by what some of the pageant moms have done on the show. What do you consider going too far? What's off limits?
Juana: Well definitely the plucking and the waxing. We don’t do any of that. We don’t even shave her eyebrows. The stuff to me that will permanently or semi-permanently take away their natural beauty, I don’t believe in any of that. No bleaching the hair. None of that. They’re still little girls. At the end of the day at the pageant, it can all be wiped off. That’s what we do. We don’t do anything that’s going to stay.
TODAY: Some viewers who've watched the show and saw little girls in sexy costumes fear that the pageants attract pedophiles and help them find their next victims. Is that something you worry about?
Juana: I do. That is definitely something to worry about. But just little girls in general, they’re gonna try ... whatever they want to do, they’re gonna do it regardless. That’s something I don’t really try to think about or focus on too much. (MaKenzie) has a manager and he keeps her protected, and from being exploited too much. We just kind of stick with toddlers.
TODAY: What did you learn from pageants, and what would you like MaKenzie to learn?
Juana: I learned a lot of self-confidence and poise being on stage. It helped me to be able to reach out and speak at school as well. I was very shy, and (pageants) really helped me open up a lot. Makenzie doesn’t have that personality. Total opposite. She’s very outgoing, very free willed, ‘do what I want to do.’ "
"Toddlers & Tiaras" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on TLC.
If your daughter, niece or another little girl in your life wanted to do beauty pageants, would you let her? Tell us on our Facebook page!