I should be honest: I couldn't watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. After fifteen minutes of Go Go Juice and pageant tantrums, I had to turn it off — not because I disapproved of the Thompson-Shannon family, but because I resented that the show wanted me to disapprove of them. It's the same way I feel when I watch Toddlers and Tiaras, where hyperprojecting mothers bitch-slap sequins onto eager-to-please daughters, inviting the viewer to wonder, What train wreck of adulthood lies ahead for America's Honey Boo Boos?
I arrive at this question a little defensively because I am myself the alumna of one child pageant: I placed second runner-up in Miss Preteen Minneapolis 1996. And no feminist is more agog than I am to report that my pageant experience was generally positive. (Of course, this may be informed by the fact that I placed.) But was I the norm or the anomaly? To find out, I interviewed adult alumnae of child pageants about how they feel about it in retrospect — and reconsidered my own experience.