The most controversial moms on Toddlers and Tiaras

There's trashy fun, and then there's the billowing dumpster fire that is Toddlers & Tiaras. The problematic TLC reality TV show offers a wincingly intimate glimpse into the grim, glittering world of child beauty pageants, charting the lives of pirouetting, pouting tots and their incurably pushy parents. In any given episode, you'll find children — some as young as age 2 — getting their skin spray-tanned within inches of their young lives. Tiny teeth are bleached. Prepubescent eyebrows are waxed. According to the show's official website, Toddlers & Tiaras is a "quest for sparkly crowns, big titles, and lots of cash," but that description is really something of a cop-out.

As CNN reports, the sparkly show has sparked plenty of controversy since its 2009 premiere, in part because viewers "are tired of seeing children exploited for ratings and robbed of their innocence by a greedy entertainment industry." That's to say nothing of the enabling parents that participate in these pageants. Let's take a look at some of the more "memorable" stage moms to have ever darkened the doors of this sequined sideshow. They will be judged on posture, facial beauty, sincerity, and moxie.

Wendy, Paisley, and 'Pretty Woman'

You fully expect Toddlers & Tiaras to stomp, scream, and sparkle well outside the bounds of good taste. You don't necessarily expect to channel-surf onto a depressingly young girl dressed up like a prostitute. (Do you?) Nevertheless, that's the image that scorched millions of corneas back in 2011, when a Georgia-based woman named Wendy Dickey dressed up her 3-year-old daughter Paisley as Vivian Ward, better known as Julia Roberts' character in the 1990 hit comedy Pretty Woman. No detail was spared, short of That Laugh: There was the skin-tight mini-skirt, those kicky thigh-high boots, the conspicuously showy blouse, and what we'll call "Vivian Ward's work wig." 

During the episode in question, Dickey cordially invited us into her labyrinthine thought process, and we still haven't fully reemerged: "The whole idea was for people to see the comedy behind it," she subsequently explained to Good Morning America (via ABC News). Dickey went on to favorably compare Paisley's shtick to taking "your children to a kids' movie, there's always adult humor that the parents get that the children don't get and that's what it was about." In other words? What. Is. Happening?

​Lisa let her daughter 'smoke' on stage

If she'd bothered to sit down and think it all through, Lisa Christian might have realized her artistic vision had the potential to raise a few hackles — but who has time to think when there are pageants to be conquered and tiaras to be snatched? On a Season 5 episode of Toddlers & Tiaras from 2012, Lisa passed her 4-year-old daughter Destiny "a fake cigarette" and barked, "Don't forget to smoke!" (via Today). The ensuing outrage was real, with journalist Nancy Grace spending a full episode of her former HLN show railing against the misguided performance: "I know you were trying to have your daughter mimic the star of the Grease musical," Grace snapped, "but I believe there are many other possibilities in mimicking her than having her smoke."

Speaking to Grace on the phone, Lisa defended Destiny's rousing turn as Sandy "Tell me about it, stud" Olsson, explaining that "pretending is not harming [Destiny]" and she wasn't "your typical 4-year-old" because she knew "the difference between right and wrong." Grace miked the hysteria by asking Lisa if she thought it would be okay to place "a fake gun in [Destiny's] hand or a fake machete?" Lisa reminded Grace that kids have been playing "cops and robbers" for generations, but the host shot down her line of thinking: "Mine do not have pretend guns," Grace said. "We don't even say g-u-n because my fiancé was murdered with a handgun many, many years ago."

Just no: A 2-year-old in Madonna's cone-breasted bustier

Life really is a mystery. In April 2011, a Time headline asked its readership a seemingly simple question: "A Preschooler in a Madonna Cone Bra?" On any given day, the answer should be an emphatic "No," preferably punctuated with a few fat exclamation points and underlined in three blood-red sharpie slashes. But on one particularly controversial episode of Toddlers & Tiaras, the answer was a resounding, "Yes, indeed."

Here's how it all went down: As Jezebel reported, a 2-year old girl named Mia took the stage to the dulcet tones of Madonna's "Like A Prayer," dancing for glory in a "white robe with angel wings." So far, so weird — and it gets even grittier from here. Mia eventually removed the robe to expose a tight gold-hued bustier, fully adorned with a conical bra. As Time reported, Mia lost focus at one point — possibly because she was two years old at the time — and her mom bounded onstage to demonstrate how to shake one's hips like a pro.

In the end, Mia's mom was delighted by the performance, boasting that "we like to do things that are different." She felt Mia's turn was suitably "over the top. It was a crowd-pleaser." Jezebel didn't sound particularly pleased: "There is absolutely nothing cute, charming, funny, or precious about this concept," the publication said.

​Lori Matthews: 'Shake your butt a little bit'

Now turn your attention to this 2011 episode of Toddlers & Tiaras, which found pageant mom Lori Matthews basically writing off her 8-year-old daughter Alaska's appearance as "cookie-cutter," as reported by E! News. Presenting her progeny with some uncompromising performance notes, Lori told Alaska, "You're not a stripper, but shake your butt a little bit." Fortunately, Alaska rather brilliantly deflated this brutally awkward moment by responding: "Why would you even say that?" Alaska subsequently gave Lorie a pointed performance note of her own: "You are one of the crazy moms."

According to Entertainment Weekly, the strangeness of the episode — which revolved around the Circle City Stars and Cars pageant in Indianapolis — is bolstered by the fact that Alaska was competing against Braxton, her 5-year-old brother, who gamely commented: "I am Braxton, and my sister doesn't do as good as me." It sounds like Lori also believes deeply in Braxton, as she claims he "rocks every pageant he goes to. The only [way] that I could see Braxton not winning this pageant is if he fell over dead." On the other hand, Lorie wasn't quite as confident about Alaska's pageant proficiency: "We'll see how [Alaska] does. And hopefully, she accepts defeat or, you know, failure, with a smile on her face." Aww... No one loves you quite like your mother.

Lana allegedly started spray-tanning her daughter as a baby

For as long as she can remember, Lana fantasied about having a child she could enter into beauty pageants — even long before Bella's birth. "The day I found out we were having a little girl I actually started looking for pageant dresses and pageants that were coming up around her due date," Laura confessed (via The Huffington Post). On one particularly rambunctious 2013 episode of Toddlers & Tiaras, we watch (through tremulous fingers) as Lana gleefully spray-tans her 2-year-old daughter, happily admitting that she's been doing so "for about a year-and-a-half." If true, that means Bella received her first-ever spray tan when she was a mere 6 months old.  

"We always knew she was going to be a pageant girl," Lana beams, describing her daughter as "very poised and very elegant" and boasting that little Bella has done approximately "175 pageants" in total. Nevertheless, when asked whether she likes these pageants, Bella unambiguously responds: "No, no, no, no, no." According to The Huffington Post, she doesn't like getting spray-tanned, either. She may, at times, even have mixed feelings about Lana. Entertainment Tonight reports that the stage mom was eventually driven to tears after Bella yelled, "Don't look at me... I'm not your friend!"

​'I'm smiling on the inside'

Hey, come meet Karmen's mom. To her, a young girl's tears are apparently just a means to an end; the balm that eases the way toward a blockbuster pageant performance. If these tears happen to belong to her 6-year-old daughter? So be it. As the official Toddler & Tiaras website rather cheerily puts it, Karmen's mom is "not afraid to have a couple tears shed in the quest for the crown." Take, for instance, the scene when Karmen is administered a spray tan: Buzzfeed reports that the young girl appears to be entirely miserable — in fact, she's sobbing.

Karmen's mom seems to think these experiences are ultimately good for her daughter: "I love for her to do pageants because of the look I see on her face when she does win." But a post-victory Karmen looks like the most unhappy porcelain doll in the antique shop. "I'm smiling on the inside," she offers, glumly. 

June Shannon, Honey Boo Boo, and 'Go-Go Juice'

"My special juice is going to help me win. My Go-Go Juice is kicking in right now." So prophesied young Alana Thompson during a 2012 episode of Toddlers & Tiaras, speaking of her highly caffeinated elixir of Mountain Dew and Red Bull (via the New York Daily News). Better known by her self-given nickname, Honey Boo Boo, the tyke turned to this icky potion after finding that "pageant crack" — "two bags" of the unpalatable candy Pixy Stix — was no longer providing the perkiness she desired.

Alana's mom, June Shannon, defended her daughter's strange brew on an episode of Good Morning America: "When they do get on stage you have to be alive and ... your personality has to shine a long day," she asserted (via Yahoo), claiming that pageants can start at seven in the morning and go until ten at night. "There are far worse things," she added. "I could be giving her alcohol."

Alana soon became a cultural phenomenon and scored her own spin-off show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. As E! News reports, the show was canceled in 2014 when word got out "that Mama June was allegedly dating a convicted child molester." Nevertheless, Alana remains firmly stuck in the public's eye: In November 2018, she even danced the Macarena alongside former Malcolm in the Middle star Frankie Muniz on Dancing with the Stars.

This mom modeled a G-string in front of her 2-year-old daughter

Meet Tricia, a particularly uninhibited pageant mom from Oklahoma City. According to the Daily Mail, this "mother of four" happily posed in a G-string right in front of her 2-year-old child SamiJo while modeling for a very sexy calendar. On a 2012 episode of Toddlers & Tiaras, Tricia boasted: "My style of parenting is extremely different. I think exposing your child to whatever you can is just a really great way to be culturally diverse." 

Tricia even maintained that SamiJo — who, we'll say again, was 2 at the time — had something of a thing for flirty lingerie: The tyke was "obsessed with bras," she said, and absolutely "loves Victoria's Secret." On top of that, Tricia eagerly entered SamiJo into "a toddler's swimsuit competition" before her daughter was even 1 year old. Somehow more perplexingly, Tricia believed SamiJo was gifted with ferocious business acumen when it came to navigating the heady world of showbiz: "She knows, and has full comprehension of how the business works," she bragged. "She has a vast understanding that some 7-year-olds, 6-year-olds don't have." Tricia estimated she'd coughed up "more than $30,000" in order for SamiJo to participate in various beauty pageants, and felt all the expense was totally worth it because "pageants are a family bonding thing."

Toddlers, tiaras, and eyebrow waxing

The emotional landscape of children can be notoriously "hard to read," according to Psychology Today. Much like adults, young kids can appear well-adjusted and "content" when their inner lives are actually a hotbed of turmoil. Maybe that's why Alexis's mom missed the subtle clues that suggested her 5-year-old daughter wasn't enjoying having her eyebrows waxed: "No, don't do my eyebrows!" she screams from her salon seat.

As Today reports, there's a whole lot of screaming on this particularly savage 2012 episode. The girl's mom pays no mind to her daughter's pleas, claiming her reaction had to do with a previous "bad experience. ... The wax was way too hot, and it actually ripped off her skin. So she's been kinda terrified ever since then." After one round of torture, Alexis's mom ventures: "That wasn't bad, was it?" The girl replies: "Yes it was." Then, on to round two. Later, mom makes a confession: "Normally, I would just hold her down and [have] ripped it off." We wonder what Psychology Today would say about that.

Amanda, Daisey Mae, and the importance of 'facial beauty'

Be honest: What are your thoughts on "facial beauty" and its place in modern society? In 2012, the Daily Mail was deeply appalled by the philosophical musings of 8-year-old Daisey Mae, who, during one particularly eye-opening episode of Toddlers & Tiaras, claimed that children who aren't pretty of face are destined to have a bad life. "Facial beauty is the most important thing, in life and in pageants," Daisey Mae opined. Just in case she'd left any room for ambiguity, she elucidated: "If you think your kid is ugly or something, you might not want to do pageants because you're not going to win or anything."

At one point in the episode, her mom Amanda chimed in with her two cents: "I think the most stressful part of the day is beauty," she said, apparently feeling no need to correct her daughter's budding Theory of Facial Attractiveness. The episode inspired Australian Broadcast Company contributor Collett Smart to write: "I actually feel sorry for Daisey, as she would not have come up with these ideas all on her own." In fact, Smart considered Daisey Mae "a victim of the lies she has been doused in by the adults that have exposed her to this culture."

Lindsay, Maddy, and the Dolly Parton misfire

Here's a surefire strategy to make the world shudder: In August 2011, the world met Maddy Jackson, who appeared on Toddlers & Tiaras in an unforgettable — and, some would say, unforgivable — get-up. As the New York Daily News reports, Maddie took the stage in a "bleach-blonde wig" and body-hugging pink dress with bulging, strategically placed pads underneath. At the time, she was only 4 years old. "When she wears the fake b**bs and the fake butt, it's just like extra bonus," her mother, Lindsay Jackson, subsequently told Today (via the Daily Mail).

Why all these bumps and bulges? Well, Maddy was impersonating country legend and actress Dolly Parton, who once said of her ample cleavage: "When all else fails, do a b**b joke." Well, Lindsay evidently took that advice a little too much to heart: "It's really funny when [Maddy] comes out on stage and everyone thinks it's hysterical," she said (via the New York Daily News). "We tend to score really well all the way around from almost everybody." 

However, they didn't score well with Bill Verst, who happens to be Lindsay's ex-husband and Maddy's father. According to Hollywood Life, Verst waged "a custody battle" and claimed Lindsay was "overly sexualizing their daughter." A Kentucky judge eventually ruled Lindsay was doing no such thing.