When I was seven, the most genuinely important thing in my life was William Brown. The hero of Richmal Crompton's achingly British series of books was, to my mind, like the muddied, bad-ass, rebel alternative to Blyton's nauseatingly saccharine Famous Five. While the scrubbed fairy-boys of Blyton's world picnicked on gingham and hugged their Mummies, the eponymous Just Wiliam and the Outlaws got grass stains, made little girls scream and out-witted the posh toff Hubert Lane.
Had I been about four years older and harbouring a little more oestragen I probably would have lusted after him with all the fervour of a Belieber, but lacking that vital teen-crush hormone, I was content to simply hero-worship him (and make my Mum write 'William Brown' in blotchy ink on my school bag - frankly it's a miracle I didn't wind up in a dodgy clinic in Amsterdam aged 16, to add William-esque appendages). So when I tuned in to Toddlers and Tiaras this week, and observed the seven-year-old bratty squirts ejected into the world by bratty Barbie doll Mothers America over, I was seized with an overwhelming desire to post every one of them the entire series of Just William books, pin their eyelids back à la Clockwork Orange, and force them into some semblance of normal, functioning childhood.
For those of you blissfully unaware of the warped world of Toddlers and Tiaras, it is a heinous American programme tracking the ups and downs of pageant life for the under-10s. You may be forgiven for thinking, on tuning into this glutinous explosion of fake tan and lip gloss, that you are watching TOWIE: The Yester-years, or some kind of ritual abuse of small children, with the deadly weapon in question being a mascara brush and tweezers (pretty deadly weapons regardless of age).
This is a world where it's quite alright - de rigueur, expected even - to attach a towering hair piece to your child's head even though she screams that it hurts, stick false eyelashes on a four-year-old despite the fact that the batty embellishments are larger than her actual eye socket, then shove her on stage and tell her to wink, wiggle, gyrate and blow kisses. It's a world in which bratty, impudent, rude behaviour in a child is translated as 'sass' or worse, 'spunk' (try not to giggle), where acting like an amateur stripper is translated as 'personality', and if you don't walk home with the princess crown, you are simply not beautiful enough.
The glazed, fraught smiles of every mother teeter perilously on the verge of passive aggression, as they gaze, wide-eyed into the camera, like a First Lady on crack, and insist that Heavyn-Destiny-Mirabellakins JUST LOVES pageants, and such a DARLING child, while Heavyn-Destiny-Mirabellakins downs her sixth bottle of Mountain Dew (to wash down all the pixie sticks, or pageant crack as they are fondly known) and starts to fervently punch the competition in the ovaries.
The overt hyper-sexualisation of these children is simply deplorable. Worrying about the content of Rihanna's latest rompathon video is frankly a little futile when pageant moms are dressing their children as (believe it or not) Julia Roberts' prostitute character in Pretty Woman, the international sex symbol Daisy Duke, or gyrating to LMFAO's Sexy And I Know It in an outfit better suited to adorning a pole at Stringfellow's.
What happened to running around in dungarees with food on your face and mud on your feet? I still do run around in dungarees with food on my face and mud on my feet, and I will tell you now, I have about a million times more fun in this grottily childish regalia than I do in stilettos.
When you've by-passed the Just William and grass stains phase of your life by the time you're the same age as a geriatric hamster, where is there to go from there? What is the point in growing up? There's nothing fun to look forward to, no hurdles to jump, no milestones to reach. Aged 22 (and 11 12ths, yes I'm still counting) I am yet to stand on stage in a sparkly bikini, mouth along to Lady Gaga and jiggle my jelly at a panel of judges. Aged seven, a plethora of American pageant kids have done just that more times than they've done a pee by themselves.
My television also tells me that the fun doesn't stop for these tiny terrors as they age. Apparently, America provides a wealth of brat-camps for the blossoming young lady. The undercurrent of bitch-spit and hairspray tears through the teenage years, with a deluge of yet more pageants (except this time, with a bikini round! Yay! Now you can parade in your nylon panties past a panel that will surely include someone you can bang for the title, pageant glory and princess crowns can be yours for the reasonable price of your dignity!), not to mention the glut of cheerleading teams- as demonstrated in Glee, My Super Sweet Sixteen, MADE and other such televised joys - where you can encourage sporting excellence by making up inane poetry and kicking your head.
Then finally, when you have learnt all there is to being a girl: jiggle, wiggle, smile, CHEER! You may be welcomed into a super-exclusive sorority, where you will learn the importance of obedience, hierarchy, and blow-dries. For proof of this flawless bitch-camp system, simply tune into Channel 4's Sorority Girls, before I choke on my own vehemence.